Indian Dance, Ajna and A 1, 2, 3! I may have minored in theater and my mom may have footed the bill for my degree, but we’d never tried Indian dance before taking Ajna’s drop-in Bollywood class. Our mother-daughter date (#MDD) was full of endorphins and fun the moment we started to warm-up. The instructor’s name is Shachi, and she serves as the Assistant Director at Ajna, having joined the company in 2013 as a dancer.

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Verlocal Ambassador Dominique and her Mother at The Sheen Center for a Bollywood class with Ajna dance company!

When Shach was asked more about Ajna itself, she shared, “Our company is half dance school and half performing ensemble. So some of the ensemble members are teachers and some aren’t. We have people who just perform and we have people who just teach as well. Our classes are starting now, our studio is at 2nd and 2nd.”

But although the primary location for their ensemble is at 2nd and 2nd, you can find Ajna all over the city! Shachi dances 24/7 and works full-time for Ajna, and thank goodness because she chatted more about the company. ” We work out of studios all over the city. So we have classes all over Manhattan, some in Brooklyn, and then we teach private classes and work in schools all over the tri-state area.”

Read on to learn more about Shachi, Ajna and her journey with dance!

Shachi Phene - head shot
Courtesy of Ajna
Shachi, you currently serve as the Assistant Director at Ajna, can you tell us more about Ajna dance company and the classes they offer?

The company is a little over 4 years old. We are proud that in that time we have grown from a performance group that teaches private classes to a full-fledged Ensemble and Dance School. We pride ourselves on creating, sharing, and teaching Indian dance that is authentic, artistic, and accessible in nature. We offer classes for children and adults throughout New York City and work with schools and colleges all over the tristate area and beyond.

The drop-in class my mother and I attended taught us some Bollywood and folk dance moves and their cultural and historical significance.What about practicing Indian dance is unique compared to other dance practices?
Dance is deeply embedded in day-to-day Indian culture. Dance and music are used as mediums of expression constantly, especially for celebratory purposes. Indian dance in all its forms, whether classical, folk, or Bollywood, is really story-telling, and that is what makes it unique. Your facial expressions matter just as much as your body movements. There is also a great deal of detailed body control. Indian classical dances, for example, require the controlled use of everything from your arms and legs to your fingers and eyebrows. This is part of what makes them beautiful and sets them apart from other world dance styles.

 

Snigdha
Courtesy of Ajna
When did you first practice Indian dance? How does where your family is from geographically in India impact the dance forms you practiced more regularly as a child or at family gatherings?

I began studying Bharathanatyam, a classical dance form from South India, when I was five. My family is actually from Mumbai, in the Western part of India, so culturally, had I stayed in India, I likely would not have studied the form. However, as often happens with Indian children raised abroad, my mother wanted me to have some connection to dance and Indian culture in general, and since there were no Kathak (a North Indian classical form) around, she enrolled me in Bharathanatyam classes. As for other forms – namely folk and Bollywood styles – I never had any formal training in them. Those are the kinds of dance forms that you can often learn growing up in an Indian community and participating in cultural events.

Do you have a favorite Indian dance form, folk, classical, or film? If so, why are you most drawn to it?

I am drawn to any dance that requires emotional expression. I love and deeply respect Bharathanatyam as an art form. When done well, it is incredibly elegant and powerful. I enjoy performing it, but it is the kind of dance that I would never want to perform without ample amounts of practice. Bollywood pieces are more easily brought to stage, and there is a certain amount of naughtiness and attitude to many of them that I really enjoy.

Ensemble
Courtesy of Ajna
What sort of joy do you get from dancing and as an instructor?

Dance is freeing. When I dance, I feel the way I did when I used to read fantasy novels as a child. You get to step into another character’s shoes and play around with their story. Teaching dance is deeply gratifying, as I get to introduce students of all ages to that feeling. Ultimately, it’s really about releasing yourself from your inhibitions and allowing yourself to express openly. Seeing students progress week to week in becoming more comfortable with their bodies and emotions is wonderful

Any advice for a beginner that might be new to Indian dance styles, or come across your course offerings on Verlocal?

Try everything! Take both Classical Blend and Bollywood & Bhangra. I recommend highly that you come to a few classes of each so that you begin to really get a sense of the different dance forms. Besides that, watch Indian music videos on Youtube, and look up the translated lyrics. There is a huge amount of diversity and creativity within India, and you are sure to find something you like.

 

FOR MORE MOTHER-DAUGHTER DATES (#MDD) YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT BEFORE THE MONTH IS THROUGH HERE



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