I sauntered into my unkempt studio apartment at 5 AM with the largest grin on my face and a few tears forming in the corners of my eyes. I felt so full- of love, life, and happiness.
It has been a very long time since I have worked on a production that sincerely left me so culturally sweetened and soulfully expanded. I’d have to say, it was since I last worked in New York on a few theater productions before my intensive dramatic training began. At the Triad Theater on 72nd and Broadway, I played the role of an Indian woman’s “heart” personified, dressed in traditional Indian clothing. It was my first stage production after graduating college and moving to the Big Apple. I was the smallest part in the play, but the most ethereal, and the most “Indian.” It felt great to be recognized as one, and even better to play one. These past few days I had an even stronger feeling of being culturally aware and full on the set of a Bollywood feature, my first.
I was cast as a professional dancer, also my first time hired solely as a dancer. Dancing was actually my very first experience in the arts. My mother enrolled me in ballet school at the age of 4 and I continued intensive ballet training for 8 years. Due to a broken ankle at the age of 12, I stopped dancing and pursued music. I was secretly glad I had to quit, because nothing intimidated me more than dancing in front of an audience. I was also very shy as we had just moved to the Southern United States, from Canada, and I had a severe case of culture shock (despite everyone speaking the same language).
As a child, few girls in ballet class were curious, “that’s a strong tan you’ve got.” From that moment on (and never before) I became highly aware that I was different in this community and had to think of clever answers to questions I had never faced. In North Carolina, you were either “Black” or “White.” They had never seen me before, and it made it very difficult to be outgoing as a performer, and as a girl. At least- until I became a young adult, then I started to own myself.
I picked up dance about 10 years later after the accident, in New York City, where I traveled to become a movie star, rock singer, TV host, and runway model. I wanted to be EVERYTHING, and ignoring one passion means the rest would die. I took up ballet, jazz, tap, bellydance, and Bhangra, ANYTHING to get in touch with my physical actor- and also my heritage. I found in Bhangra/Bellydance a home for my heart and soul. It was just for fun, but I never realised just how large a part of me was a dancer until working on this Bollywood film this past Memorial Day weekend.
I never considered myself a dancer. I pursued acting full-strength, with TV hosting being something I “was good at,” and singing, a battle I overcame when I moved to Los Angeles in 2011. Performing music was also my biggest fear, and I conquered that fear by playing at all the fabled legendary venues of LA. Who knew it could be so easy to just do it? It’s still very difficult for me, but I love performing- any chance I get. Acting jobs are the smallest part of my career, despite it being the main focus and goal. Everything leads somewhere. And in Bollywood, if you don’t dance, sing, AND act, you are missing out!
I auditioned for this Bollywood film, I tried my best, and I was truly uncertain if I was going to be cast. I knew in my heart that I did my best dancing possible, full of life and heart, because that’s what Bollywood is all about. I remembered to smile with my WHOLE heart 🙂 Two days later, I found myself on set surrounded by some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met, dancing my heart away, 12 hours at a time. It was painful, strenuous, difficult, and extremely challenging- but in the end graciously rewarding (and it looked SO good!).
I can’t wait for the film to release- apparently it’s going to be HUGE in India. My mother always told me to go after the Bollywood films because I have “the look.” I always scoffed at that because I wasn’t born there, I don’t know the language, and I am only half Indian. I quickly learned that it doesn’t matter. Because it’s in my BLOOD (and feet, arms, body, hands). I hope to play more dancing roles in the future. It’s hard work, but ultimately- from a performer standpoint- one of the most rewarding forms of artistic expression, ever. I knew I would make it to Hollywood. I never dreamed that I would make it to Bollywood, too! This one is for you, Gramma Acclema and Grampa Ishmael. I love you.
Satu (the “Finndian”)