Nikki Shah, 13, remembers the build-up vividly — the crowded backstage at a Washington Wizards basketball game in April 2018, everyone in their colorful costumes, stomachs flip-flopping as they heard the voice of the announcer and the roar of the crowd.
“Running out on the court was really nerve-wracking. There were cameras everywhere,” she said. “I don’t remember the actual performance. It went by so quickly — it kind of flew over my head.”
Nikki and two dozen of her classmates at Studio Dhoom in Ashburn had just performed on center court during an NBA basketball game, doing a choreographed Bollywood-style dance with hints of other dance styles mixed in, including the all-American hip hop.
“It was such a great experience,” the Eagle Ridge Middle School eighth-grader said. “I was extremely happy I got to represent my culture on such a big stage.”
That’s what Studio Dhoom is all about — celebrating South Asian culture and dance in a fun, engaging environment. Even the studio’s name, “dhoom,” means “having a blast” in the Hindi language. It was chosen by the first class of students to train at Studio Dhoom more than a decade ago.
Studio Dhoom was founded in 2009 by dance instructor Aanal Sheth. For years, she held her classes in rented spaces sprinkled around Leesburg and Ashburn. Finally, in 2017, when the studio was simultaneously renting space at three different locations, Sheth put down permanent roots and opened a single large studio in the Shops at Moorefield Village off Loudoun County Parkway.
“Having your own studio is a big financial commitment,” Sheth said. “It was a risk, and no one had tried that before [for Bollywood dance]. But it was a calculated risk that was worth taking. They say, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
And they have come — to the tune of some 1,200 students over the years. They come to learn the Bollywood-style dance, but with traditional Indian dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Kuchipudi and folk dances like Garba and Lavani mixed in. And Western styles of dance such as the aforementioned hip hop and jazz have a role, too.
That “unique blend” connects with the kids, Sheth says.
“Modern Bollywood is a big melting pot of so many genres,” she added. “The latest trend currently is creating fusion choreography where you perform Indian semi-classical [dances to] popular songs like ‘Shape of You’ and ‘Despacito.’”
To read more about the cultural connections made by Studio Dhoom, how the lessons learned have helped students transition to college and how the business survived the pandemic, click here and head over to the Ashburn Magazine website to read the rest of the story.