Choreographer Sandip Soparrkar talks Ballroom, Bollywood and the Royal invitation to dance

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Sandip Soparrkar is one of the best and most unique choreographers working in Bollywood today. He is unique because he was trained in Germany in the classic style of Ballroom. He combines dances like the tango and the waltz with Bollywood moves and music and comes up with something new. He began his career in Bollywood in 2001 when he came to Mumbai on a holiday and stayed after being offered work as a choreographer. His first film was Zubeidaa, with award winning director Shyam Benegal. He has now gone on to choreograph numerous numbers in many films including Tum, Kyun! Ho Gaya Na, Holiday, and Mangal Pandey. More recently, you have seen his work in Kites with Hrithik Roshan and in the tango with Neil and Priyanka in Saat Khoon Maaf. He has also worked in Hollywood, most notably for the film Nine directed by Rob Marshall, and has choreographed for both Madonna and Britney Spears. Mr. Soparrkar has been recognized both by the Queen and Prince Charles of England for promoting Ballroom and Latin American dance culture in India. In an even bigger honor, he
and his partner Jesse Randhawa have been invited to perform the closing piece at the royal wedding reception dinner of Prince William and Kate Middleton at Buckingham Palace on April 29th. I got the chance to interview the choreographer and we talked about the reception dance – a Bollywood waltz of course – but also his style of mixing Bollywood and Ballroom. Check it out!

You are known more of the classic Ballroom styles, tell us about your style of choreography.

Yes, I have done my dance education in Latin and ballroom dances. After coming to India I took up the task of promoting this dance form here in India as it was not known at all. My films did well too. It’s said in Rome do what Romans do, so I followed the same theory and I started blending ballroom and Latin dances to Bollywood songs. Now this has caught on like fire. Every TV show, every movie has ballroom and Latin dances done to Bollywood songs and I am so happy.

My nomination for the best choreography award at the Star Screen function makes me confident of the task I have taken up. I want ballroom culture to be famous in India. I want Indian dancers to participate in ballroom championships and all this is a step toward it.

How would you describe Bollywood film choreography?

Bollywood dance is a great blend of different forms – be it ballroom, Latin, jazz, hip hop, Indian folk, classical. Get them all together, mix them up in a smart manner to suit the song of the film. and you get a superb mixture, which is very entertaining.

What have been some of the recent dances you have choreographed for films?

With God’s grace my last three released films have been very successful. Kites with Hrithik Roshan, Saat Khoon Maaf with Priyanka Chopra
and Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji with Ajay Devgan. They all did well and my work was appreciated because I was nominated for the Kites choreography.

Do you see an increase of the use of the more classic traditions of dance like the Ballroom dances in films?

Yes indeed, there has been an increase. In fact in Saat Khoon Maaf I choreographed an authentic tango piece to La Cumparsita music (a classic and famous Tango song) without any Bollywood mix. It’s getting there and soon we will get there. If you have seen old Bollywood films they had lots of cha cha cha, rock n roll, waltz, jive, twist, etc., but later it died. Dance is like fashion, it comes in circles and soon those days will be back. I am doing my bit to get there.

You have been invited to perform at the Royal Wedding reception. Tell us how that happened.

My only two associations with Royal Family have been when in 2004, I received a letter of appreciation from the Queen for promoting ballroom culture in India and when Price Charles visited the sets of my film Mangal Pandey in Mumbai. Then I received an invitation to perform at Prince William and Kate (Catherine) Middleton reception dinner dance. So excited.

You will be the closing piece of the reception, which is amazing as well. How does it feel to receive the invitation?

For any artist it is wonderful to perform for the Royal Family. Especially for such a beautiful occasion.

You are to do a Bollywood Waltz, how would you describe what you will do for the dance?

Bollywood waltz is dancing the waltz to Bollywood music and adding an essence of Bollywood dance to the authentic waltz. Keeping the royal sentiments of the occasion in mind. I would not like to comment much on the performance.

Do you know what pieces of music you will be using and how long the dance is to be?

Things are being worked out with the officials and the organizers and soon I will know that.

Have you started creating and rehearsing for the number? Can you give us a sneak peek into what they will see?

Like I said it will be a waltz with lots of Bollywood expressions. A few steps and to make it more exciting lots of breath taking lifts, tricks and drops.

Do you feel that this is a sign that Bollywood has really become more known in the world?

Bollywood has gained lots of popularity in the recent years specially after A R Rahman won awards and Slumdog Millionaire became a hit. But people still feel that real India was shown in Slumdog. I would want to make it clear that India is not all
slums like shown in the film. It was a film not a real life story. India is a beautiful country with rich culture and heritage, some beautiful and colorful dances. Now it’s getting its long due recognition.

It is fabulous that Bollywood is getting the exposure in so many different places and areas now. Have you seen an increase in knowledge about the industry and dance style?

It is indeed. Just recently in Jan 2011, my partner Jesse Randhawa and I danced at the World Economic Forum, where global leaders were in attendance. We performed a save the tiger themed dance with rumba, samba, paso doble all mixed and set to Bollywood tracks. To my surprise, most of the global heads present there knew of the Bollywood tracks.

What to you makes a good dancer?

Passion for the art, dedication to the dance form that is what makes a good dancer. The rest, things like techniques, style, expressions, etc can be learned, but passion and dedication that makes a complete dancer.

What inspires your work?

When I moved to Mumbai, India, I found that people in a city like Mumbai, which is the most modern city of the country, did not to hold hands with strangers and dance. They found it strange as it was against the culture to hold hands in public
and then to dance with a stranger from your class. Now we have Latin dance parties where people meet for the 1st time and dance till the last song is played. I am glad that I am a part of this change in the minds of people. I never wanted to change the culture. I just want people to accept a new culture too. This change inspires me.

Best person you have worked with as a choreographer?

In Bollywood it’s Hrithik Roshan. I did not have to teach him anything, just show what’s to be done and he does it correctly to the ‘T’. And Kajol, she is fabulous. So much energy that she livens up the dance and the atmosphere around her. It’s fun to teach her. In Hollywood, Madonna and Britney Spears are wonderful, so dedicated that it’s amazing to work with them.

You were also a judge on Dance India Dance Little Masters on Zee TV – has the show helped the classic dance forms (waltz, samba, tango) become more available across the sub continent? What did you enjoy most about being part of that show?

Yes, after Dance India Dance ballroom dances have become a big fashion statement in India. I am happy this has happened. Though still a bit more dance education is needed, people still feel that salsa and samba is the same, but at least they have accepted a new international dance form. That’s important for me.

What I enjoyed the most about Dance India Dance is the innocence of the kids, the non competitive spirit of the children. They were there because they simply loved to dance. Competition was secondary. That’s missing from dance shows by adults.

What do you love about being a dancer and choreographer?

What I love the most are the different expressions for a dancer: love, hate, soft, hard, angry, sexy, arrogance, romance, you name it and a dancer does it. That emoting bit of the drama I love as a dancer. As a choreographer what I like is the
challenge when a song is given to you, a situation and sets are explained by the director and then we have to create a whole dance for it. Keeping no particular dance form in mind. It is the most creative and challenging thing for me.

Any advice for dancers?

Be grounded always. The entertainment world is so glamorous. Never get carried away with all the glitz. Be grounded, as dancers we dance on the ground not in the air – if your attitudes fly high a dancer will soon fall down for sure.

What else are you working on?

I have a series of workshops planned in Africa, Kuwait and America. I am opening my 2nd international branch in Virginia in USA. Plus I have three Bollywood films I am working on. And yes, the performance at the ‘wedding of the decade’!

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