She's doing the bachata gracefully, torso twisting with every nimble move. Suddenly, she segues into a merengue, her mauve-coloured frilly skirt twirling in counter-rhythm. The audience can't take its eyes off her, the judges are trying their best to look impassive but their eyes give them away. When the music flutes to a stop, so does she. The gathering breaks out into raucous applause and the appropriately named Mini, all of eight years old, breaks into a gap-toothed grin. It's clear the dance trophy is hers.
And that's how it is. Eight and ten-year-olds are breaking out their moves most gracefully, as are youngsters and oldsters. The sangeet dancers at sundry wedding parties across the country can and do give the great Shiamak's dancers a run for their money. And after Ranbir and Deepika played some very synchronized Holi to the catchy tune of Balam pichkari, the Festival of Colours has never been the same; Holi dances are now all the rage and rehearsals for the same start well before the chill has really withdrawn from the air. Fitness classes combine dance in the most artful way with the Chair Dance, the Milkshake (Google this one!), pole dancing, Tangolates. David Guetta and Deadmau5 are household names even in Indore, Ranchi and Belgaum households.
Do you remember the hit song by The Killers: are we human, it asked plaintively, or are we dancer? Well, weird question and bad grammar aside, India is in no doubt about the answer. We may or may not be human but what the hell, we are definitely dancers. We even have flight attendants boogying away (yes, to the balam pichkari song, again) 30,000 feet above the ground, no doubt inaugurating the Mile High Dance Club. The authorities may have taken a grim view of things but India was vastly entertained by the antics.
And of course, we are dancing on TV. It's a slew of shows, coming and going: Jodi Number 1, Jhalak Dikhla Ja, Just Dance, Dance ke Superstars, Footloose, India's Got Talent, Nach Baliye, Boogie Woogie, you name it and there we are, shaking our booty with abandon while judges like Karan Johar, Malaika Arora Khan, Farah Khan, Vaibhavi Merchant and the original disco dancer Mithun Chakraborty, watch appreciatively. Lives get made here, and so does big money. One of the most charming scenes in the recent hit film Queen was that of a tipsy Kangana literally dancing at a much put upon French cab driver.
So, it's a rash of rhythmic moves just about everywhere. Hardly does Pharrell Williams' rocking ode to happiness trend as earworm and loop fave, than we get to watch the video of Indians two-stepping to Happy. Anyone carping that this looks like a professional job, a beautiful bunch doing some beautiful bopping? Hey, don't knock choreography, for dance lessons are much sought after all over the country, right now. Kokila Hariram, who runs the Academy of Modern Dance in Chennai, says that dance studios have seen a sudden influx in the recent past but is quick to add that those who want to learn Bollywood shakes don't last the course at the more rigorous schools, of which her 16-year-old institution is one. That lot quickly finds a place that will teach them the moves they seek. "There are five dance schools in my locality itself," says Kokila.
Is there a dichotomy here? Do they dance more in India than they do in Bharat? Well, you know what? India's always danced.
There was a certain class of Indian who took to the floor and danced the night away at formal Balls. This was social dancing: the waltz, the samba, the cha-cha, the foxtrot. The next rung consisted of the crowd who danced frantically and frenetically at the various disc(os) in their city, under strobe lights. Across the country, little girls grew up attending Bharat Natyam, Kathak or Odissi classes.
Out beyond the circle of sodium lights, in that great vast rural sprawl, those who wanted to dance, danced at wedding functions, in religious processions and of course, during the navratras. There were occasions intrinsic to their communities and they danced then, too.
Slowly but so steadily that you could almost hear the beat, the two worlds merged. Bollywood music took over the tony discos, pushing aside house, trance and techno. Very soon, just about everyone was swaying, whirling, twirling, throwing all restraint to the winds. CEOs, middle management, techies, tycoons, back-office blokes, shopgirls, waiters, scions, beauty parlour staff, just about everyone was bopping to the EDM beat, to Hungama ho gaya and, improbably enough, to Just chill. Epiphany One: dancing cuts across most divides.
Epiphany Two: India does have dancing talent. If what we see is artfully choreographed dance moves, well, there is enough raw aptitude to be worked on. The rest fake it till they make it. The proliferation of dance shows on TV reveal that they are definitely grabbing eyeballs and keeping networks in the black; pushing forward talent while pushing up ratings. "The sheer talent keeps me glued to the shows," says Geeta D'souza, a hospitality industry professional. "These men, women, children ... my god, can they move!"
"Dance shows main dum hain," says Aslam Khan, auto rickshaw driver, adding with positively proprietoral pride, "Did you see that auto driver's son win? If you can dance well, then anyone can win."
Well whatever the reason — to win money, fame, film contracts, the heart of a desired one — India is dancing. Salsa, hip-hop, jazz, fusion, tap, Bossa Nova ... just bring it on, babes.