Throughout the month of May – also known as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – the Rams will be spotlighting four Certified #RamsHouse small businesses that belong to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Up next: BollyPop (website: http://www.bollypopla.com/).
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – The class begins with a gratitude prayer to mother earth.
"Thank you God, thank you teachers, thank you parents," the eight young students end the prayer with as they recite it with their instructor, before beginning sun salutations – a 14-pose yoga sequence.
Whether virtually, or more recently in person with Los Angeles beginning to open back up, it's the standard start to one of BollyPop founder and artistic director Aakansha Maheshwari's Bollywood lessons. The instruction offers not only a stimulating environment, but a way for its students to share Indian culture experiences and teachings together.
"The concept of living in harmony with one another."
"The concept of living in harmony with one another," Maheshwari told theRams.com this week, when asked what she loves about her culture. "Children bring home-cooked food to share when we celebrate festivals in class. It's a great way to pass on the culture even though we are far from the motherland."
BollyPop officially began six years ago, when Maheshwari moved from her native New Delhi, India, to Los Angeles. She's been teaching Bollywood choreography for children and leading dance fitness classes for adults ever since. According to her website, her students' ages range from 4- to 70-years-old. She offers and teaches her BollyPop classes throughout LA and has instructors in Salt Lake City and in India.
Maheshwari has accomplished a lot both before and since coming to America, including choreographing thrice for the pregame performance for the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in 2018-19 and receiving three Best Dancer awards (Lok Utsav for Garba in New Delhi, 2012; All India Maheshwari Women's Association, 2011; St. Stephen's College Delhi University Indian Classical Dance competition, 2011). She also acted and danced in the Hollywood movie Vara: A Blessing (2013) directed by Khyentse Norbu, shot in Sri Lanka.
Collectively, it's a testament to how effectively she carries out her mission of using her art to spread happiness wherever she goes and share the love of her culture. For example, the dance lessons taught during her Tuesday afternoon class tie into Holi, the Festival of Colors which is celebrated in the spring, and Diwali, the Festival of Light which is celebrated in November.
"We are all brothers and sisters."
"We play with colored powder and when we put it on each other, we can't tell the color of the skin anymore. What we look like, what language we speak, what race we belong to- nothing matters. We are all brothers and sisters. These kids performed at the festival of colors in March 2020 which was their last stage performance before COVID," Maheshwari said. "We celebrate other festivals like Diwali, Navratri (dance and pray for 9 nights), Eid (students perform at the Jamatkhana- their place of worship). All these festivals bring the community together and are great reminders for honesty and compassion for all beings."
That message has been especially important now as L.A. and cities across the nation face a rise in Anti-Asian Hate Crimes.
Maheshwari said the diversity of the AAPI community in Los Angeles is what makes it special. Her business does its part by promoting the message of justice as well as support for "our Asian brothers and sisters."
"It's about seeing the beauty in diversity," she said, when asked what Rams fans should know about LA's AAPI community. "Our community is really active in Southern California. Outside of celebrating festivals, the Indian community here does fundraising and supports various causes, the youth is active in leading peaceful protests and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. We stay connected to our roots by bringing musicians from India for live concerts that are attended by huge crowds."
"It's the beauty in diversity."
To help combat Asian Hate and be better allies, Maheshwari recommended speaking up and not staying silent when witnessing injustice and not supporting stereotypes – for example, if you hear a stereotype in conversation, question it and don't let it pass.
Maheshwari also said supporting local AAPI businesses, checking in with friends and peers, and educating oneself about the history of America- specifically the long history of injustice done to black, brown and asian folks - are some small steps towards the change that we want to see.
"It's a Bollywood dance class, but really, my goal is to inculcate values in little ones through my art," she said.