Over the last 8 years, a lot of my students have asked me where they can find great “belly dance music”. My answer is “on your favourite playlist”.
Let me tell you a little story about how I came to meet one of the most amazing dancers I know. This was back in 2010-2011, and I was looking to learn a new dance form. I had managed to learn salsa, and was already teaching belly dance at that point. But my body craved a different, more challenging movement. Fortuitously, a listing in the newspaper caught my eye. “Jazz Funk classes”, it read. So I called the number, and headed over to try out a class. And that’s when I met Dhiraj Bakshi.
Dhiraj Bakshi is the kind of dancer whom you can’t take your eyes off of. And I’m not talking just about the form and finesse he brings to the floor. It’s the energy and sheer love of dance that you can see radiate from him as he performs, teaches, or even speaks about dance.
Having begun his dance journey at the age of 14, Dhiraj quickly realised that it was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. After training extensively with The Danceworx, Dhiraj Bakshi founded Split Sole Dance Academy in Mumbai.
As with most dancers in our country, Dhiraj too had to face a fair amount of societal judgment and hindrances while making a career in dance. “Honestly, it only helped me to challenge myself and get better at it”, he adds candidly.
And get better he did!
With Split Sole Dance Academy (SSDA), Dhiraj Bakshi massively changed the dance scene in Mumbai. In a city that offered innumerable Bollywood and contemporary dance classes, Jazz Funk emerged fresh and energetic. Dance lovers in the city had a new form to explore, one that combined the grace and strength of ballet with the groove and energy of hip-hop. Pirouettes were suddenly cooler, and dropping into a full split was bada$$.
Dhiraj’s dance journey took a star-studded turn when he was a part of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, teamed up with British model & actor Scarlett Wilson.
Dhiraj strongly credits Ashley Lobo and Jason of The Danceworx with shaping his career as a dancer. Post training with them, he slowly began to teach himself and explore more dance styles. Says Dhiraj, “I think most dancers and choreographers today will agree that there comes a stage in your dancing career where you begin to learn and explore more and more by yourself eventually. “
SSDA has created and shaped several talented dancers over the years, some of whom are now brilliant instructors themselves (including Mrigakshi Jaiswal and Shazeb Sheikh!). Every year, the academy celebrates its students and instructors with a spectacular showcase, aptly titled ‘Show Off’! With this year’s edition right around the corner, Dhiraj tells me, “Show Off has always been about being what you are and not worrying about judgement and breaking inhibitions. The journey has been great and overwhelming!”
And that’s not all! Dhiraj also recently opened his own dance studio, Studio Doodles, in Mumbai. The space, like him, celebrates dance in all its glory. Take a look at it in this great video (if you can take your eyes off the brilliant dancing, that is!)
Dance school, TV show, stage shows, studio… So what’s next for Dhiraj Bakshi? “Next big goal is to open expand in a different city apart from Mumbai.” Well, I’m certainly looking forward to that! 😀
And of course, before letting him go, Dhiraj was subjected to The Dance Floor’s talk-show-esque Rapid Fire!
The Dance Floor: Which city in the world is your happy place?
Dhiraj Bakshi: Bombay (Yay! Also, he gets bonus points from me for calling it ‘Bombay’ and not ‘Mumbai’!)
TDF: One thing most people don’t know about you.
Dhiraj: My nickname is ‘Appu’.
TDF: Split soles or sneakers?
TDF: Pasta or pani puri?
Dhiraj: Pani puri.
TDF: Your greatest fear?
Dhiraj: To wake up one day and know I can’t dance. (Gah!) But I do Yoga, so I’ll be fine. (Phew)
TDF: If you weren’t a dancer, you would be…?
Dhiraj: An archaeologist! (I’m sure we could “dig” that! 😛 )
TDF: What’s your favourite way to spend a day?
Dhiraj: At my studio, Studio Doodles.
TDF: Is there any dancer you hope to dance alongside someday? Or any such idol whom you’ve been lucky enough to dance with?
Dhiraj: I want to dance with Lyle Beniga.
TDF: Your guilty pleasure.
Dhiraj: I enjoy telling people “No” when they come up with something (sometimes, even if they are right). But there’s a logic behind it and that is that if I say no they usually turn around and come up with something better and then we have options.
TDF: There are so many new dance forms and studios emerging in India now. What do you think we as a country need to do to encourage more performing arts?
Dhiraj: Awareness of training, and [for students] being patient with it.
Dhiraj Bakshi is based out of Mumbai, India and conducts regular classes at Studio Doodles in Khar (West), as well as several workshops across the country. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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