Dance academy

Apra Bhandari brings her Bollywood background to Adaa Dance Academy

At the grand opening ceremony on Saturday of Adaa Dance Academy’s Tustin studio, 14-year-old Sarina Shah told the crowd about a recital rehearsal that took place when Adaa founder and artistic director Apra Bhandari , was pregnant with her second child.

“She was standing in a chair screaming – I mean instructjokes Shah, who has been Bhandari’s student since she was 5 years old.

“I was nine months pregnant!” Bhandari shouts from the sideline.

“[One of the] aunties was like, ‘you’re going to go into labor,’” Shah says. “And after Have I got replied, “If I give birth, I have eight hours to put on this show.” ”

Bhandari burst out laughing.

Apra Bhandari, center, poses with her students from the Adaa Dance Academy during the inauguration of her first dance studio.

(Nicholas Aparicio)

Nine years ago, Bhandari began teaching dance in her Irvine living room with just two students. Now she and her five instructors teach at the Chinmaya Mission in Tustin, Martial Arts International in Anaheim, Dance Works in Laguna Hills and the Talent Factory in Chino, with plans to move to more cities, including Cerritos, later this year.

But Tustin’s new location at 2560 Byron Ave. is her first official studio, and last weekend she hosted around 200 well-wishers for two days of ceremonies, workshops and performances.

“It’s really exciting,” says Bhandari. “It’s been a long trip, but it’s been a good trip.”

Adaa Dance Academy's first studio opened in Tustin on January 26th.

Adaa Dance Academy’s first studio opened in Tustin on January 26th.

(Nicholas Aparicio)

Growing up in Long Island, NY, Bhandari began to learn kathaka classical form of Indian dance, at age 7.

By 18, she had participated in numerous dance contests, talent shows and beauty pageants and had won the title of Miss India New York.

While a student at Cornell University, she helped lead the college’s longtime Bollywood fusion dance crew, Sitara.

This is where Charu Sinha, whose teenage daughter is now a student at Adaa, first spotted Bhandari around 15 years ago.

“These events had so much energy,” Sinha says. “The crowd would go crazy…And to see the level of Indian dancing presented on a student stage in upstate New York, where you don’t always see so many Indians, I thought, ‘Wow.’ It was so inspiring and revealing.

Adaa Dance Academy

Apra Bhandari’s Adaa Dance Academy dancers perform at Bollywood Bridal Show 2019.

(File photo)

At the time, Bhandari was pursuing a career in the media. After graduating a semester early, she went with her mother to Mumbai, thinking she was going to stay in India for six months before returning to New York for a job she had lined up at NBC.

Instead, she stayed for five years. She starred in a Telugu film and starred in commercials alongside Indian cinema legends Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan.

Eventually, she discovered that she preferred to be behind the scenes.

“I love solving problems,” she says. “I think that’s the most important thing I took away from the production, that there’s always a solution – whether you’re in Bollywood, making sure the shoot is on time… or at a small dance studio in Irvine, dealing with parents if they have concerns or a costume tear during a competition. “

Adaa Dance Academy students perform at the grand opening of Apra Bhandari's new studio in Tustin on January 26.

Adaa Dance Academy students perform at the grand opening of Apra Bhandari’s new studio in Tustin on January 26.

(Susan Hoffman)

Working in Bollywood was an exciting but emotionally draining experience, says Bhandari, and after meeting her husband they decided to move to Irvine.

She wanted to slow down and start a family, but also continue her passion for dance.

“‘Adaa’ means balance, grace and your own style,” says Apra, named after her company. “We can teach you the technique, and we can teach you the expressions, but then you eventually have to bring your own personality and your own style to it.”

The academy started with children, but eventually grew to include students and adults. In addition to classic styles like kathak, Adaa Dance Academy teaches Bollywood dance, folk dance and hip hop. They also offer exercise classes and wedding choreography.

The grand opening events of Tustin's Adaa Dance Academy studio included a Bollywood dance workshop.

The grand opening events of Tustin’s Adaa Dance Academy studio included a Bollywood dance workshop.

(Nicholas Aparicio)

Bhandari has been looking for a space for his own studio for two years.

“It’s such an important step,” Sinha says. “And the [students] absolutely love it. She is so warm. She is demanding, as she should be as a teacher, but she is a role model for all the girls, who can see that we can take things as they come and improve them every year.

When Bhandari was a child, she recalls her mother asking her school musical director if she could include an Indian dance performance in the show. Bhandari recalls being embarrassed; the last thing she wanted to be was different.

“But the director said, ‘That’s such a cool idea. Let’s try,” she recalls. “And when you’re well received, that’s how you gain confidence.”

Apra Bhandari, the founder and artistic director of Adaa Dance Academy, celebrates #AdaaMagic and the opening of her first studio, located in Tustin.

Apra Bhandari, the founder and artistic director of Adaa Dance Academy, celebrates #AdaaMagic and the opening of her first studio, located in Tustin.

(Nicholas Aparicio)

The Adaa Dance Academy has participated in local Indian dance competitions for years, but recently Bhandari has started taking its students to participate in more traditional dance competitions.

“The first time we went there, they were a bit hesitant because they were the only ones wearing Indian dance costumes,” says Bhandari, “but people really welcomed us. And I was like, ‘Look. People think it’s cool. You must think that’s cool. ”

Now she choreographs dances for her daughter and her friends to perform at their school’s talent show.

“It’s so fun to see non-Indian kids having fun to Bollywood music,” she says. “I really want my kids and students to be proud of their culture and take it with them wherever they go.”

For more information, visit Bhandari will direct free bollywood dance lessons in Costa Mesa every Tuesday night in May, as part of the Segerstrom Center of the Arts’ weekly “Tuesday Night Dance” series at Plaza Julianne and George Argyros.

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