Dubai: Dance can transform your life, says Anup Bhardwaj
As his popular studio celebrates five years in Dubai, the choreographer to the stars and dance instructor tells us what inspires him.
It’s been a long and exciting journey for Anup Bhardwaj in the world of dance. The professional dancer and choreographer who has worked with Bollywood celebrities and been a part of many dance reality shows is celebrating another milestone — the fifth anniversary of his dance studio — Transformers Dance Studio in Dubai.
In a chat with City Times he explains the inspiration behind starting the studio in Dubai. “I owned studios in Delhi as a small side business but the ultimate plan was to always do a 9-5 job and keep dance as a passion project on the side. I even enrolled to do my Masters in the UK. Destiny had other plans though and I landed in Dubai. When I came here, I realized that there was an extreme need for quality dance education in Dubai. Bollywood dance that was taught in Dubai was very basic and people weren’t pushed enough to expand their limits and grow into better dancers. That’s when the idea of ‘Transformers’ came to my mind. What we do here is literally that — we transform people not only to become great dancers but also, into becoming a healthier, fitter, stronger version of themselves.” Excerpts from our interview with Anup.
How does it feel to be celebrating the fifth anniversary of Transformers Dance Studio in Dubai?
Exhilarating! The five-year journey has been a roller coaster ride. When I look back at all the events we have done and the students that have joined this journey with me, I realize what a big family we have become! I have had the honour of meeting so many people from different ages, nationalities, professions with everyone mostly having just one aim — to “enjoy” the process of getting fit! More than anything, this has been a dream come true. Lucky are the very few that get to make their passion their profession.
What inspired you to start the studio and how has the response been so far?
The response has been great! Three branches in five years, speaks for itself! Transformers Dance Studio is currently at Bur Dubai, Barsha Heights and Silicon Oasis. As we continue to grow, we still have so many queries from students living in different parts of the UAE who are eagerly waiting for us to open branches closer to them.
We have had so many parents tell us how TDS has positively impacted their children’s lives and how their children have become confident and opened up because of their dance classes. Every child deserves a break from their daily school routines and tuitions and every parent must get their child enrolled into some physical activity to keep their stress levels down. Dance is the best way to be fit, have fun, relieve stress and gain confidence — all at the same time!
Not only children, we have also had lots of middle aged women reach out to us who felt that they were mentally slowing down. They complain of having memory issues, poor coordination and low motor skills. With regular dance classes, today the same ladies are much more confident — they walk out of class with a confident posture and a smile on their face and are able to complete an entire 60 minute class without panting. They are happier, healthier and fitter, and that’s what we live for.
How did the pandemic affect your classes?
The pandemic was an unexpected turn of events. It felt like we were in a movie. We were in the process of opening our third branch at Dubai Silicon Oasis just before the pandemic started and everything went haywire. We had to change the dynamics of how we took our classes and for a couple of months we were only taking classes online over Zoom. The pandemic caused a lot of people to put on excessive weight and a lot of our older students who were living alone started suffering from illnesses such as social anxiety, and depression. It was a very rough time for people to go through and we were trying our best to keep fitness accessible to everyone. We tried our best to spread cheer, fitness, and happiness by doing lots of live family fitness workouts, dance for kids, and dance for beginners levels.
It’s really difficult to be taking classes online when students come to the studio for the ‘vibe’. There’s a different ‘high’ in dancing in a group together — students are able to coordinate steps better, understand formations better and are generally more motivated by each other to put in all the energy possible. It was the complete opposite online over Zoom. Most people don’t realize this but taking classes over Zoom can be extremely challenging. The one thing that the pandemic did teach us though was to stop, pause and reflect on our lives. It put a lot of things into perspective for everyone and we started realizing a lot of things that we had taken for granted mattered now more than ever before. We suddenly started seeing people becoming more health conscious. Hitting the gym can be boring for most people and when you’re on a treadmill, minutes can feel like hours. That’s when dance comes into play — a 60-minute dance choreography or work out can fly by when it’s on your favourite songs doing your favourite moves with your favourite people!
In what way has Bollywood contributed to the popularity of dance among youngsters, according to you?
We’ve started seeing Bollywood music becoming versatile and evolving and adapting to whatever’s trending — whether it be Punjabi, Folk, Hip Hop, Jazz, and even South remakes — there is now something for everyone when it comes to Bollywood music. And because of this, dance has evolved too. We are seeing “hook steps” on a lot of songs amongst famous Bollywood celebrities; some of whom try to use social media channels to make the song or these hook steps viral by uploading a video of themselves dancing to it and “challenging” their followers to do the same and upload onto their profiles.
On a personal note, how has dancing transformed your life?
I was born with a dancing soul! My wife says I even break dance in my sleep! I had my first dance performance when I was in kindergarten and I started professional training when I was in 5th or 6th grade.
My first reality show, Dance Premier League, was in 2009 where I won second place. Straight thereafter, I was assisting Saroj Khan and Terence Lewis on their TV show, NDTV Imagine Nach Le with Saroj Khan and Terence. Thereafter, I participated in multiple dance reality shows on TV such as Chak Dhoom Dhoom on Colours TV (third place), Just Dance (Top 40), Dance India Dance 3 (Top 30) and more.
These reality shows that I participated in gave me a lot of exposure and confidence and my need to learn and adapt grew even stronger. I went on to train in Chhau (a semi classical Indian dance with martial and folk traditions), Ballet, Bollywood, Contemporary — all of which was taught to me over scholarships or over a deal that I would personally teach a class at the studio I would go to learn from.
As I grew older, I picked up Hip Hop & Aerial and the learning never stopped. I visited the Urban Dance Camp held in Germany for 2 consecutive years to upgrade my knowledge in dance and traveled to London to learn from Pineapple Dance Studio, New York to learn from Broadway Dance Centre and Los Angeles to learn from Millenium Dance Complex. I strongly believe that for every choreographer, it is of utmost importance to upgrade your knowledge and stay on-trend.
You have worked as choreographer to stars like Diljit Dosanjh. How different is it training celebrities from taking your usual classes?
Very different! For celebrities, you choreograph a piece to suit their personality, body language and capabilities all in their comfort zone. These celebrities aren’t necessarily trained dancers so they have their limitations. For example; a choreography for Shah Rukh Khan will never be the same as the choreography you would give to Tiger Shroff or Hrithik Roshan. But with our students, we train them by giving them exposure to all styles and techniques, right from the basics. The end goal is to polish them up so they can switch to dancing like Shah Rukh Khan, Tiger Shroff AND Hrithik Roshan — whatever the need be!
As winner of the reality dance show Nach Baliye 7 UAE what advice would you give to participants of such shows?
There are two very important things to keep in mind when participating in reality shows. Firstly, focus on yourself and not your competition. Secondly, train yourself. You can’t give your best without professional training. Don’t wait for opportunities to come knocking on the door to start training. Start training first and opportunities will come automatically. It’s extremely important to upgrade yourself to stay on trend because what was a hit once upon a time will not always be a hit in the future!
Reality show exposure gives you a lot of confidence and fame. We have had a lot of our little students win competitions like UAE’s Got Talent or GCC’s Best Dancer by Sony TV and we’ve had some that have participated in reality TV shows like Super Dancer 4. The exposure that these platforms give you is immense. You not only get confidence and fame but you also get motivation by being around the best of the best dancers.
How and why would you recommend dancing to people?
Dancing is extremely important for everyone! You don’t have to do it in the studio with us — you can even do it in a closed room by yourself but everyone must do it! Not only is it an excellent form of cardio which helps you lose weight whilst improving function of your heart and lungs; but it also helps in building muscle strength, flexibility, stronger bones (reducing the risk of osteoporosis), endurance and motor fitness! Our choreography classes also help in better hand and feet coordination, mental functioning, and improved psychological well being. All these physical advantages and there are some mental health benefits too. We’ve seen with our students that they have developed greater self-confidence and self-esteem and have better social skills too.
Who is the best dancer in Bollywood according to you?
Honestly, there’s no best or worst as everybody has their own style which is subjective. If you ask me though, my personal favourite is Govinda. I’m sure a lot of readers here expected me to say Hrithik Roshan or Tiger Shroff — I did say it’s subjective didn’t I? You can do all the flips, cartwheels, waves and jumps in the world but no one enjoys dance like Govinda does — you can see when he dances with his expressions that it comes from the heart.
Popular dance genres
Transformers offer Bollywood, Hip Hop, Bolly Hop, Fusion Semi Classical, Jazz, Urban, Contemporary, Yoga, Gymnastics, Belly Dance, Salsa, Afrobeats, and Aerial with some other dance forms in the pipeline. The most popular dance forms, according to Anup are Bollywood Freestyle and Hip Hop.
QUICK TAKES WITH ANUP
Your go-to track to dance to.
I honestly enjoy dancing to all kinds of music but any Punjabi Bollywood song gets me grooving like no other!
Your favourite dance movie.
Take The Lead which featured Antonio Banderas. It had a good story about how dance also teaches one respect.
Who would you like to dance off with?
That guy in the mirror always has the best moves! Haha. Jokes apart, your only competition should be yourself.
One dance genre you can’t stand?
There’s no genre as such but the dance genre that my parents dance to is something I can’t stand! Haha!
Your favourite dance genre.
Bolly-Hop (Bollywood fused with Hip Hop) is my forever go to style. I’m also intrigued by fusing different styles together and experimenting and creating something new.