“The most important thing is having patience. People can be great dancers but to teach is a whole different thing”, says Pooja Narang whose dance classes are in high demand in New York City today and whose company, The BAX Dance Company, is the first of its kind in the United States.
This Punjabi girl has had several opportunities to train under famous Bollywood choreographer Saroj Khan, has attended the Shiamak Davar Institute of performing arts, and successfully introduced Bollywood, and Bhangra to the US East Coast in 2003. We asked Pooja to tell us about her fascinating journey as a Bollywood dance teacher, choreographer, and artistic director. Pooja, who started off with about ten students, all of different cultural background, says that it began when she noticed that there wasn’t anything like this around at that time in New York City, “the idea just came up that if no one is offering this here, then I should do it!”
Pooja, who has to her credit stellar performances at mega-events such as the opening of the Bollywood Zone at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in NYC and the official premieres for the films Bride and Prejudice and Slumdog Millionaire, is a person with a vision.
Pooja’s innovative choreography has appeared in several major motion pictures, Including Bollywood blockbusters, Jaaneman, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Karma Aur Holi, and Hollywood movies like The Accidental Husband and The Gold Bracelet. Pooja also choreographed the world’s first Bollywood Flash mob which took place in Times Square and various parts of the city in August 2009 receiving over 2 million hits and counting on YouTube. Other notable works can be seen on Sesame Street where she was the first South Asian to be on the show, along with others like Nick Jr. Wonderpets. Pooja has also choreographed for Aventura at the Latin Grammy’s while on stage with the lead singer.
From three to seventy-three, Pooja has a wide range of age groups attending her classes. She has many stories to tell, like that of a 70-year-old “uncle,” who has been with her for the last 13 years and whom people love watching.
She explains, “They all have different professional backgrounds, but the moment they step in the class no one knows anything about anybody, and they just share one thing and that is their love of Bollywood. I can’t think of any other activity where people come together where there is no barrier culturally or professionally.” Pooja recalls she had one woman taking her classes while she was pregnant. She later told Pooja that she could not even express what those classes have done for her in getting her through a very difficult phase in her life. Many of her students have continued to dance after spending years with her, like Payal Kadakia Founder of ClassPass who started SA Dance Company with a few girls from the class.
So, how does she feel about the role her classes play in the life of those who come to attend it?
“I never knew that this would become something so personal for people, but there are people who suffer problems at home, and this is their way of overcoming them. There are a lot of emotions involved. It is not just people coming to take classes; there is a lot more there. This is a way of their being able to express themselves.”
Pooja has formed deep bonds with her students. She fondly says, “There is one auntie who has been taking classes for more than ten years, and she is in her 70s. Her two daughters also take classes with me, and they are in their mid-40s and they all dance together!” As a single mother of a three-year-old, who also loves to dance, the mother daughter dancing bond is close to home for Pooja.
Now in its 15th year, BAX’s annual dance event, Riyaaz, showcasing Pooja’s talented students as they perform to Bollywood numbers, will be taking place at Florence Gould Hall, New York, on May 5th.
Pooja is head over heels in love with her profession, which has become her first and last love. We hope she can spread even more love in the time to come!