Indo-American Doctors Dance for Black Lives Matter, Covid-19 Relief


HOUSTON: As tinny string chords echo through the rooms, an instructor starts her count: “Five, six, seven, to the left!” Dancers move their arms and legs fluidly to the beat, swaying as some whip long hair behind their shoulders.

Although the dancers aren’t all in one studio, they move together on different screens through a Zoom call, during one of the free Bollywood dance classes Anisha Gupta and Sonali Patel have offered since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Initially, the intent was to reach out to the Houston community and local Houston people. But I think the amazing thing is that we’ve been able to reach out to people, actually, internationally,” Patel said. “We loved it. I think everyone’s been able to take advantage of it and make this a good outlet for them to just stay active and healthy and happy.”

Gupta and Patel are both in the medical field, specializing in endocrinology and emergency medicine, respectively. The duo started the T2 Dance classes in January after meeting through a physicians group. They talked about how they’d performed Bollywood dance their whole lives and wanted to get back into it. But after a few live classes in February, the pandemic pushed their dancing to a virtual format.

“We have kids as young as 4 coming to our classes and then adults over the age of 65 … we have people of all different races, ethnicities, nationalities,” Gupta said. “It’s been really great to just be able to get people involved with something that they’ve done before, or that they’ve never done before and are wanting to learn. It’s been great to be able to give that back because Sonali and I had so much of that in our childhood.”

Each dance they teach has original choreography, Gupta said, so after treating patients and coming home to take care of their families, they’re learning the new dances themselves.

“I started (dancing) probably since I was on my feet; I mean I’ve been dancing since I can remember,” Patel said. “A big part of Indian culture is having dances and performances at special occasions, receptions, anniversary parties, all kinds of things. I’ve been choreographing dances and being a part of those type of dances throughout my whole life.”

Patel’s sister, Monali Patel, has also participated in the classes, even though she practices medicine more than 1,400 miles away in San Diego. She dances in adult classes every other week, and her two daughters — ages 7 and 11 — dance in the children’s classes. On Father’s Day, they booked a special class where her whole family danced together.

“(My sister and I) don’t get to connect as much because we’re both busy. She’s a doctor, I’m a doctor and, like, we don’t get to connect, but I feel like this has been able to help us connect as well,” Monali said. “They’ve really been just extremely welcoming, which is nice to see because everyone’s struggling right now. And to see somebody encouraging you, and taking their time out to just do this out of their passion and their love is kind of endearing to me.”

Patel and Gupta also offer private lessons; they choreographed a first dance for a friend’s wedding in February. The dance was simple, Patel said, with a combination of slow-dance elements and Bollywood moves.

“Indian culture is all about dancing, brightness and movement. And so, if you’ve ever been to an Indian wedding or an event, there’s all these choreographed dances, and I think that’s something we’re really excited to do for all of our friends when they get married,” Gupta said. “We could choreograph a flash mob, or we could choreograph a bridesmaids dance and stuff like that. … Whenever people start getting married in real life again … that is something that we’re excited to get involved with.”

Though the classes are currently free, the two instructors have directed donations they’ve received toward philanthropy.

The scholarship’s namesake, Gayle, who passed away at age 30, was the brother of one of Gupta’s friends. She said he was a “huge advocate in politics” and a “really great role model for Black students in the realm of politics.”

“This month, especially with everything that’s going on, we really wanted to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement,” Gupta said in late June. “The goal is to continue to spread it to other schools so that we can get those opportunities to the next generation, because the only way we’re going to make change in politics is looking at the long game. I think that’s the most important thing that Tyrone taught us, and we’re trying to continue his legacy in our small way.”

Monali donated to both of these causes and said T2 Dance’s pledge to these efforts during the pandemic pushes her to continue to support the studio.

“I think they’re just doing this out of the love of doing something they have a passion for and bringing together people that have a passion for it, and doing something good for the world in terms of the times that are going on,” Monali said. “It’s not just the typical business endeavor. It’s people with good hearts that are taking it to the next level and putting in all their hard work, in addition to what they do on a daily basis.”

Jordan R. Miller is a Houston-based freelance writer for the Houston Chronicle