Skip to content

These Burnaby women are 'stepping it up' with their new dance community

Building an inclusive, accessible community one step at a time.
Science grads from UBC and SFU (Hasini Basnayake, left and Yeshvi Mehta, right) build accessible, inclusive dance community to remind them of “home.” Photo Monil Parekh

For Yeshvi Mehta, a University of British Columbia science grad, life in Canada was always about searching for that “sense of home and community.”

Decades ago, when she was just four years old, Mehta immigrated to Canada from India with her family.

With that life behind her, dance, she said, was the one constant that reminded of her ties to home.

“Especially in Indian culture, where everyone dances during weddings and other festivities, dance, I felt, was the only way I could maintain that connection to home,” she said.

So when she met Hasini Basnayake, a science grad from Simon Fraser University, and bonded over their love for dance, the two put their minds and hearts together to blend their cultures and help build an inclusive dance community — what they call Bollyfusion.

Coming from Sri Lanka, Basnayake is a trained (Kandyan) classical dancer. She came to Canada at the age of 18; unlike Mehta, Basnayake was introduced to Bollywood only when she came to Canada.

“I think there’s a lot of beauty in mixing different dance forms and cultures,” she said.

Their day jobs were satisfactory, but they needed more — to bring a balance to their lives and help them express their unique identities — “Because I don’t think my degrees necessarily expressed that,” Basnayake said.

The chance to embrace their love for dance outside of a 9-to-5 routine has brought them that happiness and fulfilment.

“We started it last summer because we went to a (dance) class where half the class were our friends,” Basnayake said. “We realized we have this community already. We just don’t have a place for ourselves.”

Space for their identities

Mehta and Basnayake, in a conversation with the NOW, explained they started Bollyfusion to fill the gap of what they didn’t see — a space to empower brown women and move how they felt comfortable, no matter the expertise.

“We’re not a dance studio," Mehta said. "We’re not a professional dance team, that’s not what we’re doing. We’re building a community that includes anyone and have any dance ability.”

“Bollyfusion is entirely what little Yeshvi and Hasini would have wanted to see when we were growing up,” she added. “If there was something like this that we could have been connected to, I think it would have really shaped us differently. But we want to be that for anybody else.”

Dance style, accessibility and inclusivity

For Mehta and Basnayake, Bollyfusion is an amalgamation of different cultures, so it’s not Bollywood dance songs or style per se.

“We look at songs with lyrics or vibes that allow us to just move and feel confident in,” Mehta said. “I think a fun, different type of fusion we did was Manike with a touch of Kandyan style and a touch of Bollywood. The song being a Sri Lankan song, we wanted to remind people where this comes from; we want to tell people this is a dance style that originates from this place.... We wanted to bring this back to who actually owns it.”

The world knows Indian dance and film culture as Bollywood, but Indian and South Asian culture encompasses more than that. There are over 20 languages spoken, over 15 dance forms, that are often underrepresented.

The duo tries to address this with Bollyfusion by incorporating a broad range of Indian culture in their songs and style — “we try to infuse Tamil versions of songs in there, we make a point of picking the Tamil version and not the Hindi version and integrate whatever we can.”

The duo is anticipating an exciting summer, bringing the dance community together and providing an opportunity for people to feel a sense of belonging and make meaningful connections.

With a strong summer lineup, expect to groove with them at multiple events in and around Metro Vancouver — including the free 5x Fest Blockparty in Surrey on June 17, the South Asian Family Festival (SAFF) at PNE on June 18 and BollyFusion Beach Workshops in Sunset Beach on July 27.

In July, they are hoping to host free workshops in Burnaby for anyone to drop by and groove to the music. Follow them on Instagram for more details.