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'Rhythm India: Bollywood and Beyond' highlights diversity of Indian dance for Pittsburgh audiences

Rhythm India
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Rhythm India

Pittsburgh audiences will be able to experience the beauty and diversity of Indian dance and music this week, courtesy of Rhythm India: Bollywood and Beyond.

90.5 WESA's Priyanka Tewari spoke to the show's creator, South Asian dancer and choreographer Joya Kazi.

Kazi said the show is a love letter to her home country, India, where she was born but left as a small child. Yet, Kazi said, India's music, dance, traditions and culture never left her and have helped shape her into the artist she is today.

Indian dancer and choreographer Joya Kazi
Joya Kazi
Joya Kazi Unlimited
Indian dancer and choreographer Joya Kazi

Kazi, who grew up in California, said she never saw much South Asian representation in American arts or media. She remembers vividly, though, at the age of three, seeing an Odissi dancer performing the classical Indian dance on MTV, alongside Michael Jackson in the music video for his song "Black or White."

"It was such an impactful moment for me," she said. "And this is really why I always harp about how representation matters so much, because in that moment I was exposed to my own culture."

Kazi enrolled in Odissi dance classes a few weeks later. She decided to focus on choreography and — at age 16 — started her own dance company, Joya Kazi Unlimited.

With 30-plus years of Indian classical training in Kathak, Odissi and Bharatnatyam dance, Kazi has performed with her group of dancers all over the world and won numerous awards.

One of Kazi's career milestones came when Mindy Kaling — writer, producer, and creator of the Netflix show "Never Have I Ever" — asked Kazi to choreograph and perform in a season one episode of the show.

Despite the challenges of being a South Asian-American artist, Kazi said she continues to pursue her passion for promoting classical Indian dance in the West with innovation and authenticity because that's her way of continuing the legacy of thousands of years of cultural heritage.

"Rhythm India, Bollywood and Beyond," which is on a nationwide tour, will not only showcase classic Bollywood hits but will also have classical presentations from North and South India, including folk dances like Garba and the Commercial South. There are also segments in the show where audiences will learn about India's history and how the country has been influenced by various religions and cultures.

The one-night-only performance in Pittsburgh takes place at the Byham Theater, March 23 at 7pm.

Priyanka Tewari is a native of New Delhi, India. She moved to the United States with her family in the late 1990s, after living in Russia and the United Kingdom. She is a graduate of Cornell University with a master’s from Hunter College, CUNY.