Bollywood dance instructor in Hong Kong on his unique methods and how he keeps his sky-high energy in check
Victor Kumar, founder of the Bollywood Dreams Group, is on the leading edge of a trend for highly motivational instructors who give exercise a fresh twist. Keeping his excitable personality and energy under control, though, takes work
Victor Kumar was raised on a steady diet of Indian films. But it was the 2004 coming-of-age drama Lakshya – and in particular, the song Main aisa kyun hoon? (Why I am like this?) from the film – that indelibly changed him.
“I feel this song all of my life,” say the 31-year-old choreographer, actor, dance instructor and founder of the Bollywood Dreams Group dance troupe. “The ideas in the movements, the philosophy behind the song, the lyrics, the storytelling, it struck me like, Wow! Yes! I’ve seen it done in another way.”
He explains that it was lyrics like “What is going to happen to me in my life? Will somebody please tell me?” that stirred his then 18-year-old self to define who he is and look at life’s bigger picture. He was also riveted by the film’s dance sequences, which were choreographed by industry luminary Prabhu Deva, someone who Kumar has come to revere.
“I started finding myself [feeling] different, that you should be a little different, that you’re a dancer to make good things and present them in a different [way],” he says.
That “different way” is encapsulated in his dance classes, held in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan area, which weave together cultural and interactive elements. He often brings Indian accessories and attire along to encourage attendees to embrace Indian culture.
He says that while dance is good for the heart – since it’s a lot of cardio – and gives you great body shape, he wants people to get more from his classes than simply burning calories. “I want people to know Bollywood dance is such an energetic dance form where people can be free, and dance to express joy and happiness.”
His dynamic presence, coupled with this vibrant dance form and music, fires up the place like a party. “It’s about the energy and opening yourself to the bigger picture … it’s also about seeing that everyone can dance … if you can move, you can dance.”
He also likes to throw in some comedy. “When you free your mind, the energy flows. Teasing and making jokes [during classes] are the fun part,” he says.
Kumar encourages students to let their inner spirit move them, flipping the usual dance-class format where attendees follow the instructor’s lead from start to end.
His high-octane energy was in evidence last month at the Iris: Your Escape wellness festival in the West Kowloon Cultural District – where he and his troupe of vibrantly attired Bollywood dancers gave a session that was like a fireball landing among the more serene yoga and meditation sessions.
“Some people asked, ‘Is it a concert going on or what’? and I said it’s a Bollywood live concert, with dancing to music, with a performance, with some colours,” says Kumar, whose influences include Michael Jackson’s high-energy, high-concept shows and precise movements.
Instead of being anchored to his podium, Kumar bounced from place to place while giving directions as everyone shadowed his movements. Towards the end, he rallied a group of participants to come on stage and perform their newly learned sequences.
The effusive reactions he received exceeded his expectations. “I was like, Wow! It worked!” he says.
It took time for this self-taught dancer to hone his craft and methods to create such an impact. During his teens, he tried to break into the film business in Mumbai and elsewhere with little success. Then he heard the song from Lakshya that would put him on a quest to broaden his style and outlook.
At 21, an opportunity to do just that arose: while studying a history and culture course part-time at university, an audition for a Bollywood dance instructor role in Macau landed him a contract. He dropped out of university and made the move, as opportunities like that don’t often come knocking, he says.
Since then Kumar has taught this dance form at various venues in Macau and Hong Kong, setting up the Bollywood Dreams Group dance troupe in 2008. He has also worked on Bollywood music video projects set in Macau and Hong Kong, in the capacity of third assistant choreographer or dance cast manager. He has worked with icons including Rajinikanth, who he says is considered the Robert de Niro of India.
Kumar says that ramping up the energy in his classes comes naturally – but that taming it is another story. That is why he is a serious devotee of yoga and meditation.
“Meditation is for the mind, and yoga is to keep my energy centred and to let the energy flow at the right time,” he says. “Then there’s dancing [which I can do] any time.”
Kumar meditates for 15 minutes at the start of each day to bring mental focus and clarity. He was recommended this practice by friends and a former trainer at Pure Yoga in Hong Kong to rein in his easily excitable personality and “unstoppable” energy.
“It’s a clearing [exercise]: you scan the mind while breathing and instead of judging yourself or others, you just see what’s happening inside, which is most important,” he says. He repeats a mantra – “Om Shanti” – for peace, balance and to help him go about his day.
He practises yoga six days a week for its similar grounding effect. Additional cardio workouts for six hours a week help him maintain “a strong heart, a must for a dancer”. He incorporates body weight exercises such as push-ups and jumps into his regimen, as well as light weightlifting, to maintain his lean physique.
Kumar is on the leading edge of a dance trend that is seeing rising demand for highly motivational instructors who bring intensity and a fresh twist to dance and exercise formats. In the US, for example, YouTube videos of Keith Thompson’s hip-hop spinning classes went viral in 2014, turning the instructor who gets cyclists bobbing along to his dance moves atop their bikes into a celebrity.
Similar exercise-party sessions are spreading in Asia – such as K-pop-style spinning classes held in nightclub-like settings that have mushroomed across venues in Seoul – driven by people seeking high-adrenaline fun while getting fit.
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Kumar’s goal is to spark more “interaction, connection and diversity in culture”, which many Hongkongers seek to counteract their high-anxiety workaholic lifestyles, he says.
“My classes let people be stress-free and escape for a while. That’s what makes my classes special.”