Spreading Indian culture in USA

Text: Sandip Soparrkar

Sandip Soparrkar is a world book of record holder, a well-known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on  

I have always believed that a dancer is the luckiest person, not only because they are creative and can make all their imaginations come alive through their dance moves but because whenever they travel they make friends very easily and the relationship that develops is only because of the medium of dance that gets them to bond with other people.

I had mentioned before in my article that I was invited to perform at the Seattle India Dance Festival in the USA recently, and on this trip where I spent 3 weeks, my assistants Supriya Shah, Manasi Desai and me met a very interesting person. Someone who connected with us because of the love for dance, and not just any dance, her love was for Bollywood dancing.

I was introduced to her as one of the dancers who would be performing for me in my dance segments. My dance piece had total 22 performers and she was one of them, but the first thing that caught my attention was her name ‘Katrina Ji’. Well, first I thought that she has named herself after Katrina Kaif, but when I spoke more to her I realised that it was a coincidence that her name and that of the bollywood super star were same. So my next question was why ‘Ji’? That too I realised was her real surname. Katrina Kaif may be a star but Katrina Ji has been in the dance scene for longer than Katrina Kaif in Bollywood.

Katrina Ji started dancing at the age of 4 years and by now she has a wealth of dance experience. She is a Certified ATS Belly Dance Instructor by Carolena Nericcio of FCBD, she is also certified in Entry Level Flamenco by the Spanish Dance Society. Her childhood dance foundation has been in ballet, tap and acrobatics. But what she loves most is Bollywood dance and Bhangra.

Though Katrina cannot speak Hindi, she watches every Bollywood film and loves Rani Mukherjee. Her love for Bollywood dance has got her to India many times and she has trained under many experts from the film world. I was surprised to visit her dance studio in Seattle by the name ‘Culture Shakti Dance Company’. Without being an Indian or a Hindu she has the word ‘Shakti’ used in her company as she believes that ‘the power’ ‘the shakti’ of love of dance has helped her set up a dance school and performance company.

Her entire studio has a very Rajasthani feel, with puppets, the famous kathputli everywhere, the main door welcomes the guest with a toran, and symbol of ‘Om’ along with a diya kept near the music system for praying before classes. Being a person who is born and brought up in Seattle, she seems more Indian to me than most Indians living in India.      

Katrina has been teaching ATS Belly Dance since 2001. In 2007, she was amongst the first group of teachers to become a certified Sister Studio ATS Belly Dance Instructor by Carolena Nericcio of Fat Chance Belly Dance. In 2010, she began Bollywood dance classes in Seattle and post that her institute has been nominated as the best in Western Washington by King 5 / Evening Magazine, which makes me feel proud that she is taking so much interest in promoting our films and dances in another faraway land.

Each year Katrina travels to Rajasthan along with her students and goes to remote places of the colourful state of India learning Rajasthani folk dances from locals. She has special love for kalbelia dance as well as Tera Tali and often invites local kalbelia dancers to the USA to perform along with her team. In fact, recently she along with dancers from India took part in USA Dance championship and was highly appreciated for their efforts.

What I liked the most about Katrina and her Culture Shakti dance school is that at her dance class where she teaches, Bollywood, Rajasthani folk and belly dance, she has many schemes to promote Indian culture. There are times where students have won a trip to Vienna, India and Austria along with Katrina and her troupe. She leaves no stone unturned for people to come to class so that she can spread the Indian culture into their lives.         

People like Katrina Ji are rare gems, who willingly adopt another culture and everything about the country and place only because they love it from bottom of their heart. The love for India and Indian culture is so clear in Katrina Ji’s lifestyle that it is touching. The only regret she has is that she is trying her best to learn Hindi but is not very good at it and so she has not been able to speak in the right accent and the correct manner.

When I meet dancers like Kartina Ji, I sometimes wonder how pure their souls must be to be accepting and changing oneself completely to fit into a new culture. My heart is all for Katrina and the love affair she has with Bollywood music and dance moves. She is superbly dynamic, graceful, and passionate about her art. I hope and pray that she keeps the hard work going and promotes Indian film culture even more in other places in the USA and at the same time I wish to thank Katrina for loving India and Indian films and calling us her own.