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Hooray for Bollywood


By Bekah Wright, Photos by Ann Johansson

Published Jul 1, 2011 8:00 AM



"Give me face!" demands Achinta S. McDaniel, founder and artistic director of blue13 dance company. This is followed by stomping, roaring and all sorts of attitude.

McDaniel's students tune into their inner divas and strike poses. On this Monday evening, the Pyramid Room in the John Wooden Center is packed to capacity and transformed into "Bollywood," the nickname for India's famed motion-picture-industry-cum-culture.

Welcome to UCLA's biweekly Bollywood Bhangra Workout Class. Since Slumdog Millionaire hit the big screen in 2008 — and won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture — American moviegoers have hungered for Bollywood films. The name of the dance form is derived from the Bollywood film industry, 90% of which is based in Mumbai, India.

"Bollywood fits under a big umbrella of dance movement with classical, Western, jazz and hip-hop elements," says McDaniel. "Dance numbers that are theatric, dramatic and tell a story."

Add to that the beat from a Dhol drum and Bhangra, a North Indian Punjabi folk-dance style, born out of India's wheat fields as a way to celebrate the harvest.

Bollywood dance came to campus via Elisa Terry '94, program director of the UCLA Recreation FITWELL Program. Always searching for new workouts, she read about blue13 and called McDaniel.

"Beyond following trends in the industry, we try to offer a well-balanced program that provides cardiovascular, strength, conditioning and flexibility," she explains.

Bollywood in Westwood

Join Achinta McDaniel for Bollywood Bhangra, held Mondays at 6:25 p.m. and Thursdays at 5:10 p.m.

Click here for more info — and here to see what you're in for.

McDaniel's Bollywood Bhangra is "a high-energy, feel-good, mentally stimulating workout. Not only that, but the dances are complex, so participants have to have a mind-body connection to execute movements well. The biggest bonus of all — it's a lot of fun."

McDaniel ushers in her own form of energy for the 60-minute classes, offered on campus two evenings a week. She also teaches classes in Santa Monica, Brentwood, Culver City, Hollywood, North Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles and Pasadena, with students ranging in age from 3 to 72 and representing all shapes, sizes and genders.

A Punjabi descendent who grew up in Cleveland, McDaniel majored in dance at NYU, where she studied modern and classical ballet. After graduating, she headed to India to train in classical Indian Kathak. She became a choreographer and started blue13 in New York City in 1999. The company was reborn in 2001 when McDaniel moved to Los Angeles.

"It's grown into this Bollywood monster," she says. "This cute, sweet, ballsy monster."