by Proma Khosla
There’s nothing quite as inspiring as seeing fellow first-generation young creatives producing videos, music and dance. But it is extra cool when that content comes from people you know – case in point: the classical fusion choreography to Beyonce’s “Formation” by Sneha and Reejuta … who happen to be two of my college roommates and oldest friends.
So when editor Neena Abraham pitched the video for coverage to the BG writers, I was pretty pumped to see them getting press. A journalist isn’t supposed to cover anyone she knows, but by providing full disclosure, I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. It feels weird to call this an interview, so I sat down with my friends to talk about their dance video…and hopefully not get too sidetracked.
1. Reej, you posted on Sneha’s Facebook wall shortly after “Formation” came out that you wanted to choreograph it together. Was this planned or sort of spontaneous?
Reejuta: I had in my mind that I wanted to choreograph something, and I liked the song so I thought it was just a badass thing to do with Sneha.
Sneha: Reej was like “Hey let’s choreo,” and was telling me every day for two weeks, and then finally I was like “Okay, man, whatever.” And so we went downstairs and it started off – we didn’t even know what section we were gonna do.
Reejuta: I legitimately listened to the song earlier in the day and was like “Okay maybe we shouldn’t choreograph this anymore, because I have no idea how we’re going to choreograph or where we’re going to start.” And we didn’t even record it to post it. We recorded it to remember our choreo.
Sneha: Originally Reej was like, ‘Okay let’s do this whole section of the song’ and it was probably two and a half minutes. And basically after a minute we got tired. I was like ‘I’m tired, maybe we should just stop.’ But it ended up being I think the perfect amount of time to hold someone’s attention… doing that and then getting the response that we did was all so unbelievably unexpected.
Reejuta: We talked about how we don’t know how to use Facebook as a medium, and then I posted it on Facebook. It was like 12:30 a.m. on a Saturday night. She got home and I was like ‘Oh nice, a few people liked it, I guess we’re good.’
Sneha: ‘Oh, cool, double digits! Good night.’
Reejuta: There was so much support. People who we didn’t ask to share the video shared it which is so exciting.
2. You both did classical fusion on Maya in college, and it wasn’t always to Indian music. Did this feel like returning to that style?
Sneha: I think our styles have evolved more since college by being involved in different dances, watching a lot of dances, stuff like that. I would love to be really good at hip hop and things that I’m not as well-versed in, so I think we brought a lot of that into the video. Whereas if we had normally choreographed like four years ago, it would have been very similar to just Maya.
Reejuta: The coolest thing about music is that the rhythms and beats could cross every culture in the world. I think part of the inspiration of bringing in a lot of styles for this dance came from what we did in Maya as well. In a lot of situations, we were kind of uncomfortable in terms of the styles that we were trying out, because nobody knew truly all of the styles that we did, but the point of the team was for it to be fusion and really just to play around while you’re dancing. So I think having spent time just doing different things, like becoming more creative artistically … kind of the foundation of Maya, all givea us a pretty nice starting point for where our dance vocabulary comes from.
3. You guys choreographed some fun Bollywood songs when we were in high school. How was this similar to that?
Sneha: It’s the exact same. Like actually. We were like messing around in Reej’s basement out of boredom.
Reejuta: We actually commented on that when we were doing this.That’s what my basement probably looked like then too.
Sneha: All that’s changed is our style, but otherwise that’s what high school was like. We listened to it a few times, we freestyled it a little bit, we recorded it a bunch of times because we were messing up constantly, and then we went upstairs and ate banana bread and ice cream.
Reejuta: Literally exactly the same. Actually, one thing changed: Sneha’s mom didn’t drop her off, she drove. That was a big change.
4. How is working with someone else different from choreographing by yourself?
Sneha: I actually, to this day, don’t enjoy choreographing, especially by myself. Because like anything, it’s so much easier to collaborate, especially with people who are passionate about it as much as you are. I never feel like I can get the best product doing it by myself, because it’s just one of me or one of what I think is good. My knowledge only goes so far.
So I thought when we were going to do it that it was going to be forced … but once we started getting into it, we choreographed actually pretty quickly. What took time was recording it. Coming up with the actual moves didn’t take that much time because we both got super into it. We were bouncing off ideas. That collaboration is what created the product.
Reejuta: Just having known Sneha for so long and having danced with Sneha for so long, it’s very easy for both of us to accept and reject ideas between each other. It makes it very easy and natural to choreograph. It’s never a personal thing if I come up with a step and Sneha doesn’t like it and she’s like “Oh that’s weird.” It’s like “Yeah, okay, it’s weird. We’re going to think of something else.” Which is a really nice thing. I would agree that choreographing with someone is way, way easier.
Even someone else’s energy in the room is so helpful. If you’re choreographing alone, you can get stuck and then you want to stop. But if you’re with someone else and you’re both really loving what you’re doing, someone’s energy is going to keep the momentum going, and then you have an end goal to reach together. The whole idea of taking joint ownership over something really makes it so much better to choreograph. And obviously, Maya helped. I don’t think I ever really choreographed before that by myself.
Proma: Right, even if you’re a good dancer, it can be so hard to transition into choreography.
Reejuta: I seriously thought the first time I did choreo for IASA (Indian American Student Association) was difficult. I thought it was so difficult to be in a room and come up with steps with somebody else, because at that point the concept of … it was just hard. You know how to dance and how to feel it, but you don’t necessarily know how to create it.
Proma: I’ve always struggled with that too. And with like, stunts and gimmicks and production.
Sneha: I don’t even know how to do that to this day.
Reejuta: My first dance I had to choreograph for Maya, I had to choreograph with ribbons, and all of our core that year – they were a group of seniors that as younger kids we thought were super cool, right? – so obviously if they were like “You need to choreograph this, include ribbons…” All of them were in my dance, and we’re just using ribbons and I’m just moving them around. I have no idea what this choreography is supposed to be, I have no concept of what it looks like …
Proma: And Sneha, you once removed yourself from Reej’s Maya dance.
Sneha: Oh god, jugalbandi. I couldn’t do the dance. I made up my own choreo and then I couldn’t learn new choreo so I had to remove myself.
Proma: That is probably my favorite story in the history of stories.
Reejuta: When we were captains together, our newbies choreographed a dance, and we quit.
Sneha: It was too hard.
5. What did you take away and want others to take away from this?
Reejuta: When we were on dance teams in college, everyone uses a cut of a song for different things. I think it would be really cool if people can actually use what we’re doing, make it better, and actually use it not to just say “These two girls did this choreography,” but “These people did this choreography that makes me want to incorporate something that I might not have thought of.” Basically have people be able to bounce their ideas off what we did.
Sneha: Use it as a stepping stone.
Reejuta: “Oh there’s a minute of choreography we liked; let’s play around with this other minute of this song cause we saw how they made it work for them.” Which would be really cool. I definitely think that we’re doing some stuff in the future, but it’s so funny to think about it as a formal thing in any sense, because to us it’s fun. Especially to me! Now I don’t have to convince Sneha for two weeks to dance.
Sneha: We’ll just keep creating as much as we can, put it out there, and we’re not looking for any type of response. We just share it to share it.
Proma Khosla is a writer, dancer and proud resident of New York City. She graduated from the University of Michigan, where between cultural shows and dance competitions she somehow earned a B.A. in Communication Studies. Her degree and her work with the Michigan Daily gave her an unshakeable desire to work in editorial and entertainment–basically to talk about TV and movies all day in the hopes that someone will care to listen. She also writes for GeekyNews, Fantastic Fandoms, and has an impressive collection of personal journals that live in shoe boxes under her bed.