Jersey City is rated the tenth most artistic city in the United States, according to a recent ranking by The Atlantic magazine. Despite a dreary economy and a tepid financial infrastructure in place to nurture, support and sustain the arts, Jersey City residents frequently get together to organize dance performances, art exhibitions, and live music.
One of the most vital grassroots organizations that pushed Jersey City into the top ten is Sitarrey Performing Arts Center, and its sister company, NYC Bhangra, which is run under the direction of Megha Kalia and Guneet Khurana. Both organizations were established to promote traditional Indian dance, music, and culture, and to help bridge the cultural divides that often separates diverse communities in urban areas.
To learn more about the organizations, NYC Bhangra, with the help of Sitarrey, is organizing a free community event to commemorate Holi, the most popular festival in India. The event will be held in Dag Hammarskjald Park on March 25, from 12:00 to 5:00 pm. It is free and open to the public.
Sitarrey, which opened last year, is nestled in Little India, just a few blocks from Journal Square. Kalia chose to base Sitarrey in Jersey City because of its rich cultural diversity. She launched the project with Guneet Khurana as artistic director.
“It would have been impossible to get the project off the ground without her help,” says Kalia.
Sitarrey offers dance classes in Bollywood, Bhangra, Indian Classical, ballet and jazz. In addition, it also offers music classes for Indian classical vocals, tabla, sitar, Harmonium and guitar.
To create an inclusive environment, Sitarrey designs classes for children, young adults, and seniors. Classes tailored for children are designed by an on-call development psychologist to ensure effective learning and awareness. To foster individual expression and self-confidence, they have designed energetic and creative programs for young adults.
Kalia loves the creativity of Indian classical dance, but she is also an advocate for fitness and health.
“We have a flexible schedule fitness and wellness programs that develop endurance and promote a healthy lifestyle,” says Kalia. “For seniors we have daily activities and fitness programs that focus on flexibility and pain management.”
Established in by Kalia, NYC Bhangra is an organization dedicated to promoting Indian dance. Today, NYC Bhangra is one of the most renowned dance organizations in New York City. Dedicated to serving the community, the organization offers several weekly classes for students of all levels. Their popularity is soaring. More than 25,000 working professionals in the New York City metro area, and 1,500 students, have attended their events, classes and performances. To date, NYC Bhangra has performed more than 350 showcases with over 100 organizations featuring 150 professional dancers. They have received recognition from major community stakeholders, including The United Nations, The New York Times, and Indian Consulate of New York.
Kalia began her dance career while studying at Purdue University, where she was the founder of the Purdue Indian Dance Club, a student run organization focused on teaching and spreading awareness of Indian dance. She has since continued her love of dance and is currently studying modern and contemporary dance at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Bhangra is her not only her muse, but it is also a vocation.
“After yoga, Bhangra is the second South Asian wellness concept to reach Western audiences,” says Kalia. “With its high-energy dance beats and syncopated movements, people from all over the world have acknowledged the benefits of Bhangra on the body as well as the mind.”
“It is an art form that has physical demands equal to aerobic exercise, technical movements and coordination that require focus and precision, and as a group dance it promotes social harmony.”
Khurana is an internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer. In 2004, she received the Best Classical Dancer award. Prior to coming to the United States, she worked as a dance teacher for two years in India with people of all ages. In 2009, she became involved with NYC Bhangra as both a choreographer and performer. As a cultural ambassador of Indian culture, she has performed for various institutions in the tri-state area, including Lincoln Center, United Nations, and The New York Times Travel Show, to name just a few. In 2011, she was part of team that auditioned for “America’s Got Talent.”
Like Kalia, Khurana is continually seeking new opportunities to bring different communities together. Recently, Khurana conceived a new dance class that merges Bhangra and hip-hop. In the coming weeks, Khurana’s students will partner with Fully Focused, a New York City-based B-boy dance crew, to perform a Bollywood dance piece, which is set to the film “Tanu Weds Manu.”
Khurana’s aim is to eventually open her own dance school and spread the word of Indian and modern dance, and, most importantly, to encourage people to have fun while dancing.
As individuals and as a team, Kalia and Khurana use dance to promote mutual understanding between cultures and people. It’s win win situation. Yay!