Dance gives me vitality
I have always loved dancing. At 16 years I graduated in Bharata Natyam; a South Indian classical dance. But when I was 18 my mother decided that dance was not a suitable career for a good Indian girl – I was to follow in my father’s footsteps and enter the hospitality business.
A few years later, as I was leaving for work I found I couldn’t open the door to leave the house. I literally collapsed on the floor, crying, shaking and gasping for breath. I was having what I later realised was a panic attack.
Work was really stressful, and at the same time I was going through a really difficult time with my immediate and extended family – who I had become estranged from as they did not approve of some of the life choices I had made.
Within a few days I found myself being admitted to hospital as an inpatient. The only thing I remember as I walked through the hospital doors – was thinking “I hope no one recognises me. I hope no one ever finds out about this.” The shame was too much for me to bear.
While in hospital I happened to play an invocation to the Hindu God Krishna on my small sound system. And something just took over and I began to move to the music – I had forgotten just how much I loved to dance.
A few weeks after coming out of hospital, I made some life-changing career decisions. I gave up a well-paid, target-driven job and began to work at a local arts centre instead. I was surrounded by creativity – actors, musicians, artists and over time I began to feel the creative juices flow.
I was lucky enough to be able to use the studio space to experiment with movement. Whereas before, I would dance and move without much thought – this time it was different. Each move, each hand gesture, each glance felt meaningful – it was mindful.
My strength began to return, I was able to get off my medication, and after a few months the shaking stopped. I started running Bollywood dance workshops for schools, charities, and community groups. It was inspiring working with so many different people and I wanted to find a way to reach even more people.
So, I created Just Jhoom!, which means Just Dance! It brings together aerobics, mindful movement and Bollywood dancing, drawing on a range of dance styles from Indian classical dance to Bhangra, to create a unique dance experience – nourishing both body and mind.
Just Jhoom! has so many physical benefits. In a class you exercise from your eyes to the tips of your toes. It’s fun – and makes you smile! It releases endorphins. It makes you happy!
Dance is powerful. Dance gives me vitality. Dance makes me feel alive. That three-minute dance I did in hospital gave me hope. I wanted everyone to feel like that. To feel alive.
Shalini Bhalla is Founder and Director of Just Jhoom!