Natasha Nazerali dances Saturday, May 28, 5 p.m. at the Vancouver Convention Centre East, 999 Canada Place, Vancouver, as part of the Art! Vancouver fair. Visit artvancouver.net for more information.
Just a week after Natasha Nazerali graduated high school, she was on a plane to New York to further her dance training at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
“I didn’t want to waste any time, I wanted to go right out there and do it,” says the ambitious 19-year-old. “I just knew from a really young age that it’s what I wanted to do.”
Born and raised on the North Shore, Nazerali attended West Vancouver’s Sentinel secondary and was in the Super Achievers program, which allows elite-level athletes and performing artists to get their high school education while still making time to train. Outside of her academics, she studied at North Vancouver’s Shift Dance Academy where she took private ballet lessons every day, and also trained in contemporary dance, jazz and hip hop.
Nazerali had always considered herself a technical dancer first and foremost, but everything changed when she had the opportunity to perform for Indian choreographer and director Shiamak Davar, known for his work with Bollywood stars. Nazerali had never tried Bollywood-style dancing before, but was quickly hooked.
“It was definitely a challenge for me at first,” she says, explaining the style demands intricate handwork, right down to the fingertips. While the steps may not be as technically challenging as classical ballet, she says there’s a host of other precise movements to master, from the tilt of the head to the expression in the eyes.
“It’s all the specific details that go into Bollywood dance that make it so difficult.”
She also had to get used to choreography that incorporates veils, finger cymbals, pots and other props, all of which help to convey emotion and tell a story.
“And it makes it more theatrical and more entertaining for the audience as well,” she adds.
Nazerali is half Indian on her father’s side, so learning a type of dance that fuses classical Indian and contemporary pop styles has been educational.
“Half of my heritage comes from India and I never was familiar with that side,” she says. “Most Bollywood dancers have a very intense background in classical Indian dancing, like Kathak or Bharatanatyam. I had none of that going into it, so it was like learning a whole entire new vocabulary that I was totally unfamiliar with.”
Evidently, she was a quick learner because she is now a member of the Los Angeles-based Bollywood dance company MKM Bollystars. The troupe performs at events around the L.A. area and has appeared in music videos. While Nazerali may not fully understand the lyrics she’s dancing to or the instructions of visiting Indian choreographers, who often speak Hindi, she finds that the language of Bollywood dance transcends words.
“It’s just something that’s so universal and it’s something that’s so different that is now being acknowledged within the media which is really nice,” she says, referring to the growing presence of Bollywood flavour in Western movies and music.
Nazerali is excited to share her passion for Bollywood dance with her hometown at Art! Vancouver, a four-day art fair May 26 to 29 at the Vancouver Convention Centre East. She’ll take the stage to perform a solo number Saturday, May 28 at 5 p.m.
“I’m just really excited to showcase something different,” she says. “I don’t think we have a lot of showcases going on of Bollywood dance in Vancouver, or not as many as we should.”
Following her Vancouver visit, Nazerali has accepted a position with international dance company AATMA Performing Arts and will join the world tour of their show, Mystic India, set to travel to South Africa, Europe, Australia, and throughout the U.S. later this year.