The stage is set for the global finale of the World of Dance (WOD) competition, in Los Angeles, USA. Seven dancers from India, all in their early twenties, troop on stage. Temple bells ring as they kick off their act. A chant of Om Namo Narayana follows, with the crew performing a blend of Bharatanatyam and hip-hop moves. Then, the music changes to Choli ke Peeche Kya Hai (Khalnayak, 1993). The moves are now a mix of Bollywood and hip-hop. Amid loud cheers from the audience, the music shifts to a rendition of Old MacDonald Had a Farm, and then, Turn Down for What (by DJ Snake and Lil Jon). It moves on to some bhangra beats. Hip-hop is still the core dance form, though.
Last month, in what sounds like a real-life version of the movie ABCD: Any Body Can Dance (2013), the Desi Hoppers became the first Indian crew to make it to WOD. The fusion of hip-hop and Indian elements fetched them the first prize, beating crews from 14 other countries. They won the ‘Crowd’s Favourite’ title as well. “We didn’t know whether our act would be understood by the audience but we were sure they would enjoy it. We wanted to showcase Indian culture,” says Nimit Kotian, a member of Desi Hoppers.
Less than three months old, the crew comprise five Mumbai boys — from Malad, Naigaon, Bhayandar and Mira Road — and two from Junagadh and Baroda in Gujarat. Led by buddies Shantanu Maheshwari, Macedon Dmello and Kotian, the crew (Jack Lama, Subhash Naidu, Rohan Vyas and Viraj Pandiya) admits to having been extremely nervous before their performance.
“Backstage, we spotted a foreigner with a bhangra dhol who started doing the bhangra. We broke out into a dance too. For a few moments, we forgot we had to go on stage,” Kotian laughs. “Also, we were only seven,” Maheshwari adds, “Other crews were battalions of 40 to 50 people.” The actual performance though, was a haze. Nobody, they say, quite remembers what they were thinking, their focus being on the act.
The members (most of them self-taught dancers) practised for at least 12 hours every day for two months, and braved minor injuries. Another hurdle came eight days before the competition, when one of their dancers — Sneha Singh — had to opt out due to visa issues, and the entire choreography had to be rearranged.
The families of most crew members did not support their passion for dance and would have much rather preferred they got themselves ‘regular’ jobs instead. With this win, though, their hard work seems to have paid off. “For years, my parents were under the impression that I was working at a call centre, while I was pursuing dance as a career,” shares Naidu. “Now, I feel that I have proved myself.”
Tune in: Bindass Naach, a TV show based on the journey of Desi Hoppers, airs every Sunday at 7pm, on bindass.
Check out: Search for ‘Desi Hoppers at World of Dance’ on YouTube to watch their winning performance.