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Vinay wearing an Indian vest and holding a red umbrella in front of a background of colourful umbrellas. ;

King’s alumnus on Bollyqueer, his dance class celebrating the LGBTQ+ community

Vinay Jobanputra
King's alumnus, Mathematics, 2022

12 June 2023

Hey! I'm Vinay (he/they), a queer and gender non conforming person from Leicester, currently living in London. I moved to London in 2019 to study Mathematics at King’s and graduated last year. I've fallen in love with the city since, so have decided to settle here!

During my final year of uni, when I wasn’t trying to figure out what Euclid’s algorithm meant, I was busy launching a Bollywood dance class with a special focus – centering and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Bollywood. I fell in love with the colour, glamour, drama and sass of it all. I would watch the actresses dance all day on our TV, trying to emulate their femininity. I wanted to be able to celebrate my South Asian identity and explore my queer identity simultaneously, so I started to take Bollywood dance classes.

What I learnt quickly was that there is a rigid structure within the Bollywood world. More often than not, particularly in Bollywood dance spaces, the gender binary is forced upon us; boys are told to enter from one side of the stage and girls are told to enter from the other, costumes are different and movements are dictated based on gender. And what about those who don’t live within this binary? They aren’t acknowledged at all.

In most dance classes, I am usually told to do the ‘boy movements' with encouragement to be stronger and more powerful or ‘warrior-like’ when I move. On the other hand, the girls in class are asked to be graceful, soft and 'sexy' with their movements. It’s not hard to see that there is a big problem here. In this scenario, the enforcement of the gender binary harms everybody. Men are taught that their worth comes from being strong and powerful, women are reduced to being sexualised objects of the male gaze and finally, non-binary people are invisible.

And so, I created Bollyqueer...

Visual of Vinay dancing with text: Bollyqueer...where movement isn't gendered.

Bollyqueer is a dance class which centres queer and trans people. When you walk into a Bollyqueer class, you are not assigned any label – your gender is never assumed and you are encouraged to dance in a way that makes your heart and body feel it’s happiest. There are variations of choreographies and you get to choose whichever feels most at home to you. It’s a way to celebrate the magic and beauty of Bollywood dance without having to sacrifice your queerness or identity.

Since launching, we have had over 250 attendees and every class has sold out. What's amazing is the genuine care and respect that everyone in the space has for each other. I think that this comes from a space of mutual understanding, as well as the vulnerability and trust required to move our bodies in front of each other. It feels like a family. For me, seeing so much queer joy in the room is one of the best feelings in the world.

What I never imagined was the popularity and traction that Bollyqueer would gain. Bollyqueer was recently the subject of a BBC Three documentary 'Bend it Like Bollywood', available on BBC iPlayer. The documentary follows my journey taking Bollyqueer to my hometown, Leicester, and the chaotic rollercoaster of emotions that came with that!

Putting myself out there and being so visible in a town that I have always felt would reject my identity was a daunting prospect, but something I was determined to do. I know that younger me would have really appreciated a space like Bollyqueer.

Interested in Bollyqueer?

If you'd like to stay up to date with Bollyqueer and attend a class, feel free to follow @Bollyqueer on Instagram for the class timetable. Come and dance with us!