Pupils shimmy to the bhangra beat

16th January 2009 at 00:00
Bollywood star launches Indian dance academy

The average classroom does not offer snow-covered mountain views or wheat-filled meadows. And there tends to be a distinct shortage of wet saris in staff meetings.

Yet British schools are still suitable locations for Bollywood dance sequences, according to a leading Indian character actor.

Anupam Kher, who has appeared in Bollywood films for more than 25 years, is in Britain to promote a scheme to encourage pupils to try out the industry's dance moves.

Teachers from Actor Prepares, a newly opened Bollywood academy in west London, have been visiting primaries and secondaries and running introductory dance sessions.

Indian-style fan-hands or bhangra steps may not be immediately familiar to most British pupils. But Mr Kher, who has also appeared in the western films Bride and Prejudice and Bend It Like Beckham, insists that they are nonetheless accessible.

"Everybody wants to dance," he said. "You just need feet, that's all.

"The problem with modern society is that it curbs your inner feeling. The more sophisticated we become, the less we express ourselves. Bollywood dancing teaches you not to be shy."

He believes the sessions will be particularly valuable for schoolchildren, whose lives tend to be strictly regimented.

"Unfortunately, we compartmentalise children's lives," he said. "This is playtime, this is study time, this is bedtime, eating time.

"We are making them into the kind of people we think they should become. But this kind of initiative gives them an opportunity for self-expression. It lets them be themselves, and that's the most important part of education."

Meena Walia, head of Cranford Infants in Hounslow, west London, where pupils now receive weekly Bollywood classes, said: "To follow a dance sequence, children have to be attentive. It's tapping into concentration and listening skills. They're subconsciously rehearsing skills for lessons."

Rakhi Sood, who has been teaching the routines, agrees. As Bollywood becomes increasingly well known outside India, she says, interest among pupils has grown.

"It's a fun thing for them, but it's also quite disciplined," she said.

"It's a celebration of life. Dance is a way for kids to reach out and express themselves. The movies are about following your dream and celebrating life in a positive way."

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