'People are open to learning dance here'

'People are open to learning dance here'

Her decision to move to India may seem like a scene straight out of a Yash Chopra movie. But when belly dancer Sanaz Bakhtiari packed her bags and boarded a plane to India, she had no clue what turn her life would take. 

The owner of ‘Sanaz Dance Studio’ in the City, Sanaz narrates, “Eight years ago, I decided to treat myself to a long holiday and came to India from Iran. I travelled for about six months and arrived in Bangalore. I was visiting places and having fun when I met my husband. He is an Iranian too and was working here. Soon, we became friends and decided to get married. So I shifted to India from Iran for the wedding.”

When Sanaz moved to India, she had planned to stay here only for two years. She didn’t have a job and was trying her best to get used to the people here when her husband encouraged her to pursue her passion seriously. Since then, there has been no looking back for her.

“Although I had not planned what to do with my career, I realised there is a lot of scope for belly dancing here. Back home, though I was a dance teacher, I couldn’t have dared to admit that I teach dance for a living. But when I stepped into the profession here, I got to know that people are very open to learning dance and enjoy it a lot,” she says. It is this freedom that encouraged her to take up her passion seriously.

With a dream to teach belly dance, Sanaz decided to open her own dance studio. However, this too came with its own complications as Sanaz did not know English.

She laughs, “I didn’t want people to think what a foreign woman, who can’t even speak English, is making them do. Initially, it was very tough because I had to make people understand what belly dancing is. Everybody thought it was something vulgar and more like what they had seen in movies. I had to introduce this dance form to people and make them accept it.”

She recalls an incident when she just started her dance class.

“I had put up posters everywhere about my studio. Soon, I started getting calls from people asking me if I knew the spelling of Bollywood as I had spelt it wrong on the poster. I wasn’t very familiar with Bollywood back then. In fact, I asked them
‘what’s Bollywood?’” Sanaz reveals.

It didn’t take her much time to reach out to people. She even had aged women coming in saris and learning belly dance. When asked if she can understand Kannada now, she says, “Ondu nimisha iri (wait for a moment).”

She chuckles, “This and ayyo are the only two things I can manage to say. Bangalore is so accommodating that I never felt the need to learn Kannada. People who speak English can survive here.”  

Initially, she noticed a lot of difference between Iran and India in terms of openness
of culture. However, the food here too, took her by surprise.

She says, “North Indian food items are similar to what we eat back home. But South Indian food is spicy! It has taken me many years to learn the Indian way of eating. For us, eating biryani means just consuming the dish. Here people mix raitha with the biryani. And there are varieties of raitha. Now, I prefer to go to restaurants along with my Indian friends. I am still getting used to the spicy food.”

Among the many things that she loves about India, the way people celebrate festivals here is her favourite.

She says, “During my first year in India, my husband came home looking all green, pink and yellow. I was shocked and asked him what happened. He told me it was Holi, the festival of colours, and that people celebrate it by throwing colours at each other. I don’t throw colours but I really enjoy the way festivals are celebrated here.”   

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