SAgrooves: The Urban Desi Movement Through the Lens of Dance

Fresh off a video collaboration, we sat in a studio and thought about the future. What did we want to create?  What did we have to offer the South Asian dance community? And how did we come to be known as “SAgrooves?”

Fast-forward to today and what you see as you browse through our instagram feed and website is only a fraction of the blood, sweat, and tears we have put into SAgrooves. What we set out to build and continue to strive towards in our classes is a supportive dance environment that both welcomes and challenges students with technique, musicality, and textures. An environment that seeks to create a true fusion of our South Asian roots and our love of hip hop. A space where we can push dancers beyond their comfort zones and grow. So how did we do it?  

Passion. Drive. Grit. And most importantly, a dedication to bringing our dance style to the South Asian community.

Here is our journey.

Our passion for dance started respectively at very young ages. Asees grew up in a suburb of San Diego and didn’t have easy access to Indian styles of classical dance. She took a liking to hip hop, drawn to the familiar drum-driven, deep-bass beats, and story-telling rhymes often found in Punjabi music. Tanya grew up in Dallas and started training at a dance studio that specialized in hip hop and jazz and surrounded herself with lots of the vocabulary and movement associated with these styles of dance.

We wanted to help build the Urban Desi movement through the lens of dance and reinforce the value of dancers as artists.

As we trained through the years we noticed a theme in our classes whether in Dallas, SD, LA, or NYC. We were often the only brown people in the room. Yet hip hop was really popular in South Asia, infiltrating a lot of the Bollywood movies as well as contributing to the rise of the Urban Desi movement with artists such as Rishi Rich, Raghav, Jay Sean, Raxstar, Mumzy Stranger, Arjun, and Raja Kumari. These artists were combining hip-hop, R&B, and South Asian sounds in a way that we identified with, and while the music was steadily growing, South Asian dancers were not widely represented in this genre. We wanted to help build the Urban Desi movement through the lens of dance and reinforce the value of dancers as artists.

Simultaneously, we felt there was a void specific to our experience as Desi Americans. Most of the dance classes that are available in hip hop, grooves, and street jazz don’t include any aspect of the South Asian culture. For us, being ethnically Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi (respectively), living in the U.S., and falling in love with hip hop and grooves, we wanted to strike a balance between the music and dance forms we trained in and our South Asian roots. We wanted to offer the community something different that epitomized our South Asian American experience.

We wanted to strike a balance between the music and dance forms we trained in and our South Asian roots.

As we each sought out to build our own versions of this genre, teaching separate classes initially, we came together in January 2018 and taught one class called South Asian Hip Hop. It was free. And 13 people showed up. As we grew, we officially became known as South Asian Grooves (SAgrooves) in March 2018. A lot of people ask why “SAgrooves?” For us, it’s important to be inclusive of the countries, cultures, and people that are in the sub-continent. Take us for example. Asees is Punjabi while Tanya’s family has roots in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India.  

As we set out to create a more regular set of classes, there were ups and downs. There were classes where we had three people. When we first launched BASICS, we had a class where one person showed up. When you’re down, it’s easy to want to walk away, and we came close to it. We were actually considering cutting back on classes in June 2018 when we hit an inflection point. We pivoted to a Bollywood mix of Rangeela and Lean On by Dr. Srimix, and found that the music and moves were finally resonating.

Over the last six months, we shifted to creating our own mixes. From choosing the songs to adding new beats, we work side by side with our producer to ensure that each mix enables us to stay true to and teach the values we believe in: musicality, technique, and texture.    

We are two dancers who were brought together by our passion for dance. We know that certain things like views and videos are nice to have, after all they are the metrics of success in this business. But, we want our dance journey to be more than a video and views. We want to share our passion with our peers in the South Asian community and simultaneously build an inclusive, supportive environment where dancers can embrace feeling uncomfortable in order to craft their own movement & style. This is why we start every class by saying, “Being uncomfortable means growth.”

As we continue this dance journey and move into the next chapter of SAgrooves, we are excited to have you on board because this isn’t about us. It’s about the South Asian dance community.

This is why we are launching The Movement. An SAgrooves publication that sheds light on the people that are inspiring a movement within our dance community.  We will introduce you to creators who are sharing their story with the world through dance. We hope to encourage you to learn from these artists and explore movement in whatever form that resonates with you. Stay tuned as we come to you with the voices from some remarkable people who are changing the industry.