Just Dancin’ to Capture the Legends of Bollywood

Arzan Gonda (extreme left) on stage with her team of dancers at the Just Dance 2013 show that was held at the Old Stafford Civic Center this past Saturday, December 7. Photos: Navin Mediwala

Arzan Gonda (extreme left) on stage with her team of dancers at the Just Dance 2013 show that was held at the Old Stafford Civic Center this past Saturday, December 7. Photos: Navin Mediwala

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By Jawahar Malhotra

STAFFORD:  Each year when Arzan Gonda showcases the dancing abilities of her students, she makes sure that the whole event is entirely about them, choosing to stay in the background as she smilingly sits aside and watches them go through their paces.

Arzan Gonda

Arzan Gonda

This year Arzan was even more “hidden” as she participated in only one number – the last one – as her Bollywood Dancing students presented Just Dance 2013 at the Old Stafford Civic Center on Constitution Lane this past Saturday, December 7. The whole auditorium, upstairs and down, was packed with the parents and friends of the performers.


The program had two show times: 4pm for the students mostly from the Katy and West Houston area and another four hours later at 8pm for the Sugar Land, Missouri City and Southwest Houston areas. All told, over 100 students participated in each of the two programs. The dance items in each show were pretty much the same, many of the dancers were different though some did perform in both shows. “Although my staff and I did arrange most of the choreography”, Gonda revealed proudly, “some of the intermediate level kids felt comfortable enough with their routines to add their own moves to complete their performances”.

The program started with a dancer on a pillar as three other girls slowly peeled off ribbons of fabric.  As it ended, Arzan stepped onstage and appreciated the dancers and their determination to make the show perfect. Ever cognizant of the role that the audience plays in recitals, Gonda asked them to show their appreciation. “Be as rowdy as you can be”, she said, “We feed off your energy”. The audience took it to heart, expressing their rousing support of each number that was performed.

In an adaptation of a line you’d find in a Bollywood movie, the program started and ended with a video clip featuring a fictitious Raj Malhotra (portrayed by Prateek Karkal) who has an assignment to write on the Legends of Bollywood for his writing class. He has to complete it by 5pm or flunk the grade, so he rushes to the college library and while doing research falls asleep. In his dreams, a beautiful guide (acted by Sarah Kumar) takes him on a journey through the years on the actors and actresses who best personify what Bollywood has become. At the end, Raj wakes up from his dream, quickly writes his paper and submits it just in time.

In between the two bookend clips, Kumar and Karkal (who are amateur actors even as they pursue young professional careers) played their roles live onstage as guides and emcees for the sequence of dance numbers that each different aged group performed in honor of the five most popular Bollywood actors of recent times. Kumar – who, with her booming voice, has been the emcee of Just Dance in previous years – explains the importance of each actor as the knowledge slowly creeps into Raj’s head and then the songs which the actors enacted were played out by the performing groups.

And perform they did with all their hearts! Ranging from the tiny tots, some barely four years old to the most accomplished lead dancers who have performed with Gonda during the Houston Rockets halftime show for the past three years, the performances rounded out with medley, artistic flair, synchronized moves and brilliantly sequined and colorful costumes to describe the songs made popular by the fancy movie footwork of Amtiabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Govinda, Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit, Ranbir Kapoor, Karina Kapoor, and at the end, the immensely versatile Shah Rukh Khan.

The dancers showed that they had learnt the hundreds of complex steps and body movements of each one of the songs that was visualized and when they weren’t sure, like when the tiny tots performed, Gonda sat with the audience in the middle aisle and went through each step to guide them along as they looked to her for direction.

The dancers performed for an hour and each set melded into another in Gonda’s signature way as one song bled into the other in a continuous stream between the emcee’s narrations. The energy and joy with which the dancers went through their numbers – and there were many more male dancers than in years past – showed that,  at least in this area, Indian culture was being preserved and etched into the youthful minds of the younger generation of Indo Americans. They could identify the moves, the music, mouth the songs and knew the actors; and it showed that they appreciated what Bollywood offers. The last dance was with Gonda and the older dancers, wearing oversized colorful glasses with flashing yellow LED lights in a finale to Bollywood.

As the music ended, the entire ensemble of dancers came on stage for a final bow, again a signature Gonda tribute as she led the tiny tots onstage by the hand. She thanked the performers, their parents, the many volunteers and staff who organized the event, her husband, in-laws and friends, and finally – choking up with emotion – her mother in Bombay who helped get and ship all the costumes that the dancers wore.