How Apsara Arts brings community, fitness and well-being to Croydon – Bollywood-style


By - Friday 13th June, 2014

Jeet Sandhu revisits a dance she loved in her childhood and finds a warmly welcoming community activity


The glamour of Indian dancing which has always captivated Jeet Sandhu.
Image by Apsara Arts, used with permission.

As a British Indian who loves all things Bollywood and used to pretend as a child that I was one of the main film leads, dancing around with my mum’s choonie (head scarf) wrapped round my waist, I was excited about going along to a Bollywood dance class on London Road.

Apsara Arts Croydon is a privately-funded organisation committed to engaging the community and using its funds to educate, inform and keep alive South Indian culture. It has only been offering Bollywood fitness classes since April. Having gone along for one class in May, I strongly agree with its ethos and feel the class is a really positive thing for the local community.

It’s also lovely to see that the organisers have the community’s interests at heart. With the cost of gym membership rising and the average cost of a gym class £5 or more, these classes cost £1 for around two hours and open up the opportunity to keep fit and healthy to a much broader range of individuals in Croydon. Only this week it’s been announced that the NHS is considering offering free fitness classes for clinically overweight adults, highlighting just how important services like this are.

Our tutor helped newbies like me get up to scratch

So – what was the class actually like? I thoroughly enjoyed learning the dance techniques and there was a mix of eastern influences, from Cambodia and South India to region-specific dance such as Kathak, Bhangra and mainstream Bollywood Cinema. I was attending the Bollywood fit class a few sessions after others had started and already learned a routine, but this was not a problem. Our tutor was more then accommodating and helped the newbies, including me, get up to scratch.

My reservation around fitness is that Bollywood dance routines can be very complex, therefore I wasn’t able to get up to a good level of speed and actually feel as though I was having a workout and getting fit. Perhaps there are other Bollywood classes in the Croydon or London region which would be more focused on fitness. Learning the movements was slightly challenging as within Bollywood dance there is great focus on being able to keep in time and be very graceful and skilled with the intricate placement and positions of the hands and fingers at the end of each step.

Learning the appropriate temptress-like facial expressions gave the class a little spice

Bollywood dance is also quite synonymous with the love stories that are played out within Bollywood cinema – so part of the class was learning how to pair your dance moves with appropriate temptress-like facial expressions. This certainly gave the class a little spice!

Another great element of the class was the sense of community it instilled. It was apparent that class members knew each other; it’s a great place to learn something new and meet new people.

The venue is in West Croydon, near to Croydon University Hospital, so it is very commutable. I would only suggest that due to the obviously-increasing popularity of the classes, perhaps a larger venue should be considered. All in all, for the cost of £1 for a roughly two hour Bollywood class, I consider this nothing but a real charitable act by Apsara Arts. So – go along, check it out and get your tumka (hip bump) on!

Organisations like Apsara Arts should really receive more praise. The work it is doing is invaluable, expecially in our current socially-confused post Euro election climate. I hope lots of people check out the website for more information on what else is on offer and share it socially.

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen is a non-profit community news magazine for London's most populous borough.

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