My Bollywood Love Affair

Swati Chaturvedi

88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life, published by Keep Music Alive, is a compilation of  over 150 inspirational stories & quotes from musicians, music educators and music lovers from all over the world. Included are a number of stories from Grammy winning and Platinum selling artists & composers.  The authors have given Music In A Word permission to post contributions to the book and we are thrilled to present one below.

While I grew up on a staple diet of Bollywood, my love affair with Bollywood dancing did not begin until 2009. What started as a desire to introduce my then 18 month old daughter to the music and rhythms of India, set me on an unexpected journey.

I was born and raised primarily in India, but also ‘grew up’ in Germany and Canada as a result of my father’s academic profession. I now call the U.S. another one of my homes. As a cross-cultural global nomad, music was my constant companion during our moves across cities and countries, resulting in school changes. Music is also my constant anchor back to my Indian culture. Some of my fondest memories of people, friendships and experiences involve music and dance. Music has set me on a path of self-discovery and, with Bollywood dancing, I have uncovered my gift that I am grateful to be able to use in service of others.

When my family temporarily relocated to Germany for a few years, I was quite young, but my parents often talked about the few cassettes of Indian music they had carried with them and how soothing that music was when a longing for home tugged at their hearts. It was a difficult time made easier with music. We returned to India when I was about five years old and it is from first grade that I recall a special memory of participating in a televised Indian folk dance as part of a school event. My mother snapped a picture of the TV screen to treasure the memory!

I was a shy, introverted child all through my school years and recall participating in a poem recitation event one day. Stage fright won that day, as I froze and failed to utter the words to the poem! In contrast, the world of music gave me a sense of freedom. During my school years, I participated in various events and competitions for singing and different types of Indian dance styles. These song and dance events went a long way in building up my confidence as a child.

In 8th grade, another temporary two year relocation to Canada took place. As is, these early teenage years can be a tough time for a shy and reserved kid. The added mix of a move to a different country and culture at that age was a particularly overwhelming experience for me. On the very first day, I cried and begged my parents to take me back home! During those 2 years, I felt like a misfit – culturally, emotionally and socially. Looking back, the bright spots during those awkward school years were the recorder club, the choir, music class, learning to play the clarinet and being able to relate to my classmates via the universal language of dance when I joined a group of girls for a class performance on stage.

By tenth grade, I was back in India, where I remained until graduate school. During that entire time, music created social connections and deepened friendships for me. I sought out family friends over a much envied collection of classical Indian music and they generously shared the nuances with this novice. A new, meaningful friendship was born (in huge part) due to an opening piece

I helped choreograph for a show. I remember some people simply for the songs they taught me and have an especially poignant memory of someone who is now deceased.

Then came grown up life with a career, marriage and kids and we’re now living in the US. We had begun trying to introduce our 18 month old daughter to the music and rhythms of India, and as a result, created The Community Bollywood Dance Project in 2009.

‘Bollywood’ is the name of the Hindi language movie industry based out of Mumbai, India. Most movies have a variety of genres of music that lend itself to listening pleasure, as well as, a form of dancing referred to as ‘Bollywood Dancing’. It is, in fact, a fusion form of dance that draws from classical Indian styles, various types of Indian folk dance styles, as well as other global dance and rhythmic influences. Thus began my love affair with Bollywood! I found my purpose in celebrating my culture, while appreciating the unique flair each participant brought to the workshops, lessons and events. Bollywood music helped me uncover a gift that allows me to create memories and experiences for others, as well as, experience moments of profound personal joy myself.

Student dancers of  the Community Bollywood Dance Project prepare to perform at a festival in Delaware.

The very first Community Project I created was in December 2009, when I choreographed a Bollywood dance for a fundraising show for an equine therapy program. We had about 40 participants (ages 4 – 70+), including the special needs students, staff and volunteers along with 4 horses as part of the choreographed routine. The performance was to a crowd of nearly 600 people in a huge arena. It was truly a memorable experience for all involved. As a mother, I cherish the song we danced to, for it was my then two year old’s favorite Bollywood song.

Since that first event, the Community Bollywood Dance Project has created memories for people of all ages, skill levels and cultural backgrounds. From preschoolers to Girl Scouts to high schoolers to adults, we let loose and get busy celebrating music together! This year, I am grateful  for the opportunity to work with Musicopia, an organization that brings music performance and education to schools. Working with 40 sixth graders and sharing Indian culture, music and dance with them has been an enriching experience for them and for me personally. I was also involved in a residency program conducted at a special needs school in Pennsylvania, helping children to discover the joy of expression to Indian music via Bollywood dancing!

An especially poignant moment for me, came when I finally realized the power of what I was doing during a street festival in New Jersey. I was conducting an interactive Bollywood dance workshop, when I noticed a woman in the crowd was following all the dance movements, except for a turn step. It wasn’t until much later that I realized she was in a wheelchair. This was a profound personal moment for me to witness a moment of joy through the power of music and dance that I had helped create for a complete stranger.

One of my favorite music related memories is from a 4th of July street festival in Philadelphia when we danced as part of the Wawa Welcome America celebration in 2012. The crowd cheered as my childhood best friend got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, in the middle of our Bollywood dance routine. Happily, she said, ‘yes’! The party then continued with a choreographed Bollywood dance routine at their wedding reception months later.

My life’s course has definitely been shaped by music. As a shy and reserved child, music helped me find a sense of belonging and boosted my confidence. As an adult, it has allowed me to overcome cultural barriers by inviting and helping others appreciate my culture while having fun and celebrating themselves. As an individual, music has set me on a deeply personal journey that started in 2009;  I continue to discover and explore the joy of a gift that I am grateful to deliver by being of service to others.




Swati Chaturvedi is founder and artistic director of the Community Bollywood Dance Project.



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88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life