Bollywood on Ice

If you have been following the Winter Olympics than you probably know that tonight starts the ice dancing competition. Competing will be UMich grads, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who have a “unique Indian-themed original dance” that may or may not be performed at the competitions.

“It’s very cool,” Davis said. “Charlie and I have always been excited about being different and embracing what we could bring to the sport. It’s really exciting to expand the fan base, and expand the fan base to parts of the world that haven’t really experienced it before.” [ap]

Alright, okay. I’ll take that. Respectably not as orientalist as it could have been said. But why did they choose Bollywood?

[C]horeographer Marina Zoueva wanted something that would really make Davis and White stand out. When she spotted an Hermes scarf with brilliant colors and Indian dancers last spring, she knew she’d found the answer. [ap]

A Hermes scarf?!?

They called Anuja Rajendra, who combines Bollywood music and dance with exercise at her BollyFit studio in Ann Arbor, Mich. Rajendra, who once performed professionally, not only showed them how to move their arms and bodies in true Indian dance style, she suggested music and taught them about Indian culture….[O]nce Zoueva had finished choreographing the OD, which uses music from the 2002 Bollywood hit “Devdas,” Rajendra went to the rink to make sure authentic Indian dance could translate onto the ice. [ap]

Ok…so I’m a little less reluctant, knowing that it’s legit…I guess. They went to a desi dance instructor. From Ann Arbor, no less.

Like most winter sports, skating isn’t very big in India. But people there were impressed — and proud — that American skaters were showcasing their culture…”It makes me feel good that something Indian is being shown,” said Dr. Shekar Pushpala, a doctor in Indianapolis who was sent the video by a friend in India. [ap]

Gah. Back to square one.

On one had the winter Olympics are limited in Desi representation – there were only three people representing the Indian team. And it’s not like there are Desi ice dancing competitors that could have done the Bollywood dance to make it “authentic”. We have seen bhangra and other forms of Indian dance make an appearance in most American based dance competitions (America’s Best Dance Crew comes to mind). But on the other hand, is this a case of the glorification of the tokenization and orientalization of what it means to be Desi? Is this cultural appropriation something the be revered or something to be admonished?

Personally, I kinda like it. It is a dance style. And since Davis and White are representing Americans at the international Olympics, I feel like the American-Desi experience is symbolically represented through this number. To me, it’s my kind of hyphenated American. It’s how I want America to be represented. Bollywood dance is turning as American as the apple pie. Or is it?

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About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates and blogs at Follow her at

81 thoughts on “Bollywood on Ice

  1. Linzi, Shilip

    Cd either of you state in one line on the discussion item? I am very confused reading your post and cannot figure out the agenda of your debate.

  2. A,

    While having some experience and many connections to India (and since I will be raising American-Indian children at some point in the US), I have had some commenters respond to my race rather than my opinion on this site. My argument is that people should not make assumptions about me or stereotype me and respond to my comments based on the fact I am a “white girl”. If they have a question about me or my experiences, fine, but do it respectfully. That’s how it should be for everyone.

    Sorry, that was more than one line.

  3. LinZi,

    I agree with and I would like to to add that regardless of the connection to India, people (especially Indians) should make all efforts to avoid streotype/race based assumptions. IMO, though all Indians can be considered to have same race, cultural, economic, social, lingustic differences in India makes every India unique for every Indian. When people refer to India, I ask them ..which India…there are probably 1 billion Indias…


  4. When people refer to India, I ask them ..which India

    I just assume they mean the one in Edison.

  5. Tasmina,

    You forget that Pakistan, India’s arch-nemesis and the “Indian Muslim commonwealth” also has a one-man Olympic delegation to the Winter Olympics.

    I don’t think their performance has anything to do with Orientalism.

    Many Mutineers here seem overly sensitive about race but mention that all South Asians are “brown.” In Afghanistan, which India regards as part of its backyard and has a congenial relationship with Kabul, my “peeps” are brown, white, or yellow.

    Growing up, Hindi/Urdu was spoken in my home along with Farsi/Dari and Pashto. My family cursed Pakistan but loved India, on some Muslim websites I have been considered a member of Hindutva.

    Most online Muslim communities, even Desi ones, seem to emulate “Arab” mores and cultural norms. Even in India, some Muslimahs are abandoning the shalwar kameez for the Gulf Arab black abaya and Iranian chadors.

    As Muslims Tasmina, some would consider music and intimate dance between the opposite sex “haram.” But I don’t consider this a case of Orientalism, merely an appropriation of things “Eastern.”

    The performance isn’t even that good in my opinion.

  6. Mustafa wrote:

    My family cursed Pakistan but loved India, on some Muslim websites I have been considered a member of Hindutva.

    Mustafa is Gustavo.

  7. Who is Tasnima?

    And why is she being told how Muslims behave? On a post about ice skaters dancing to Bollywood music?

  8. This is merely a bad, not great performance using the soundtrack of Devdas. Now if they did the kuchipudi of Andra Pradesh or Kathak of North India and Pakistan, I would be impressed.

    Didn’t care for her costume though.

  9. LinZi

    I have a response to your latest post, but would like to take it offline, you can email me or give me a contact info. Thanks


  10. Just in case anyone was wondering… the duo just performed this dance tonight. (And the International Olympics promptly took the original video off of the internet). Let’s see if it wins them a gold.

  11. (And the International Olympics promptly took the original video off of the internet)



  12. When I see people complain about or discuss orientalism and appropriation of culture, I always think back to my childhood–growing up as the reverse-token brown person with about a hundred white people who all had Sanskrit names, performed hatha, japa, jnana, raja, karma and whatever else yogas on a daily basis, meditated, learned Tamil hindu prayers and conducted Pujas of all kinds, in the heart of rural Virginia.

    for people who can’t get over an ice dance and the inevitably moronic commentary that accompanies it–you’ve got no chance at coexistence, despite what that bumper sticker on your car may exclaim.

    Remember the Brazilian soap opera which had an Indian angle to a narrative? were people as exercised about the racism there?

  13. 21 ร‚ยท Radhika on February 20, 2010 11:32 AM

    I wouldn’t say that SM is really part of the “liberal blogosphere.” I commented on that Feministing post where Samhita talks about new-agers, James Ray and cultural appropriation–it was immediately deleted by a moderator and when I emailed to complain, she gave a weak answer referencing only the volume of comments and how difficult it was to remember the ones she deleted. The standard in rights-based discourse weblogs is that if you are someone who’s lived experience actually contains more of the subject matter, and you disagree with the poster, the comment will be deleted. That is, if you have more experience, and that experience contradicts the position taken by the poster, the comment will be deleted.

    That generally doesn’t happen here and you should thank the people at SM for it.

  14. Choreography was terrible and not very authentic—moving your hands like an Egyptian mummy creature is not at all like the 108 (or however many) mudras. Choice of music tres horrible. Not very entertaining either. I’m surprised they came second or whatever they came. Manju’s grandmother may have approved but mine most certainly wouldn’t have. Nor would I for that matter.

  15. But on the other hand, is this a case of the glorification of the tokenization and orientalization of what it means to be Desi? Is this cultural appropriation something the be revered or something to be admonished?

    I think you’re either being oversensitive or over-analyzing a simple dance routine. Davis and White are a talented and gorgeous couple who saw a chance to make this dance their own and did so with grace. If anything, we should be cheering them on instead of wondering what their “true” intentions were.

  16. Speaking of cultural appropriation, has anyone seen number 31 here? It’s a Carnivale float!

    I, for one, think it’s fabulous for a variety of reasons (even though I have no idea what the central figure is supposed to be), not the least of which is that the float seems to belong to a samba school.

    Do you realize what this means? That means there is a group of people in Brazil who may be looking at ways to unite unite the powers of bhangra AND samba! Who could compete with such a dance troupe? They would be unstoppable!

  17. It should be said that on the same night Davis and White performend their “Bollywood on Ice” routine, I also saw the Russian pair perform an aboriginal dance, another American pair doing a Moldovan tribute, the Canadian pair doing Spanish, and both the French and British pair dressed up as American cowboys. It was getting so that when I saw an Israeli couple dancing to “Hava Nagilla” with the male wearing a yarmakule, I needed the commentators to remind me that they weren’t Ukranian.

    My point being: everyone chill the eff out over “cultural appropriation” already! Does anyone complain when a non-Brazillian couple skates a tango?

  18. My point being: everyone chill the eff out over “cultural appropriation” already! Does anyone complain when a non-Brazillian couple skates a tango?

    …or even non-Argentines for that matter… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  19. To the commenter who was just deleted: if one person writes about how something affected her, and you disagree with her, that does not give you license to condemn an entire group of people (who may or may not even share her opinion). Take your ridiculous generalizations and anti-“ABCD” bullshit elsewhere. Next time, you’re banned.

  20. People need to lighten up (and I’m not talking about skin tone). I thought it was great. The music was good and the dancing was excellent INTERPRETATION of Indian dance on ICE.

  21. What is so funny and so hypocritical is that Bollywood itself in particular and westernized indians in general proudly and shamelessly “appropriate”/plagiarize Hollywood and western culture yet have the nerve to cry foul when the reverse happens.

    The very word Bollywood is a pathetic imitation Hollywood….

  22. Os brasileiros fazem fastiches das Indianos porque eles sao muitas exoticas personas encheio das coisas misteriosas e as mulheres deles capturava as mentes das brasileiros. Nao faz mal! Tambem, yoga ta considera muito legal…bollywood tambem. Ta certinho…o serial se-chama “Camihoes das Indias” ou uma alguma coisa, tava considerada muito intersante e exotico…e talvez estrangeiroso…tunak tunak tunak tunak tunak tunak tunak toosnak

  23. I wasn’t impressed with the routine. The songs didn’t match the moves. And bollywood songs are folk songs? ok….

    But of course (like most of us on here have commented) this is not appropriation, but using a dance form in an ice skating routine – more power to them if they are inspired by those beautiful bollywood songs! Just wish their dancing was better, but hell, who am i to say as they just one the silver medal.

    I’m an avid gymnastics fan and I remember Eastern European gymnasts often used folk music from their region of the world…the music was perfect for showing grace and power in gymnastics routines. And then the US gymnasts started using it sometimes and I loved it. Same thing going on here.

  24. The very word Bollywood is a pathetic imitation Hollywood….

    Oh really? I had no idea Prema! Thanks for clearing that up.

  25. Does this mean if I can “pass” for a non-white, then I’m fine by you?
    1. What gave you the idea that you are not fine by me unless you can pass for a non-white?

    2. By your own account you do pass for non-white when among a lily white crowd. In your own words: “Throughout my childhood I was often questions “where are you from?” “are you filipino?” “are you from a foreign country?” etc because I have dark hair and darker skin than more white people…….I tried to scrub the “dirt” off my skin when I was little, for god’s sake.” Filipinos aren’t white are they? And Croats are not mistaken for filipinos. You once wrote that part of your ancestry is a question mark. You must have a dark race in your background and considering that southeastern europe has probably the highest proportion of gypsies in europe why pretend that the question cannot be answered by gypsy blood running through your veins?