Dance is important in Indian culture. Growing numbers of Americans first experience Indian dance through Holi events.
The Hindu festival of colors falls on March 18. And this year, with COVID-19 cases plunging, most U.S.-based celebrations will be in person — a welcome change from 2021.
Revelers will once again welcome springtime and the triumph of good over evil by tossing brightly colored powders at each other.
Aakansha Maheshwari, an Indian-born dancer and choreographer now from Los Angeles, will take the stage at a March 26–27 event in Spanish Fork, Utah.
In addition to Indian classical and folk dance, this largest known U.S. Holi event will feature music, yoga, food and crafts.
Maheshwari says she likes to introduce a mix of different styles when performing at Holi events. “I bring Indian classical, folk and Bollywood dances to share with the audience,” she said.
Maheshwari, who began dancing at age 7 in her native New Delhi, trained extensively in the art of Bharatanatyam, an ancient Indian classical dance with intricate moves and rhythms. She also studied the Kalbeliya dance style (from India’s Rajasthan region), a folk dance typically featuring serpentine motions.
‘I want to see people dancing’
In 2013, Maheshwari moved to Los Angeles and established a dance fitness program called BollyPop, which incorporates Bollywood-style dance moves. Her classes, she said, help make Indian dance accessible to students of all ages and experience levels.
That approach works well for novices, since the intricacies of Indian classical and folk dances can be daunting for newcomers. Maheshwari cited a few examples of India’s regional dance traditions, commonly seen at Holi festivals.
Maheshwari said that dance styles vary across India. In the southern state of Karnataka, Holi Kunitha (a men’s folk dance) is performed to devotional music, and in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the Raas-Leela dance (with dreamy, wave-like movements) is performed with wooden sticks and flower petals. Her favorite dance style for Holi is Garba, from the Indian state of Gujarat. “People create bigger and bigger concentric circles in this folk dance, [and] clap and move to a simple beat of the drum,” she said.
At U.S. festivals, she likes to lead follow-along sessions with simple moves to upbeat Bollywood songs, both for solo performances and for routines with fellow dancer Malini Taneja, as seen in this video clip, which features Bhangra, a traditional folk-dance form originating in Punjab.
At the Utah festival, Maheshwari will perform a folk dance to the Hindi-language song “Dholida” (from the 2022 Bollywood film Gangubai Kathiawadi) with three of her BollyPop team members. She said she will also lead follow-along dance sessions performed to hit songs in different Indian languages — including Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu.
Dancing at Holi festivals is joyful, she said. “The last two years have been challenging for everyone. I want to see people dancing with friends and family, to feel uplifted and positive, and inspired by dance.”