Reign in Spain

Often touted as India's most potent soft power in the modern age, the movies, music and stars of Bollywood have built a unique cultural bridge with the world at large, smashing through linguistic and cultural barriers from Denmark to Dunedin, riding on a smorgasbord of music, dance, action, emotion, colour and larger- than-life 'heroes' and 'heroines'.

The initial breakthrough, and the inevitable 'almost-mainstream' penetration, in the cultural consciousness of the world, rode on the unique on-screen music and dance of Bollywood, and its many off-screen ambassadors.

One such classic example of a later generation Bollywood ambassador is Sneha Mistri, a British born Indian Gujarati, whose resume describes her as a choreographer, singer, dancer and presenter on radio and television. Mistri, as she is almost universally known in Spain, took her bandwagon of Bollywood music and dance to Spain.

A student of dance from Middlesex University (London), Mistri is trained in Bharatanatyam, contemporary, street and jazz dance forms – myriad hues and influences of all of which find active resonance in any typical Bollywood choreography.

A 21st century Bollywood dancer-choreographer in the UK, no matter how brilliant, would be just another pair of feet on the crowded dance floors and stages, swinging and swaying to beats and tunes injected into British consciousness over decades – no longer foreign, no longer exotic. Ironically, this 'familiarity' also provides a ready platform to those talented enough to make Bollywood dance a career – sure there is competition, sure you have to be at least middling-good to eke out at least a subsistence living, but you do not have to make the market, you do not have to preach to the already converted.

So, it takes a brave soul to upend that 'advantage' and set forth,with Bollywood dance and music as your calling cards, into totally unchartered territory – Espana. It's notoriously insular and resistant, in its world view of everything foreign and unknown. And yet, here we are in 2020, and Sneha Mistri is the undisputed Queen of Bollywood Dance in Spain, a market she can be largely credited as the creator – and an almost household name in the now less-insular world of popular dance forms in Spain.

Before reaching Spanish shores sometime in the early 2000s, Mistri honed her skills at home in the UK. She later worked as a dancer and choreographer with Nitin Sawhney during the promotion of the artist's album 'Migration', as a dancer for DJ Ritu on her European tour, for Joi Karma and for the Shobhana Jeyasingh Dance Company. She was a choreographer in the acclaimed play 'Bollywood Jane' at the Leicester Haymarket and in 'Bollywood Queen' for Stretch Limo Productions.

But it is really in Spain that Mistri transitioned from a Bollywood dancer in the UK to 'the' Bollywood Dance Queen of Iberia.

Salsa to samba to rock to jazz to ballet to classical to gypsy to Latin to mid-eastern to Indian classical – Bollywood has drawn from all dance forms freely and unabashedly. And all it takes to translate that magic from screen to stage is a skilled and footloose practitioner, who can effectively transmit that effervescence through the moves and the moods. This is what Mistri so effectively unleashed on the largely uninitiated and unsuspecting Spanish, and lo and behold, in time, she had made a stage and an artistic and commercial Bollywood eco-system for herself in Spain.

Over the years, Mistri has grown into an independent producer and artistic director of her own Bollywood themed musicals and shows like 'Sueños de Bollywood' and 'Bollywood the Cabaret', staged on Spain's biggest venues.

She is the organiser of 'Sonika Bollywood' - Spain's biggest Indian dance festival, where she invites renowned and iconic Indian dancers to conduct master classes and workshops in Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kalarippayattu, Folk and Modern.

As a teacher of Bollywood dance, Mistri herself has farmed a formidable reputation, attracting students from all over Spain and Europe to her classes in Madrid.

She has to her credit two DVD releases – one on her Bollywood inspired choreography, released in 2010, and another on 'Dance and Fitness with Mistri', released in 2016.

Her successes as a Bollywood dancer/choreographer in Spain paved the way for crossover projects. Comfortably and permanently ensconced in Spain, Mistri is working on her 3rd stage musical project 'Dreams of Bollywood', created especially for the La Estación Theatre in Principe Pio, Madrid.

(Sohini Roychowdhury is the founder-director of Sohinimoksha World Dance and Communications, Kolkata/Madrid/Berlin)

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