HOORAY FOR BOLLYWOOD: DANCE PARTY TURNS 15
Seventeen years ago, Anjali Hursh was sitting at a long table in an employees-only
area of Powell's City of Books, mindlessly peeling price stickers off a page and chatting with her co-workers when she asked Stephen Strausbaugh, aka The Incredible Kid, a question that would totally change her life.
She asked him to teach her how to deejay.
They were both involved with the employee effort to unionize, and had been attending a lot of house parties when Hursh noticed a theme: There were no woman deejays.
She had an art degree, and had been a dancer her whole life, but when she took a chance and she tried her hand in the DJ booth, she was an instant success. The two teamed up and have been popular in the Pacific Northwest music scene ever since.
On July 29, Hursh, 44, and Strausbaugh, 45, will host the 15th anniversary of their monthly Andaz dance party at the Analog Theater. Andaz, by DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid, is one of the longest running bhangra and Bollywood parties in the country, and has thrived in Portland despite multiple location changes over the years.
Bhangra and Bollywood
Strausbaugh's musical background was in funk and soul, and Hursh, who is half Indian, was influenced largely by Asian underground and Britpop.
Before Hursh started experimenting with bhangra, Strausbaugh had heard only snippets. Although he was intrigued, he didn't know how to get his hands on the Indian sound, because it isn't often sold on vinyl.
"We don't agree on a lot of music but bhangra is one that we do agree on," Hursh says.
They love it, and so do their fans.
Bhangra music originated in the Northern Indian state of Punjab, and was traditionally folk music made in celebration of the annual harvest. Hursh says it's evolved thanks to the South Asians in the United Kingdom, who grew up listening to reggae and hip hop.
Hursh says that crowds can expect it to mirror the sound of whatever club music is popular at the time.
Now, their sets are an exclusive fusion of bhangra and Bollywood music, occasionally featuring Indian electronic music and South Asian rap.
Bollywood refers to popular Indian music that can be found in Hindi Bollywood films.
"The Punjabi bhangra sound is super exciting and super motivating to me," Strausbaugh says. "I still feel that way 17 years later."
More than a career
Their events have developed into much more than a dance party. It's an opportunity to invite in South Asian people into a space where their culture is dominant and celebrated.
Both Strausbaugh and Hursh say that at the core, they are committed to the music. It's a combination of culture and fun for them, and they want to make sure there are places for people to hear the music.
"It's a space for kids who have parents from India or Pakistan. It's the music we grew up with but it's recontextualized with club sounds," Hursh says. "Usually we are relegated to people asking us what Indian restaurant to go to."
To be clear, Hursh says, Andaz is not "weird ethnic night." It's a normal club night and dance party; the lyrics just happen to be in Punjabi and Hindi.
"I feel really fortunate that we are able to present this music to all kinds of people," Hursh says.
One of Hursh's fondest memories is of playing a queer Bollywood party in Seattle at the three-story gay club R Place. On the top floor, right in front of the DJ booth, Hursh remembers there was a stripper pole.
"It was pretty amazing to play Bollywood for all these gay Indians. And then the regular clientele was like 'Hey, we're really into this Indian hip hop sound,' and started dancing on the stripper pole," Hursh recalls, laughing. "That was awesome."
Hursh says she wants their music to be something that unites people.
"I want people of color. I want queer kids. I want everyone to come together," Hursh says.
Hursh and Strausbaugh strive to foster the most accepting and inclusive space possible. They accept everyone and don't have a dress code.
Although same-sex marriage is still illegal in India, a third gender is legally recognized as hijra. Hijras are people who are either transgender, intersex, androgynous, or eunuchs.
Hursh has performed at many LGBT Pride events in the past and says she enjoys it. Many of her closest friends, she says, are queer.
The 15th anniversary of Andaz will also feature a collaborative dance performance led by Geeta Naidu of the Afsaana Dance Company, which is based in Seattle.
Naidu and Hursh met when Naidu choreographed her first Bollywood drag piece and it was debuting at a South Asian LGBT Pride event in Seattle. Hursh was the deejay for the event.
"Since then, we've tried to collaborate as often as we possibly can," Naidu says.
Naidu has been dancing her whole life. She was classically trained in both North and South Indian dance, and holds a special passion for Bollywood dance. She is especially drawn to the storytelling element of classic, lyrical Bollywood dance, which is why she named her company Afsaana, which means "story" in Urdu.
The collaborative performance by Afsaana and Splinter Dance Company will feature eight adult female dancers. Splinter has a focus in hip-hop and a background in social justice.
"Most of their work is also storytelling, where they incorporate important topics of today into their dance," Naidu says.
Hursh says she and Strausbaugh are very selective when picking guests. They are not willing to share the stage with just anyone.
"We don't have very many guests because we want to make sure we trust the people we put on stage," Hursh says. "We try to feature more artists that might not fit into your typical category."
This makes sense to Sasha Khetarpal-Vasser, 24, a male belly dancer.
"I am kind of an acquired taste," says Khetarpal-Vasser, a Boston native who recently moved here to study belly dance.
Khetarpal-Vasser is a New Seasons florist by day, but belly dance is his passion.
"My family is from India on my mom's side, so I grew up looking up to the Bollywood femme-fatale images and I deeply identified with that," Khetarpal-Vasser says.
Being a male belly dancer presents challenges for Khetarpal-Vasser, who enjoys "playing around with gender" and challenging stereotypes. Although it doesn't by any means stop him from pursuing his passion, it does make it a little harder for him to find performance venues.
Hursh and Strausbaugh are proud of the community they foster with their parties, particularly Andaz. The two have come a long way in the 20 years since they met at Powell's, and Strausbaugh says he wants to continue deejaying "forever."
"We're just stubborn. I think other people might have given up, but I totally love the drama that unfolds on the dance floor," Hursh says.
The Andaz dance party will be held at the Analog Theater, 720 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., at 9 p.m. Saturday, July 29. There will be a cover charge of $6 before 10 p.m., and $10 after 10 p.m. For more: www.anjaliandthekid.com.