With many Bollywood movies screening in local cinemas as well as long-form Bollywood dramatic series broadcasting on local television, Cambodian people are quite familiar with the spectacle of elaborately choreographed dancing that defines Bollywood musicals.
When large groups of actors are expertly dancing together on screen the synchronisation looks amazing. The sharp movement of the dancer’s heads and necks from side to side is a signature Bollywood dance move.
Even if you don’t understand the lyrics to the songs you will still be entertained by it and learn some of the story because the physical movement of the dancers is a type of sign language that tells the story in parallel with the words.
Princella Anum Gill has been teaching people the lively art of Bollywood dance here in Phnom Penh for the past three years, bringing smiles to students of all ages in her dance studio and at international schools.
Princella, 25, is a Pakistani business school graduate who came to Cambodia with her whole family looking for employment opportunities in 2017.
They opened up a restaurant in Tuol Tom Puong called Princella Flavor of Saffron and the business has been doing well.
In addition to their food, Princella and her family have offered other tastes of Desi culture over the past three years by doing Henna tattoos (using temporary ink) as well as giving Bollywood-style and Punjabi dance demonstrations.
The term Desi encompasses the peoples and cultures found in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, which were united together under British colonial rule up until 1947.
“I started teaching dance three years ago in Phnom Penh. I was asked to teach Bollywood dancing at Canadian International School (CIS) for their summer camp in 2018. I taught kids ages six to 14 years old for a month or two,” she says.
Bollywood Dance is the name given to the dance-form used in Indian (Bollywood) films. Much like musical theatre in the Broadway tradition, the singing and dancing is interwoven with scenes of dialogue and used to advance the plot of the story.
The most energetic and colourful Indian dance forms are Bhangra, which is a traditional Punjabi dance and Garbaa which originated in the state of Gujarat, India.
Bhangra and Garbaa are then merged with other styles of dance from around the world, resulting in the famed dance numbers found in Bollywood films.
“I was so happy with the experience [teaching dance] that I started offering my own Bollywood dance workshops for all age groups in Phnom Penh to see if people would be interested in learning it. I got a great response from expats as well as from locals,” Princella tells The Post.
She has also been working full-time teaching Bollywood dance as an extracurricular activity at Grand Mount International School for the past two years.
She has about 40 Cambodian students at the school who are all learning and enjoying Bollywood dancing and they have performed at different events at the school.
For her private dance classes, the pricing goes $8 per person for beginners, $10 for intermediate and $12 for advance dancers.
Princella says she encourages all people to start dancing no matter their age and that some people start teaching their kids Bollywood dancing as soon as they are able to walk but people need not be embarrassed if they don’t start out dancing gracefully
“Just because you can’t dance well, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance. There isn’t any such thing as a bad dancer. As long as you are moving your body or maybe just tilting your head on [the right] beats, you are good to go.
“The point of it is simply to enjoy it and to have fun. Not only do you see your body moving in a groovy way but you also feel happy because it is really fun to learn these moves and it’s easy to practice,” she says.
Princella says the dances are easy once they can remember the choreography; all they need to do is consistently practice.
“Students just need to rehearse the steps and memorize the choreography. The steps are usually easy, but the execution is fast. So people need to practice a lot slowly without the music to learn the steps first so that they can do it quickly along with the music when they are ready.
“Bollywood dance is a fusion of different dance styles, so having a mixture of different dance moves means people sometimes find it easy and sometimes find it hard depending on the choreography,” she says.
The music Princella teaches dance with is mostly from Bollywood movies, but she says really any type of music would work or they could dance to live music as well.
She says there’s really no need to put on costumes unless they are performing at some themed event so usually they dance in whatever clothes they are comfortable in because everything works for Bollywood dancing.
Princella also said that teaching Bollywood dance is not that challenging for her because she was born in a Punjabi-Catholic family and dancing is something that comes naturally to her with her Punjabi cultural roots.
“As soon as I started walking, I remember dancing at different family gatherings, because everyone else would be dancing to celebrate whatever the occasion is. Also, I started dancing at my school events when I was six years old,” she says.
She says she has only been to India once, but being a huge Bollywood movie-fanatic and having learned to dance by mimicking the choreography from Bollywood films, India now feels familiar to her like she’s been there many times.
“What I love most about Bollywood dance is that, it knows no boundaries; it unites people that are separated by borders.
“People in Pakistan appreciate and love watching Bollywood movies and dance as much as Indian people. When it comes to Bollywood, I don’t see [politics] coming between us and stopping us from sharing in that,” she says.
In Pakistani culture, dancing is a way to express happiness at celebrations such as birthday parties, weddings, engagements, family reunions, religious festivals or whenever family and friends meet up for a good time.
“Especially at weddings, we usually have a dance competition between the bride’s and groom’s sides which brings a fun energy and excitement to the reception,” Princella says.
Princella says she is always open to signing up new students and welcomes those who are attending their first dance class.
“If you are ready to learn something exciting, get moving, and express yourself all at once then reach out to me for more details about our classes where you can learn to embrace your inner Bollywood star.
“You don’t need any prior experience to learn the basics and you might even discover a new passion. There’s a reason Bollywood dance is so popular around the world and my classes are going to help you discover the joys of Bollywood,” she says.
For more information, Princella Bollywood Dance can be contacted via their Facebook page: