Moorestown students Kira Barot, Avaani Dalal, Siyana Sheth, Saanvi Joshi, Rhea Arora, Anjali Bodiwala, Saavi Patel and others performed in the first Diwali Dance Fest at Disney World in Florida earlier this year.
The students danced in an official parade at Disney Springs and performed on stage with artists from around the country in a Diwali dance showcase at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Diwali is a Hindu festival of lights held in October and November.
“It was an amazing experience,” Arora recalled. “We felt like we made history.”
“It was so fun,” Dalal gushed. “Just the idea of even going there with your whole dance group performing is so crazy. It was so much fun.”
“A lot of hard work was put into it for sure,” Sheth noted. “We all came here (to Classical Rhythms Dance Academy Studio) at least three to four times a week every week in the summer to practice. We were all just working on coordination, working together, and we were also having bonding time, like laughter and happiness at the same time as we were learning.”
“It was good to showcase our culture in front of everyone in Disney,” said Joshi, “and it just really made history so it was a great experience.”
According to Gotta Go Orlando’s website, the dance fest, hosted by Jashn Productions, was expected to feature vibrant colors, bright costumes and performances by dancers from around North America. The event also featured South Asian dance schools, and singer and performer Raghav closed out the showcase.
“Looking back, after we see the video of our dance, knowing what we accomplished, all the hard work paid off,” Barot said.
“It’s cool that we were the first ones to ever do this, and we hope it’s a tradition for years to come,” Dalal noted.
According to its website, Classical Rhythms was the brainchild of Guru Abhilasha Chaudhary Saxena. With decades of training and experience in the Diwali dance form, she ran a successful dance academy in Mumbai, India, for 15 years under the banner Nritya Jhankar Cultural Academy (NJCA).
Saxena’s students have participated in and won many competitions across India, and she herself led her students in many competitions and performances at some of the most prestigious dance and cultural festivals across India. In 2008, Saxena moved to the U.S. and was faced with the challenge of starting over.
What began as a small Kathak batch of seven students is now an academy of 50 plus. Barot, Dalal, Sheth, Joshi, Arora, Bodiwala and Patel have been members of Classical Rhythms since 2016.
“Here, my goal is not only teaching dance, but also learning how to work as a team,” Saxena explained. “So backstage, we do not have any parents or anyone. It’s them when it comes to changing, makeup; they do theirs as well as they help out the younger kids or even the adults.
“They teach the adults, too, because we have adults who learn here, so (we) learn from each other,” Saxena added. “That’s how we come together … bonding and teamwork.”
The girls felt nervous before their performances, but once finished, they experienced both sadness and relief.
“It was a lot of fun preparing for it, and then knowing it was all done, it was kind of sad …” Sheth acknowledged. “Knowing that it … wouldn’t be done for a while – if ever again.”
“To us, it was a pretty big event, and we did put a lot of hard work into it,” Dalal pointed out. “And in a big place like Disney … It’s cool to identify that we worked hard and it’s something (with) our culture, and we went to one of the biggest theme parks.”‘
“We were part of history for moving Indians further in the world,” Arora said.