Episode 1: Jag
[00:00:06] You’re listening to This Girl Can. Real stories from real women celebrating getting active in all different kinds of ways. This series was recorded during the coronavirus pandemic in Australia, when the women that you’re hearing from were at home either with their families or on their own. All the interviews were done over the phone.
[00:00:25] We hope that these stories inspire you to feel good and get active in your [00:00:30] own way.
[00:00:36] I’m Jagriti and I’m 42 years old. I’m a Bollywood dance teacher and performer.
[00:00:46] Bollywood dancing is a dance style that’s seen in Bollywood Indian movies. And it’s very expressive, it’s very colourful and over the top. It allows for full expression of different types of emotions. [00:01:00]
[00:01:15] With dancing, there’s just so many things I love about dancing, with Bollywood dancing in particular, it always gets me in to a really high energy state and it’s so uplifting [00:01:30] and I just feel happy when I’m doing it. So no matter what mood I might be in beforehand, when I’m dancing, I just feel elated and alive and happy.
[00:01:46] I also dance just with some soft music as well, to feel my emotions, to fully express my emotions, and I find that extremely cathartic because sometimes I [00:02:00] notice myself holding on to emotions and they’re feeling stuck in my body – like there might be a tightness in my chest or like this weird feeling fluttering in my stomach. And when I dance, I notice as I move my body, there’s a shift happening in my body. So by the end of it, I feel like I’ve come home to myself, like I’m back in my body and I’m feeling at peace in my body.
[00:02:34] I [00:02:30] think my first memory would be probably around maybe five or six. I would dance around the house and my parents owned an Indian restaurant and my sister and I would spend time upstairs watching Bollywood movies to entertain ourselves. And we’d be doing the dance steps, watching the video clips.
[00:02:52] So I remember just sort of dressing up [00:03:00] and putting on, you know, my mom’s jewellery or clothes and then just dancing and watching the movies.
[00:03:12] I’ve always felt aware of my difference. In Carlton, I was surrounded by the Italian community.
[00:03:19] So there was a lot of Italians that went to my primary school. And being Indian was a rarity in that time. So I definitely felt odd, like the odd one out. And [00:03:30] I guess it was a bit challenging as well, if I think about it, because it wasn’t common. Like now Indian food, Indian culture is quite prominent. People know about it. But at that time when I was growing up, it was very unusual. So yeah, it was interesting and I always felt different.
[00:03:52] The cultural identity piece around whether I’m more Australian or more Indian is still today a [00:04:00] topic of contention. It’s interesting, I’ve lived in India as an adult for four years. I was in Mumbai in Bollywood, actually working there as an assistant director. And I felt more Australian than I did Indian. And it’s interesting in Australia, I really relate to being Indian. I really notice my Indianness while I’m in Australia. So it is a very interesting challenge. And I find that it’s hard to define myself as either or, because [00:04:30] it’s all amalgamated, you know, and I can’t – like I picked up things from both cultures and I’m so grateful for that.
[00:04:42] I think that I’ve always felt like the odd one in my life, like I’ve just always felt like I’m a bit off-centre. I’m not here nor there and people can’t quite figure out what pigeon hole to put me in.
[00:04:56] And I’ve actually enjoyed that, you know, being unique [00:05:00] and different. At the same time, it presents its challenges of feeling like you don’t belong. You don’t quite belong anywhere in a particular group or framework. And I guess it’s sifted through in the way I teach dances. I knew why I’m teaching dance. That was very clear to me. It was to light people up. That message was always clear. I wasn’t interested in necessarily promoting how [00:05:30] great you look onstage or vanity and those type of things. Although the Bollywood film industry is notorious for that. If you look at Bollywood film clips, you would see that it’s always a certain size zero/size 6 model who’s dancing away and showing close-ups of her midriff and you know, all of these things. But to me, Bollywood dancing wasn’t to promote that part of things.
[00:05:56] It was more to uplift people and light them up. And I saw [00:06:00] the impact it was having. I saw that, unlike other classical Indian dance styles – which you can compare to ballet, for example. You need a mastery over years and years and years.
[00:06:12] Bollywood dancing is something that anyone off the street can get involved in immediately – in this moment.
[00:06:18] And that’s why I felt that this was a great way to actually connect with people and get them all to just feel alive and light up.
[00:06:33] I [00:06:30] was maybe two or three years into running my dance company and a friend of mine introduced me at a function to another person and he said: ‘Ah, this is Jag and she has a Bollywood dance company’.
[00:06:47] And that person immediately just looked me up and down and said: ‘Aren’t you too fat to be a dancer?’ And he just said it out like that.
[00:06:57] And I was in utter shock that, first [00:07:00] of all, someone would be that blunt and say that – and so rude. And I just couldn’t believe that people do – because it’s not in my way of thinking – people do believe that you need to be a certain shape, size, body type in order to do certain things in life. You need to look a certain way. And that kind of shook me up a little bit because I never saw myself as being too fat to dance because I just love to dance. It’s like you can’t [00:07:30] separate me from dance. It’s just who I am; it’s part of who I am. So that got me reflecting and it got me quite upset as well, thinking that, wow, I’m standing in front of people on stage, performing. And it got me thinking, do I not look right for this? Like, should I be looking like the actresses in Bollywood films in order to perform? And very quickly, [00:08:00] I realized that that is not the message I want to send out to others, nor to myself, because I know how it makes me feel. I feel so incredibly alive when I’m dancing and I’ll not give that up for anything. And not just that. I’m really good at it. So, yeah, I just thought, you know, you haven’t seen dance.
[00:08:24] Since the beginning, this has been an area of intense focus for WHO, [00:08:30] as we have said many times before. This is a new virus and the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.
[00:08:40] Now, more than ever, I am realizing how much dancing is saving my life even more than before. It’s now absolutely essential to move our bodies and to centre ourselves and connect with our bodies. Otherwise, we will go absolutely insane in this environment. So [00:09:00] what I’m doing is I’m dancing almost daily. I have a meditation practice. I go for walks and I dance. So these are sort of the activities that I tend to do on a daily basis that are keeping me somewhat sane. And what I’ve had to do, actually, is: I started getting really upset as the calls came in from clients cancelling bookings.
[00:09:22] And it hit me really hard that wow, this is serious. And I was starting to feel really dejected and low and unsure [00:09:30] of the future and what’s going to happen?
[00:09:33] So a friend of mine suggested, why don’t you run online dancing? Like, why don’t you go online? And I hadn’t really considered that. You know, I just loosely considered it years ago, but hadn’t really taken it seriously. But then as soon as I decided, okay, that’s a great idea, I’m going to do it because I don’t want to stop dancing. I don’t want to stop sharing this with people. And right now is the time [00:10:00] to share it more than ever. So I decided to run my first ever online dance class.
[00:10:06] All right. So now what I’m going to get you to do is just move a little bit faster. So I’ll start with the right. We’ll do four and then switch to the left. Let’s go. 5, 6, 7 …
[00:10:16] I ran a Bollywood dance class and there were about 30 people that showed up. I could see about ten of them through the video cameras in the kitchen, in the living room. And it was amazing. It was absolutely incredible. Dancing with [00:10:30] them all. And it felt like I’m right there with them. Even though we are in our own homes.
[00:10:36] So we’re tapping our heel to the front. It’s like a heel tap where you can pretend like you’re just kicking a bit of a soccer ball in front of you.
[00:10:45] Tap, tap, tap. I think crises and trying times take us back to the basics of what gives us meaning. And I think that’s what helped me connect to [00:11:00] what it is that I’m doing.
[00:11:02] And so you don’t have to lose that sense of meaning. I still have that sense of meaning. I want to light people up. I don’t care how I do it. Now, if I can’t do it in this way, I’m going to find another way to do it. And it was as simple as that. So there’s always a way. When you have this expression that needs to come out of you, it will find a way. If you just sort of allow it. So the first thing that I recommend everyone does is acknowledge how you’re feeling. Do not ignore [00:11:30] it. Do not suppress it. Don’t just think, oh, yeah, let’s be positive through this. If you’re feeling really, really bad, allow yourself to feel that emotion first, because there’s no passing it or jumping over it. But once you’ve truly allowed yourself to feel it, it’s like you’ve given yourself that space. Then new ideas can come to you, new possibilities can come to you. That’s how I felt. And it’s just simple acknowledgement of how I’m feeling allows me to shift my perspective.
[00:12:00] Would [00:12:00] you like to try some Bollywood dancing right now? What I want you to do is point both fingers up in the air, so both arms are in the air, and your elbows are in line with your shoulders. It’s almost like the position that an umpire holds when a cricketer has hit a six. So you just point to the sky. And all I want you to do is, while you’re sitting there, maybe at your desk, you’re just shrugging your shoulders up and down, up and down. That is a quintessential Bollywood dance [00:12:30] step. It’s really fun. Just shrugging of the shoulders. And then you can just let that loose. Another dance step that I can teach is the chicken neck. So you just fold your palms together above your head and then you can move your neck, either forwards and backwards like a chicken or side to side. A lot of people struggle with the side to side, but you can try that. So that’s a really fun one to do. You can just do it while sitting down. And also [00:13:00] just any hip movements, just rotating your hips, shaking your hips, any which way that they move. The best way to move your hips is by just softening the knees. Don’t have them straight and locked. If you just bend your knees slightly then your hips have that fluidity to move around.
[00:13:28] How do I keep going when my mind [00:13:30] is telling me no. I first thank it for telling me no. And listen to it and acknowledge the emotions that I’m feeling. And then I notice that as soon as I’ve acknowledged my emotions and given them permission, then something shifts automatically within me. And I always find some hope, some possibility. And that’s the way it’s always been for me. Just first, the acknowledgement of where I’m at and how I’m feeling. And then this incredible [00:14:00] shift that comes from I don’t know where.
[00:14:10] This Girl Can is an initiative of VicHealth. For more information about how to get yourself moving or to connect with clubs and groups in your local area, go to thisgirlcan.com.au or check out This Girl Can VIC on Facebook and Instagram. And we love to hear about women getting out and active, whether it’s walking the dog or going for a ride or having a kick with your kids. [00:14:30] So follow the hashtag #ThisGirlCan and celebrate women who are all kinds of active – no matter how well they do it, how they look or how sweaty they get.
[00:14:39] Thanks for listening.
Check out Jagriti’s at home Bollywood dance class here.