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Desi Hoppers: Shaking up the "World" of Dance...literally!

By Armin Sethi Wednesday, Aug 29, 2018 10:11: AM

They’ve rocked the international stage before. And they are back at it – this time around, in front of Jennifer Lopez, Ne-Yo, and Derek Hough with NBC’s World of Dance. Watching the first episode with my dad sitting beside me, there was a certain sense of pride that crept inside me, watching an Indian crew end up with the highest points. As they continue their journey on World of Dance, I stand by what I said a couple of years ago – the innovation and creativity infused with pure dance exhibited by this crew is, by far, the best I’ve seen in a long time. Here’s my chat with their creative director, Palki Malhotra, and the two founding members of the crew: Shantanu Maheshwari and Macedon D’Mello.

When I finished watching the first episode of World of Dance – I watched it alongside my parents – it was very interesting because there was a sense of pride watching an Indian crew competing on such a huge platform, such a huge show. What was the reasoning behind the Desi Hoppers being part of such a competition, such a huge show?

PM: Wow…

SM: I think everyone would agree that NBC World of Dance is the biggest reality show in the world for dancers. That’s the biggest opportunity that one can have as a dancer. As Desi Hoppers, we only wanted to compete internationally because we think we have that in us – that uniqueness and ability to represent our country. At the same time, we have something that is totally different to show to people.

So getting that stage, which is so huge and big, it was a big opportunity for us to showcase our talents and put India on the map in terms of dancing.
 

PM: When we did form a crew, we did form a crew to compete in the World of Dance competition.

 

Right – in 2015.

PM: Right. At that point, we weren’t sure if the crew would stay beyond WOD. But the win, the win at WOD in 2015, made us realize and believe a little bit more in ourselves. We did not disband – we went on with doing things. After that, there was no looking back. To be very honest, we got a lot of recognition internationally. more than national recognition. The international exposure was a lot more – so when we got the opportunity to audition for NBC World of Dance. We thought – why not? Let’s just try.
 

World of Dance is very special to us. We are what we are because of that competition. So, we didn’t even think twice about auditioning; but never thinking we would get selected. We opened the show and that was like wow. Those are sort of the layers of reasons we can give you.

 

What was your biggest challenge? I mean, you’re not from LA. You have a tremendously long flight, months of dedication prior to even auditioning. How did you maintain optimism in light of what you just said – lots of international recognition vs. less of national recognition in India.
 

MD: I think throughout the journey, traveling from India to the U.S., there are a lot of things that happened. There were a lot of family issues as well because we were rehearsing day and night, but we are also the breadwinners of our families, some of us so…It gets difficult when you are not earning but you are training for something really big. You have to make your family understand and that was a really big challenge.
 

PM: I think traveling and jetlag, what he’s trying to say, is hardly a challenge in the face of the kinds of family issues we were starting to deal with or the injuries we were dealing with.
 

MD: The only thought we had in our heads, when all those difficulties surfaced was, this is what we are and this is what we came for…so all of these problems and difficulties don’t really matter. For us, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. During our rehearsals, we just focused and tried not to think about all the problems and difficulties we were facing.

 

How do you distinguish yourself from the fame you garnered in 2015, distinguish yourself with the fusion that you incorporate into an overall hip hop style but ensure you are not being repetitive and also, how do you ensure what you are integrating into your steps and formations is not stereotypical?
 

SM: We actually do a lot of research and try to learn a lot about our own styles of dancing to try to stay creative. We give enough time to ourselves to do choreography. We invest a lot of time to ensure the choreography does not look stereotypical; it has to look easy but it is complicated. It should come across as fusion though.
 

PM: In India, we already have so many different styles of dancing. We have so many classical forms, we have so many folk dance styles. So, we don’t really know all of them. We obviously cannot master all of them. But we do have different members in our crew and we will take each step that we know and innovate that and infuse that with some hip hop. We try to innovate in that manner. If we don’t do that, we will just look like yet another crew. We have our culture to support us and we have a lot of variety in our dance forms to support us.
 

MD: A lot of times it is difficult to innovate something – it should look original and creative so that people will follow you. We want to do something that makes us stand out. We also have Palki ma’am, of course.
 

SM: Yes, exactly.
 

MD: If it is approved by her, then we know that it is something new and something fresh.

 

On that note, obviously, a huge part of the choreography is that the music is able to connect with the audience. This has been an ongoing theme for some time. “Shape of You” has been played out numerous times – why did you decide to go with that for your first dance?
 

PM: This has such a long history! (chuckles)

SM: This was not our first choreography on “Shape of You”. We have set a lot of different choreography on the song – like five or six times. So it was very difficult for different and fresh choreography for “Shape of You” for World of Dance.

PM: The idea was to innovate “Shape of You”. We initially heard the Bhangra version of the song, which caused a brain wave, which we were unfortunately not able to use. It was well received in 2017, at the showcase of World of Dance. So we thought we could use that song for World of Dance auditions. But when we came down to finalize the songs, we were not able to use the Bhangra version because of copyright issues. So we thought we were doing the Bhangra version, but it didn’t end up happening like that (chuckles). Ultimately, it was just the actual “Shape of You” so we thought let’s just do justice to the song.

MD: And I think that “Shape of You” has become a part of our lives. When we came back, there was not a single day that we did not hear that song. If it wasn’t at our practice, then we heard it at dinner together, or it had to play on the radio. One or the other one of us had to hear it.
 

SM: Wherever we went, we heard a different version of the song (chuckles).
 

MD: Yeah, so it became a part of us for the next few months.

 

Three years in the making. Crew members that have come in and out. What has been the biggest challenge in maintaining the cohesiveness of this dance crew?
 

PM: For us, it is very difficult. As a crew, you have to be one unit. Of course, as solo artists, you can be recognized. I have seen that you can be lured by the solo scene, so it is extremely difficult to maintain that discipline of a crew and to understand the sentiment of being a crew and being a family.

In fact, one of our key members has decided to go solo, so Nimit is no longer a part of the Desi Hoppers anymore. It is very sad, but it is also understandable for people to take up their own projects. It is difficult for everyone – Shantanu, Mace, Jack, Mohit, Rohan…anyone, to stand out as a solo artist and give their own time to their own crew. There is the added pressure, in India – the man of the house is supposed to support the family, so it is hard. It is all about getting fame these days. So some people may want to be a part of the crew for their own fame or get international exposure. The key question and sentiment we look for is how much are you here for your team members versus yourself. We’ve rejected hundreds of good dancers – because we realize they will just walk off. So, we oscillate between six or seven members and not more than that (chuckles).

 

How do you keep focused when judges seem to be so enthusiastic during your performance? How do you maintain the right frame of mind?

SM: When we started, everything was happening right. Desi Hoppers have this pact – it’s not only about judges, showcasing, but it is about celebrating within ourselves. We need to have that vibe between us. Once we have that vibe, we know that everything will be right. We cannot just do it for the sake of performing. We try to achieve that “trance” stage for our energy and for our performance. We’re here to celebrate dance.

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Comments (1)
Gunjankaran 29 Aug 2018, 11:29 PM
Thanks for the interview 😊
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