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    Dec 2008

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    Rujuta Vaidya and composer A R Rahman

    'That energy on Oscar night can never be replicated in my life'

    Choreographer Rujuta Vaidya's profile as a choreographer of popular Indian dances, including Bollywood, has shot up following the Oscars.
    Working with Fatima Robinson, one of the biggest choreographers in America, Rujuta choreographed two dance numbers to accompany the songs from the film Slumdog Millionaire.

    She was recently featured in a Bollywood/Hip-Hop dance instructional DVD, BYou2, with Sabrina Bryan of the Cheetah Girls. Sabrina, who was on the last season of ABC's Dancing With the Stars is seen teaching the Hip-Hop segment, while Rujuta teaches the Bollywood segment.

    They have now come together to teach a fusion routine that mimics the style developed in Cheetah Girls 3. Rujuta worked on the Bollywood choreography for that telefilm, made by Disney. This DVD is currently being sold in all the top retail stores and websites throughout the US.

    Back in New York after the Oscar events, Rujuta, who has also choreographed a dance item that Britney Spears uses in her current Circus Tour, muses her career opportunities and the challenges she is looking forward to. She also talks about the lessons she has learned from her guru, Saroj Khan, and teaching the elderly exercise with the help of Bollywood music and dance movements.

    What are some of the challenges you are looking forward to?

    I am looking forward to some interesting experiences. I think it will be interesting to work on a Hollywood film that may be totally Bollywood style, with many song sequences.

    What do you mean by Hollywood film totally Bollywood style?

    Not a film like Slumdog Millionaire, in which the songs are used fleetingly, except for the Jai Ho number.

    Rujuta Vaidya with the Cheetah girls

    'Working on the Oscars was a dream come true'

    Why would a Hollywood-Bollywood film and its music and the choreography be challenging?
    It is because we will cater to a whole new audience, who is not accustomed to the Bollywood style. They may find it strange to see a song and dance sequence just pop up out of nowhere in the middle of a movie. The challenge in this will be to really have the song with choreography that makes sense to the audience.

    In contrast to...

    In Bollywood, the audience readily accepts, if not expects, a song to appear randomly. They don't really question the positioning or meaning of the song being there. They are happy to be entertained and are eager to see how the song is going to be pictured. It is not always necessary to justify the positioning or choreography of a song. In a Hollywood film, the choreography will need to portray the story and help develop it, rather than just entertain.

    What are some of the best memories you have of your Oscar presentations?

    Working on the Oscars was a dream come true. Actually, I should say it was not even something that I could have ever thought of in my wildest dreams. We were given about two weeks to prepare for this performance. It was great because I got to bring a few of the dancers from my troupe in New York. The rest of the dancers were cast out of Los Angeles. It felt great to be able to showcase Bollywood dance to an audience that had possibly never seen it performed live. The drummers added to the mix.

    There was a lot of prep work that went into the choreography, in terms of how much of the piece should be Indian and how much should be hip-hop so that it was a balanced blend.

    I admired how much the dancers wanted to really get the Indian style into their bodies. They worked really hard.

    And there was Fatima Robinson...

    She is incredible. She has choreographed major events in Hollywood. She is open to dance movements from many traditions. And her commitment and passion are exemplary.

    'Many people don't realise the skill that goes into Bollywood dance'

    How was it working with A R Rahman?
    It was also an amazing experience. He is an absolutely humble and deserving artist. He was open to the vision of the choreographers and enhanced it with his beautiful voice.

    What were some of the thoughts going through your mind as you were rehearsing the dancers?

    Never did I think that a Bollywood/Indian dance would ever be on an Academy Awards stage. Nevertheless, I did get a call to go choreograph one of the biggest shows in Hollywood.

    Working for the Oscars [show], not only was something that I thought was unattainable, but it also made me feel like I was an integral part of a historical moment for Indians all across the world. Choreographing for this prestigious event, on a stage that had been graced by every top Hollywood actor there has been, made me feel like I was part of a turning point for Indian film, music, and dance.

    That energy backstage on Oscar night can never be replicated in my life.

    As an Indian American the occasion must have seemed even more special.

    True. Growing up in the US in a time when Indians were never recognised, or for that matter even accepted, to being able to hold your head up high and have pride from where you came from and what you were about, on such a platform, where the world was watching, was just a true moment in time that will never be forgotten.

    What are some misconceptions people have of Bollywood dancing?

    The biggest misconception is that anyone that simply puts on a Hindi film song and dances to it, can be labeled a Bollywood dancer. Many people do not realise the skill that goes into Bollywood dance. They feel that it is simple and all can do it. Yes, all can do it, because it is fun and does involve a lot of movement that is natural body movement.

    Madhuri Dixit Nene in a scene from Devdas

    'Some of my favourite dance performances are featured on Madhuri Dixit'

    What is the defining quality of Bollywood dancing?
    Quality Bollywood dancing involves a high level of skill. It requires that a dancer be versatile and be able to adapt to many different dance styles, since Bollywood dance is, in essence, a fusion form.

    What should people know most about Bollywood dancing?

    A key element of Bollywood dance is [the inclusion of] Indian classical and folk styles, which make one develop grace. Without grace, Bollywood dance loses its true stylistic touch. This grace and precision often requires years and years of training.

    Many people do not realise the integral technique that goes into high-quality Bollywood dance. They take it for granted that just because they are South Asian they can master the Bollywood dance form.

    What are some of your favourite dance sequences in Hindi films?

    Some of my favourite dance performances are featured on Madhuri Dixit, including Maar Daala (Devdas) and Choli ke Peeche (Khalnayak). I love Tabu's work in the dance number Rang De (Thakshak). Also, Ban Than (Kurukshetra) featuring Kashmira Shah.

    You owe a lot of your inspiration to Madhuri Dixit...

    I began learning Indian classical dancing when I was around six. But what caught my attention was the grace and vigour with which Madhuri danced. I wanted to find out who her dance teacher was. I learned that it was Saroj Khan, who would become my masterji. I was convinced she made Madhuri, and Madhuri, executing masterji's movements, made Saroj Khan.

    What do you remember most about learning from your masterji?

    Discipline and focus. She made me realise that there was nothing easy about Bollywood dancing and that it had its own tradition and rules.

    'Bollywood dance schools are sprouting all across America'

    What do you remember most about Saroj Khan?
    I was learning under her when the film Devdas was being made. She was rehearsing a group of dancers for the song Maar Dala. It was a group of gorgeous looking young people. At one point, masterji got up and demonstrated the entire movement. It was an electrifying situation.

    Why was that?

    She was approaching 60. She was not in a great physical shape. But the moment she began demonstrating the movements, there was a transformation. She was the most graceful and beautiful person on the floor.

    What are the most important things you have learnt from her?

    Passion and commitment. If you do anything mechanically, there is no real joy and no real satisfaction.

    You train hundreds of dancers and you have your own troupe. Why don't you have a dance school?

    I see dance schools sprouting all across America, especially Bollywood dance schools. I did run one dance school but I gave it up.


    I like to give personal attention to the students who must also have a long-term commitment. For me, dancing is great fun but it's serious fun. Teaching dancing is a serious thing.

    I was not able to do full justice to the school because of my travels and other commitments. But once I am settled down with children -- and that means not much traveling -- I would love to start a dance school.



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