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The Great Goan Groove

Dancing is hot in the land of music

All societies have music, and we humans are wired to appreciate melodies and rhythms. But not all societies love music equally – and it’s fair to say that on the spectrum of love for music and dance, Goa falls at the extreme favorable end.

Whereas in other places a band will fire up and have to coax and beg partygoers to join the dance floor, here it’s an effortless exercise. The dance floor fills up on its own.

And while there haven’t been any formal studies, it’s fair to assume that the per capita ratio of musicians to the general population is far greater here than the global average.

Now, in an already music crazy land, we’re seeing a mad rush to learn all sorts of dances – from ballroom to hiphop to funk to folk. This is the story of the dance rage in Goa – it’s big, it’s vibrant and it’s bringing Goa’s music and party scene to a whole new level.

Zumba, with its fitness-inducing mixture of ballroom, latino, cha cha cha, hip-hop and many other genres, is the biggest craze at the moment. But there’s a growing affinity for many other types of dancing, including the tango, the paso doble and the quick step.

Aside from traditional folk dance, the most Goan of all dance forms is undoubtedly ballroom. It’s a rite of passage for many Goans, especially Catholics. The mandatory wedding march at the reception and the first dance by the newly wedded couple is always a ballroom dance.

 “For me dancing is a passion. I wouldn’t say it’s about having a romance with somebody, though if you’re dancing with your life partner, sure, that intimacy brings a certain grace and adds to the ease of dancing,” explains Fatima Noronha e Vaz, who has been holding ballroom dance classes for close to two decades in Margao.

There’s also a commercial side to the dance craze. Many of the folks emerging from Goa’s many dance academies end up performing in some capacity in Goa’s booming tourist industry. Mostly, however, the students are looking for an improved joie de vivre at social gigs.

Almost every nook and corner of Goa these days boasts a summer dance camp, with literally hundreds of dance camps being held from this week onwards.

 “Goa is the only place in India where people dance on all social occasions,” says Snaden Shawn D’Souza of the Snaden Shawn Dance Academy, which holds dance classes all over Goa.

 From being a DJ and dancer, Sylvester Coutinho, owner of the One Dance Studio in Margao, started organizing an inter-collegiate dance competition called Dancezone so as to spot dance talent from all over Goa.

 He says the demand for professional dancers in Goa is greater than the supply.

“As an event organiser I get a lot of shows and there’s a lot of money to be made, but we don’t get enough quality dancers for the troupes,” he laments. “There’s huge scope for professional dancers in Goa, which today’s youngsters need to realize.”

While all this is great news for the kids, it’s the adult dancers who seem to have forgotten their moves.

In Goa you can often see men and women, born in the sixties and seventies, fumbling away on the dance floor at weddings and balls, looking enviously at the expert footwork of their parents and grandparents as the older gents and ladies waltz, tango and shashay the night away.

Those post-Liberation generations didn’t really learn dancing properly, they just did what everyone else was doing, sometimes abandoning their worn out universal  ‘walking waltz’ to swing solo and wave their hands and feet in the air.

 “It’s bad,” says 39-year-old dance instructor Sylvester Coutinho.  “I’d gone for a wedding yesterday and I was watching the way people were dancing. The couples were all dancing only one step.”

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“When I was a kid,” he continued, “I used to go to places like Clube Harmonia (in Margao) and it used to be like a scene straight out of a Spanish film or something, everybody would be dancing so beautifully, in sync with the music, everybody would be doing the right steps. Those days are gone.”

But there are people who are trying to bring back those glory days. Like Vasco-based Dr Martin D’Costa, the president of the Goa Dancesport Association who has been teaching ballroom dance for many years now

“You can learn social ballroom dancing in two-three weeks, but it will take you a minimum of three years to be a good competitive, ballroom dancer,” he says.

Jason of the Jason and Sylvia Dance Academy says many of his students are non-Goan. “They come because they want to go for a Goan wedding or party where they will have to do a ballroom dance, and when they come back again on a holiday they also come again for a couple of weeks to my classes to learn more.”

Jason is convinced that ballroom dancing is here to stay, even if zumba is the latest craze. “Ballroom dancing will never die. It is there throughout the lives of Goans, at every feast, wedding and celebration.”

Sunita Karambolkar is a Goan Hindu who attended ballroom dance classes because her Catholic best friend was getting married and, as the bridesmaid, she had to take part in the wedding march. “I just learnt the basic steps but at the actual wedding both me and the best man, who had also come with me to learn the steps, were just doing the same one step, this side and that side! I completely forgot everything!” she laughs.

Sylvester feels the best way to promote dancing in Goa would be to show it in the movies which are shot in Goa. “So many movies are shot in Goa, but nothing is shown of Goan dancers in these movies. The government through the (Entertainment Society of Goa) can do something about this. They’re only showing Goans as boozards.  Goan dances should be given screen time.”

Last November, dance gurus Joseph and Cecille Dias helped Goa Streets organize the first-ever flash mob in Goa – when 100 dancers from all over the state came together for a sudden, surprise dance on the Dona Paula jetty. With more than 1 lakh hits on YouTube, the Goa Streets Flash Mob is already one of the most viewed events from Goa in YouTube’s history.  

Interviewed for this article, Joseph says ballroom dancing in Goa has its own flavor. “People have been doing ballroom dancing since the Portuguese days. The basic steps come from the tango and Goans have added their own steps to that and given their own Goan flavor,” he says.

Goa also has a vast repertoire of folk dances which are a big draw for tourism in the state, particularly during the Shigmo festival and Lokotsav. Youngsters are increasingly taking part in team folk dances at youth festivals like the Konkani Bhasha Mandal’s Yuvamahotsav.

Modern dance experiments are also emerging in Goa as in the case of the contemporary dance-theatre workshop conducted by Diniz Sanchez at Fundacao Oriente’s premises recently. The participants had to perform their interpretation of the canvases of the famed Goan painter Antonio Xavier Trindade.

 “What emerged was a fascinating array of performative sketches, honest, if raw,” says Isabel Vas of the Mustard Seed theatre group.

 Hip hop is another genre catching on fast in Goa, not just as a dance form but also a way of life. Whether it’s hip hop or waltz or contemporary or the tango, the great Goan groove is on – embraced by young and old alike.