When the Denver Nuggets met B’wood

On November 24th, at the Denver Nuggets – NJ Nets game halftime, Denver dance doyenne (and instructor) Renu Kansal took to the floor of the Pepsi Center with her Bollywood West troupe to perform.

I had been anticipating this event almost as much as they all had, since Renu had entrusted Top Secret discussions of musical choices with a few Bollywood Fugly friends some two months or so back.   The merits of pieces like Maarjani (from Billu Barber) and Mauja hi mauja (from Jab We Met) were debated against those of Rangeeli Raat (Money Hai to Honey Hai) and Mourya Re (Don – The Chase Begins).

In the end, the final line-up was Mourya Re, Mauja and Jai Ho.

With the Big Night now behind her, I asked Renu to tell me all about it:

Btw, the Nuggets won 101 – 87.   Were they so pumped from the exhilarating Hindi film music that they thundered on to victory?   I’m just sayin’……

Maria: How did you feel out there?   Did it all go by really fast?   Or did time seem to slow down?   Were you watching the audience faces?   Any little missteps or surprises?

Renu: It was a real rush”” when the lights blacked out and the NBA announcer started speaking in his growly Monster Truck Rally voice “Ladies and Gentlemen…for tonight’s halftime entertainment…we present… BOLLYWOOD!” I started laughing out loud, in position.   It’s just something I never thought I’d hear in my lifetime”” BOLLYWOOD!!

The performance was 6 minutes total, so on one hand it was over so quickly I couldn’t believe we’d put hours of rehearsal into it, for it to pass by in a flash.

Yet, the irony is that while the performance was actually happening, you’re calculating 1000 variables, calling up choreography, trying to put on a charismatic and energetic performance, lip syncing, changing formations… and really every second lasts forever, at the same time. It’s a weird time warp to be in!

I also had picked very high energy, high output material, so it was a bit different from our pacing in rehearsal, to get to the performance and everybody’s adrenaline is high and you perform “to eleven” and deplete all your reserves and wind up exhausted after the first 2 minutes, wondering how you’ll make it through 4 minutes more. It was intense, like nothing any of us have been through.

Inevitably there are a few little hiccups or surprises, a few forgotten pieces of choreography or some formations that are subtly adjusted here and there”” and I’m grateful for that because it means we still have growth ahead of us, not plateau.

How long have you been working toward this event?   What sort of rehearsals?   When did you settle on the music and the costumes?

We’ve been working toward this event for the better part of the year, as far as setting the date and getting the logistics in place. We actually entered rehearsals about 6 weeks prior”” weekly rehearsals for 2 – 2 1/2 hours and a lot of work preparing individually, outside of rehearsals. We narrowed the music down and selected it pretty early on, maybe 10-12 weeks out.

I really like to work as far in advance as possible, so that I can give my dancers the luxury of maximum preparation time before we come together and rehearse as a troupe. I think it comes out of my days with Disney and William Morris Agency”” I work to eliminate as many variables in preproduction so that our actual show-days are relatively hassle free.

This one was smooth as butter, I have to say. In this case, I also asked a friend to advise us a little on the costumes, since the core audience is a little outside of our main demographic swath 🙂 Sometimes I have to step back and look at it with un-Bollywood eyes and try to come at it as an audience member who has maybe never encountered Bollywood or much of Indian dance and culture. It’s easy to take it for granted, in producing our shows, sometimes.

How many of you performed?   Any non-desis in the group?

We had 13 dancers, and 4 of us are desi. Two are non-desi males and they’re AWESOME! They really get the charisma and showmanship that this style of dance requires and they are outstanding performers.

We are an incredibly diverse troupe and I’m so proud of that”” so much of the time you see cultural dance groups that are only of that culture. I think it speaks highly to the reach of our organization and the appeal of Bollywood music and dance that we attract and retain a variety of dancers who come to us from completely different backgrounds and interests.

Incidentally, it’s only the second time the NBA has utilized a Bollywood dance group as halftime entertainment EVER. The LA Clippers have used the group “Bollywood Step Dance” at the Staples Center.   They’ve also used 2 different Bhangra teams out there, as well.   Outside of the Clippers, though, nobody’s ever engaged any sort of Indian dance”” Bolly or bhangra”” ever before!

Note: here’s Renu backstage at the Pepsi Center on the big day.   With her is Ken Leist, the company manager for Bollywood West, or as Renu describes him “…team captain, lead dancer, Man-at-Arms, Second-in-Command in charge of Precision and Flair!”

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