Dancers With A Dream: Shivani and Chaya
Jun 17, 2018
Meet the choreographer duo Chaya Kumar and Shivani Bhagwan, the epitome of grace and fire fused together. They have undoubtedly revolutionized the dance industry by their principles on life and of course, their dance. Believing that dance speaks for itself, this duo has become a YouTube dance sensation through their vibrant and unique dance moves on stage. Shivani and Chaya will be on the judges' panel at the McDonald's Dance USA Dance Semi Finale. Here, in an interview with DUD, the duo talks about their journey and their view on dance.
Anuradha @DUD: This is such a crazy happy time for South Asian artists making YouTube such a happening place to be. Your videos are bringing in such rave reviews and numbers, but I am sure there has been a journey that makes you what you are today. Tell us a little about that journey.
Shivani: A lot of people actually think that we met a long time ago, but Chaya and I met about 2 years ago now. It kind of goes to say that the chemistry we have in the videos is not fake and the reason for that is that dance has brought us closer together in the art form. Our journey has been really crazy so far; we have gotten the opportunity to work with some really cool people. We have worked with Arjun Kapoor, we have worked with Diljit Dosanjh. We got to choreograph at IIFA which was really exciting. Month by month and day by day, we really worked to enhance the art form and showcase Bhangra and Bollywood to the forefront. We are trying to bring the prestige back of Bollywood, and South Asian dance forms and kind of show that it can be at the forefront of dance and dancers can be their own artists as well; they do not have to be backing somebody up. So all of these intentions have led us to make this mission through this journey, and that will put dance in the limelight. Just a little bit about our journey, we have traveled over the last year to places like London, Australia for a tour and it is so exciting because neither of us really thought that dance could do that for us. It has been fascinating to actually meet the people that are watching our videos and dancing with them in person and learning so much from them.
Anuradha @DUD: You are working with such significant artists such as, Diljit Dosanjh, Mickey Singh and collaborating with reputed brands such as Red Chillies and IIFA. How does it all feel?
Shivani: Yes, I mean that’s really exciting. Every time we were able to work with an artist, we were able to not only learn things about them, but we have learned things about ourselves. We were able to figure what we can bring to the table and figure out the relationship with the other artists to see how challenging things are and how much work really goes behind the scene. For example, an IIFA performance that is about 11 minutes long and the work that goes behind all of that. We have an immense amount of appreciation for that, and we work really hard to put that on. It was every different artist we worked with that has been a difference in a great learning experience, and everybody has been super supportive.
Anuradha @DUD: What do you love to see in your students?
Shivani: I think I can speak for both Chaya and me when I say that we love to see students bring their own flair to their choreography. We always say this in class that you don’t have to be a “bhangra dancer” to do the Bhangra because I feel like we kind of have labeled ourselves as dancers in the past few years and we are kind of shy to try something that we have never tried before. Kind of like “I am not a classical dancer so I should not do that.” But there is really no rule; you can try anything you want; you can succeed in any style or any form. So we absolutely love to speak to students to bring their own flair to our choreography. When that happens, we light up the whole room like that because only that person can execute it that way nobody else can.
Anuradha @DUD: What makes you look twice when watching a dance performance?
Shivani: I think for me, what makes me look twice is expression and passion. If they are really working the camera and if they are really making eye contact then they are taking you through a journey. So even if it is just a 30-second dance, I kind of want to see a beginning, an intro, a climax and an ending. I kind of want to be taken through a journey as a viewer and have that person tell their story, and I just want to watch and be excited in a way that oh I do not know what they are going to say next or I do not know what they are going to do next. So that is kind of what I look for.
Anuradha @DUD: Who has been a source of inspiration?
Shivani: its hard to put it for just a few people because I think we both have a lot of inspirations. First off, the support we have received from our parents to follow through with this industry and career has been really lovely. It is never easy, and you never know what tomorrow is going to look like so definitely, our parents for both of us is like number one. We both have a couple of dancers and artists we look up to and really respect. For me personally, there are a few Hollywood choreographers and dancers that I really look up to, and they have inspired our work, and they have also inspired the way that we choreograph and the way that we hear the music.
Chaya: Yes absolutely, I second that. We have several idols that it is hard to point out every single one of them. Some of them are not just dancers, some of them are singers, some of them are painters and its all kind of one of the same. I think we are inspired every day by somebody new to be honest with you. Whoever we have a new experience with, whoever makes us interested slightly differently. More than anything else, it is our students. When they come to class, and we see how they push themselves and how they take the choreography and make it their own. We always tell them in class that we can be inspired by each other, that we can learn from each other’s choices and decisions in class and it goes the same for us. Whenever we see a decision made, we take notice of that, and we apply it to our own work.
Anuradha @DUD: Chaya, Shivani had mentioned in one of your interviews that you are an all-rounder. You are a painter, writer, dancer, singer, and more. This is quite intriguing. Has dance always been your primary form of expression?
Chaya: That is very sweet of her to say. I think I am kind of amused over time and I don’t sit still. I’m inspired by something, and then I look through for inspiration, but then I find inspiration in something else. I am like a kid in a candy store. I see something, and I am like oh look at that, look at that! I do not really consider them different, art is art, and all mediums are trying to achieve the same thing. Whether I am painting or doing videography or singing or directing or producing or whatever it is, I consider them all as one of the same because it drills down to expression, because they are trying to tell a story. I am trying to create movement in my paintings which is great for movement and the dance that I am executing. Whether I am trying to depict a little bit more color or vibrancy; it kind of is the same across the board. So I treat it as one of the same, and it is interesting because I like to depict one medium through another medium. Sometimes it is easier for me to see a dance through the light of a painter or vice versa. Maybe I can see dance in a painting to just see the movement. So it is interesting because you can literally play off of all of it and it just kind of broadens your horizon a little bit. At the end of the day, it is all art, and I think that is kind of what our primary objective here is to neutralize all of it and to say that they are all the same. We are struggling over the past two years to prove that dance is just as valuable as singing or as producing music or as painting or as directing. We are trying to achieve the same thing, it is just that we have a different way of doing it. I would consider dance as probably my primary form of expression, even though I have always used different mediums of art to show my artistry in dance and to break the monotony a little bit. Sometimes it is tough, just like as you have writer’s block, there is dancer’s block. So having different mediums helps to break away and try something entirely different. I definitely think dance is my first love, but everything else comes second for sure.
Anuradha @DUD: If your dance was a word, what would it be?
Shivani: I love the question, so I want to give the right answer. Chaya, you want to go first?
Chaya: I am just going to say Life, you know dance is life. Not because it is my life, but because it is comparable to life and because it depicts life and because the way that we express ourselves through dance, it changes everything as we grow with people and as our experiences alter us and evolve us. People may think that dance is niche but dance is actually not niche. If you really give it a chance and sit down with the art and watch and listen to it and let it speak to you, I think you will realize very quickly that depicting things that you experience on a daily basis is what appeals to the broader audience here. That is the difference in going to watch a movie or going to a concert and listening to an artist sing; it’s the same thing as a dancer if you pay really close attention. Sure its silent, it is not like I am speaking necessarily, but I am speaking to you with my body and depicting to you, like you know for example I learned Bharatanatyam when I was 12. Now I am 26, and if I was to perform Bharatanatyam now, the things I can depict now versus then are entirely different because I have the life experience to back those things up. I wouldn't have been able to depict a love story as eloquently then as I could now because now I understand what a heartbreak may feel like or I can understand what separation might feel like or anxiety in a relationship. All these different things have shaped my life and therefore have shaped my artistry.
Shivani: And for me, dance is a therapy. I think that dance has saved me from myself and from moments of thinking that you don’t believe in yourself so for me dance is definitely therapy. I get really irritated like I feel it in my body when I go more than two days without dancing, I get really anxious, and I almost just feel not as comfortable with my skin, and it reminds me that we are all moving every day. Even when you are walking you are dancing, if you are picking up a glass of water every day, you are dancing, and you just do not realize it. I think for me dance Is definitely therapy and it just brings me back to my soul, and it’s the one thing that I feel like that at the moment that I'm doing just for myself. It is a way for me to see my soul and artistry, and it’s the way for me to connect with myself again and for me to reach a high that I personally feel like no drug can get you there. It is just like when you say the adrenaline rush/high that you get on stage when you perform; I still get that same high when I am freestyling or just dancing in the studio by myself or with one other person or with Chaya or even at recordings, in our classes. These are all moments when I feel so lucky that where our bodies can take us most naturally. That is definitely what dance is, one of the things that dance for me is therapy.
Anuradha @DUD: You will be on the judging panel at the Semi-finale on July 13. What are you expecting from the dance teams participating at the McDonald’s Dance USA Dance Semi-Finale?
Shivani: We want to see that they love what they do. That they are on stage and they are supporting each other on stage; that they are standing for each other on stage. Not putting competition or the prize first but placing dance first and not losing sight about it because that’s when you truly are in the moment and just doing what you love.
Chaya: Yes, just to piggyback off of that, definitely dance is a way to bring people together, and that is something to remember that even though it is a competition, that art form is what is bringing the competition together and it is bringing all these teams of people together so definitely. We are just looking for fun energetic and witty performances, and we'd absolutely love to be entertained.
We thank Shivani and Chaya for a fascinating look into their world. Come and watch them judge and mentor Top 30 teams at the McDonald's Dance USA Dance Semi Finale on July 13 at the Jo Ann Magistro Performing Arts Center, New Jersey. For tickets, Click Here.
You can reach Anuradha at @anuradhawrites on Twitter and Facebook or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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