Dance is said to be the hidden language of the soul, but now, it’s also a way of earning big bucks! Meher Malik, founder of the Banjara School of Dance in Delhi, says she started learning dance at the age of six. And she loved it so much that she decided to take up her passion as a vocation and start the Banjara School. Her entrepreneurial journey, she says, has been both interesting and rewarding – and filled with challenges, of course.
Only people with a true passion for dance can succeed as well as Meher has done. The Banjara School was launched only in 2008, but it is already reporting an annual turnover of Rs 65 lakh. Of course, the potential in the Indian market has also worked as a great driver for the dancing school business, but Meher’s dedication to dance is truly the trump card she holds.
Out of all her achievements, Meher is especially proud that she was the first to bring Egyptian oriental belly dancing to India. She says it was a real challenge to educate Indians about belly dancing, which was commonly thought of as another form of bar dancing.
She recalls that her first customer was from an affluent family. Now, she says, she has people even from the lower middle class coming to enrol their children in her dance school. It’s obvious, she says, that Indians are slowly becoming more and more receptive to belly dancing as a dance form.
She reveals, “I am still constantly talking to people and explaining the history of belly dancing. Things will change. But it will take its own time, nothing happens before its time. My parents have been a pillar of strength and have supported me all the way. They believe that one may choose to do anything with one’s life, provided one takes full responsibility for it and possesses the fire to make things happen.”
Egyptian oriental belly dancing uses mostly Egyptian music, both classical and modern, and is set to an Arabic rhythm. Meher explains, “Egyptian oriental belly dancing is a classical dance of Egypt. It has various styles and folk dance forms. Today’s modern form is supported by a ballet format. The most interesting thing about belly dancing is that it does not demand a body type like other dance forms do. You could be a Size 0 or a Size 100 and still dance because the movement is all about discipline and control and it could come to anyone.”
Meher says she knew dance was what she wanted to pursue. She says, “I have been a dancer since the age of six and have tried various styles of dance, starting with Bharatnatyam and then moving to Bollywood, jazz and hip hop. Having lived in the Middle East, I have always been exposed to belly dancing, but when I had my first real interaction with a belly dancer on the Nile Cruise at the age of 14, I was bedazzled. She asked me to dance with her and I could just imitate her moves and my friends were shocked seeing me. It felt so great – a rush I had never felt before. From then on, I started attending Middle Eastern dance programmes so that I could just watch and learn. I bought DVDs and even started lessons in belly dancing.
“I moved to India in 2006. Salsa India was looking for a belly dancing instructor and I decided to take up the opportunity. They truly appreciated my work and I have not looked back since then. As I gradually progressed in my work, I realised how India as a nation felt about belly dancing and it made me sad. I decided to promote belly dancing as I see it. It’s a beautiful dance form. Every woman deserves to love her body and that’s what belly dancing can offer. I wanted other women to feel what I feel, so I decided to start a movement. Banjara is not just any dance company – it’s an initiative for women to come out and feel confident and in love with whom and what they are. For me, it’s the path to emancipation, not a business. I want to give it everything I can before leaving the world.”
Meher started the Banjara School with an initial investment of Rs 4 lakh, mostly from her father. She used her savings for the rest. The money went mainly into setting up the infrastructure and promoting the school.
Currently, she owns 13 dance studios in Delhi and the National Capital Region. She operates one of these herself and has franchised out the rest. Talking of the benefits of the franchising business model, she says, “It is very tedious to run so many studios. Franchising is a much better option – it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
|Banjara is not just any dance company – it’s an initiative for women to come out and feel confident and in love with whom and what they are”
- Meher Malik
Founder & Owner of Banjara School of Dance
Ask her about her competitors and she says, “I don’t have any competition in Delhi, but there are a few in other parts of India like Veve Dance in Mumbai, Diva Belly Dance in Pune and Katie in Goa .However, it does not affect our work as we all have our own contacts and our own projects. The only way of keeping a business a constant success is to provide quality and maintain honest and clean relationships with people. The basic principles and values of entrepreneurship must be held on to. The USP of Banjara is to express and not to impress.”
There are opportunities galore in the Indian dance school business. Given the fact that globalisation has broadened the scope for Indian entrepreneurs, experiments like the Banjara School have a rosy future. The market is constantly growing and adapting to all kinds of different cultures. Meher believes authenticity is the main challenge for dance school entrepreneurs. She feels today’s customer needs are changing and quality is an important determinant of both survival and success.
She sounds a warning note: “There is a lot of filth in the industry and we need to get rid of that. Promotion is a hard job in the dance world. You never know what might work and we are very seriously affected by seasonal and festive changes.”
The journey that she started at the age of six has taught Meher many lessons, but she is very optimistic about the future of the dance school business in India. She says, “India has a very bright future where dancing is concerned. It’s just getting bigger and better. Once you overcome the initial obstacles, India offers a very conducive environment. The market here is constantly evolving. The interest for the dance form will grow as people’s minds open up further. I would say India is a beautiful place to grow as an artist.”
written by rajendra lal, February 06, 2011
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