UC Berkeley alumni to start Bollywood-themed fitness program at RSF

Minal Mehta/Courtesy

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Three generations of UC Berkeley alumni, brought together by the campus’s diverse dance community, will soon be starting a Bollywood-themed dance class at the Recreational Sports Facility.

Inspired by previous Bollywood-themed programs at the RSF, BollyX combines Indian dance choreography and high-intensity workouts choreographed to Southeast Asian-themed music.

The program was founded by UC Berkeley alumni Mayuri Bhandari, Shahil Patel and Minal Mehta, who got the idea of starting the fitness program from Bhandari, a regular teacher of Bollywood group dance classes at the RSF as a student before she graduated in 2012.

“When we came up with the idea, we wanted to create a product that reflects our love of Bollywood culture and fitness that could be approached by anybody of any cultural affiliation,” Patel said.

All three have been active in the campus’s Bollywood community and competed in the school team, sweeping local as well as national competitions, including Patel leading his dance group Ishaara to the semifinals of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

Mehta, who graduated in 2005, says the class differs from other dance classes by focusing mainly on fitness and the rejuvenation of the participant’s spirit.

“While participants do get to immerse themselves in Southeast Asian dance, the main objective is to give them a great workout,”  Mehta said. “The point is to let go of all that negative energy by allowing students to participate in a form of dance that is dynamic and bold.”

Manisha Anantharaman, a doctoral student who was a regular at Bhandari’s classes and is training to be a certified instructor in the fall, said the classes were necessary in avoiding the high-stress life of being a graduate student.

“The way the class allowed me to express my body really gave me confidence in myself,” Anantharaman said. “The boldness and color of Bollywood dance moves make you feel like you’re a performer.”

Despite the scarcity of the classes, RSF director of fitness Devin Wicks says that Bollywood-themed dance classes never fail to attract students.

“It wasn’t uncommon to see 100 to 150 people show up at (Bhandari’s) class,” Wicks said. “The greatest challenge these free group classes face is having a supply of instructors to teach the class.”

Both Bhandari and Mehta became active in Bollywood dance at a young age. In contrast, Patel had little interest in dancing before joining the Bollywood community at UC Berkeley.

“I never danced as a kid, and I was always the guy with two left feet,” Patel said. “I never saw myself being captain of my university team and leading a full-length dance fitness class in Boston.”

BollyX will be free for RSF members in the fall. Patel is also looking to establish classes on the rosters of MIT, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in business, and Harvard University.

Contact Dennis Vidal at [email protected].