D is for dancing

So many D words, so little time! Didi, downward-facing dog, and driver, to name a few.  Few words capture a foreigner’s imagination more than dancing. Dancing is a quintessentially Bollywood trope. The trope is so common that many US TV shows with Indian characters have parodied the dance sequences. Take this example from Big Bang Theory.

When  foreigners think of Bollywood dance sequences, Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire comes to mind.

This end sequence by AR Rahman is not a typical Bollywood number, however.  Most songs  occur within the main structure of the movie, often in dream sequence format in locations completely unrelated to the plot. Although they often reflect a character’s journey through the movie, the dances sometimes happen at unexpected moments, like in the middle of a big car chase sequence. Conventional wisdom dictates that a Bollywood film without a dance number will not succeed at the box office.

Even an action film like Ra.One, starring Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor, is interrupted by a full-scale dance sequence. This song includes a mix of English and Hindi, reflecting the character’s location in London.

This song, Balam Pichkari, from Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, is set during a Holi party.

As a general rule, however, Indians don’t spontaneously burst into choreographed dance sequences, even at parties. Often, dancing occurs within the context of Hindu festivals. For example, during Navratri, boys and girls often dance the dandiya. This dance, which includes the colorful dandiya sticks, honors the goddess Durga and Lord Krishna.

For more on song and dance in Bollywood, check out this article.


20 thoughts on “D is for dancing

  1. WoW!!! You are nicely getting into the groove of Bollywood and Indian festivals…While people from some places and states like Punjab do get into spontaneous dancing at the sound of first bit, I need lots of push….Thanks for the lovely post. Visit mine if time permits.


  2. Oh you’re bang on with your descriptions. Bollywood often conveys the idea that Indians can ALL dance any time. So not true. Thanks for the videos too those are some of my favourite numbers.


  3. True every word! We Indians love to dance. Specially people from north India notably Punjab. I have so many friends who just wait for music to tap their feet. If not they will sing and dance. Except for festivals and bollywood movies, we have special dance performances during marriages. I, for an instance, am preparing for a dance performance for a friend’s marriage these days. I am crazy for these funky bollywood numbers, just hit the music on! 😉


    • I completely forgot about weddings! Yes, people love to dance during weddings. Strangest experience was dancing the Chicken Dance during an Indian wedding. Bizarre cross-cultural experience.


  4. Wow! Thanks for all the love, everyone! So glad I didn’t write D is for Didi. Dancing was way more fun. One note about the BBT number is that, technically, a true Bollywood sequence would have used playback singers, not the actor’s voices. The SRK song is sung by Akon, not SRK.


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