“Sensual, feminine, soulful.” Our Belly-Bolly classes have thrived since Pragya Khare joined the team. Studio J talks to this woman who exudes effortless grace and beauty.
Born in a little town called Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, Pragya fell in love with Bollywood dance as a kid from watching the weekly show ‘Chittrahar’ (a TV series all about Bollywood music videos)! For those of us who are old enough to remember, there used to be just one TV channel in India called Doordarshan, and everyone lined up in front of the TV on Sundays, to watch Chittrahar and the Sunday night movie special!
What was it like growing up in a small town?
It was a typical small town and small town family. A nice strict dad. A nice strict mum, who later became my best friend. All that my parents wanted me to do was to study, be an engineer and get married. At age 14, I moved to a bigger city, Indore, to live with my aunt and finish school. At 16, I visited a therapist to discuss some issues I felt I had, and there I discovered that I am dyslexic. I had never heard of it, and obviously no one in my home town had either. Have you seen the film ‘Taare Zameen Par’? That’s me right there. I was always scolded or beaten up at school and home for being naughty. But I was struggling. No one, including me, really understood what was going on. I had a lot of suppressed anger about this growing up.
I’ve lived in a lot of cities and I feel I have grown and expanded with each move. Each time it was nerve wrecking and each time it has been hard to make my own space. My parents were never keen on my dancing, as this was clearly not an ideal career choice! What always gave me strength was an urge to listen to my heart and do something that would make me happy. And look where it’s gotten me – in Melbourne teaching Belly-Bolly!
How did you start dancing?
My home town only offered classes in classical dance (Kathak), but as a kid I wanted to do the western glamorous dances I saw on TV. My mother instead enrolled me in classical singing classes, which I diligently studied for six years.
Then came the Bollywood blockbuster, Dil To Pagal Hai, and I was obsessed with the dancing. I fell in love with Shiamak Davar (who was the choreographer for the film). Around the age of 19, when it was time to move out for further studies, my choices were to either stay in Indore or move to Pune – I chose Pune, only because there was a Shiamak Davar dance school there.
It was really overwhelming for me when I entered my first dance class. I had so many years of built up desire. The classes were everything I had dreamed of. After two short terms, I was asked to be part of their ‘special potential batch’ where you train intensively and can eventually become an instructor. For someone from a small town, it was such a great feeling. I thought, “this is it – I am famous now!”
Unfortunately I had to quit this company after a while because of work, rent, bills, life! I stopped dancing completely because of my working hours. But then one day, out of sheer frustration, I quit my job. I then stumbled upon a Latin dance school that was looking to expand and start Bollywood dance classes. I auditioned, and in a few weeks I had a class running. Coincidentally, they also needed a graphic designer (that’s my day job) and I offered to design it for them. Soon I was doing all the design work, plus my classes were expanding. It was surreal.
Later I met Essa, a French-Canadian Belly dancer who lives in India. I always loved watching Shakira and was obsessed with ‘Beautiful Liar’ dance moves. I decided to expand my skills beyond Bollywood and did a beginner Belly dance class with Essa. She liked my dancing and took me into her troupe. We did a lot of intense training and I started to perform. It was amazing!
At this point, I was getting pressure to get married from my family, and I met my (now) husband Ashish. We met online and chatted for around two years. He’s a Latin dancer, and we connected on so many levels. I could no longer do a long distance relationship, so this brought me to Melbourne in 2016.
I immediately searched for Belly dancers in Melbourne and came across Ekaterini. I went to her beginner class, and she suggested that I try her advanced class. After a few terms, she decided to form a troupe and picked me and two other students from the class, and the four of us have been performing ever since.
I also learn from Lakita, a fusion tribal belly dancer. I feel like there is so much more to learn, and to explore in my movements and in my body, I can never stop learning. Melbourne has really opened my eyes. There is so much love here, for being just who you are. I have not felt this way anywhere before.
What do you love about Belly dance?
I love how it makes me feel – sensual, feminine, soulful. I can express myself more through this than in words. It’s also an extremely body positive form of dance. The more voluptuous you are, the more beautiful it looks. I can’t say this often enough – it’s an extremely welcoming and empowering style.
Do you and your husband perform together?
Ashish is a Latin dancer, and I knew a bit of Salsa and Bachata from classes I did in India. I started going to class with him when I came to Melbourne. We competed in the world salsa competition in 2016 and we came third place! I was so proud of us!
How do you juggle work and dance?
It is natural for me, because I’ve always done it. I love my day job as a graphic designer as much as I love dance. In fact, I have some exciting news regarding my graphic design career. I recently designed the logo for Remo D’Souza’s film production house (Director of the Bollywood movie ABCD). It’s in the process of being animated, and soon we’ll see it on the big screen!
What are your future plans?
In 2020, I’m planning on opening my new Belly and Bollywood dance classes in Epping. My dance school is called Natrang Dance.
How has your experience been at Studio J?
It is so much fun! My two loves – Bollywood and Belly dance have collaborated into one body. I feel so lucky to combine the two and to spread the joy. How can it get better than this!
Honestly, if Jaya hadn’t called me last year and asked me if I wanted to teach, I don’t think I would be dancing right now. In 2018 my mum passed away and it has been really tough. I didn’t think I could dance because I felt so shattered and dancing seemed like such a happy thing to do. It felt wrong. But now I realize how much it has helped me to get through this rough time.
Dancing is a two-way process. I ran towards it and it has given me back a lot more than I expected.
To enrol in Pragya’s next Belly-Bolly dance course at Studio J:
8 week course: 16 January – 5 March 2020
Time: Thursdays 6pm (1 hour class)
More details here