Hiring professionals to choreograph dances at mehndis and dholaks has become a fad
Wedding is considered to be the happiest day in a couple’s life, and what better way to celebrate this day than to dance your heart out? Dancing and weddings have always gone hand in hand. In most countries, the only wedding dance that is rehearsed is the ‘first dance’ which is shared between the couple. In India-Pakistan subcontinent, however, family and friends are given equal, if not more, importance. A wedding here is incomplete without a few dramatic numbers performed by members of the families of the girl and the boy — the larki walay and larkay walay, as we call them.
The dances performed at the mehndi and dholak events take the lead. While weddings can be emotionally taxing, mehndis and dholaks make up for all the fun missed shedding tears at the baraat. Mehndis are set apart by the dances that are performed not just by the bride and the groom but by most of their family members and friends. These performances can be incredibly fun to be part of.
But there is more to them. Behind the scenes are days of dedicated practice. There are sides taken, challenges made, and sweat spilled. The bride’s side and the groom’s side are at war in terms of who gives better performances. Their only chance at winning — their saving grace — is a professionally hired wedding choreographer.
Some of these choreographers are formally trained dance instructors, while others are self-taught professionals. What is common to all of them is their love for dance and a passion for putting together a great show. These professionals are becoming increasingly popular around the country. Guests at weddings almost certainly hear the names Kaloo, Pooh, Jazzy, and MAD among others, at mehndis around Pakistan.
Shoaib Jazzy, who goes by the name of Jazzy Bhai, is a renowned dance choreographer. He is also the CEO of Jazzy Dance Studios, which he set up in Gulberg, circa 2006. In a conversation with TNS, Jazzy explains the reason for becoming a professional choreographer. He says he was inspired by noted Bollywood actress and dancer Madhuri Dixit.
“The trend for weddings has changed,” he declares. “Dances are an essential part since they make the event more entertaining and colourful. As the demand for choreography increased, we had to get hold of a proper studio space where clients could come and rehearse their [wedding] dances in a more organised fashion.”
According to Jazzy, the best thing about being a wedding choreographer in Pakistan is the possibility of making lasting memories and forming genuine bonds. “People we come across want to celebrate and enjoy in the best possible way. Everyone is extremely caring and they give us so much respect.”
There are sides taken, challenges made, and sweat spilled. The bride’s side and the groom’s side are at war in terms of who gives better performances. Their only chance at winning — their saving grace — is a professionally hired wedding choreographer.
he ‘wedding season,’ as the Lahoris dub it, sets in during the winter and peaks only for a few months over the course of the year. That is why, Jazzy and many other choreographers like him do not limit themselves to wedding events. They like to work in their studios where they teach aerobics, salsa, yoga, classical and Bollywood.
These choreographers are also sometimes called to teach dance at schools and colleges. Besides, they engage in music videos and short films. When the wedding season peaks, they are fully booked. Their clients reach out to them via social media and/or mutual contacts.
They charge for the number of songs that are being planned for a wedding. Most choreographers have a few signature dance routines. However, they are also willing to improvise and come up with new steps as per the clients’ demands.
Several new talents are emerging on the choreography scene. Zarnab Shahadat, from Lahore School of Economics, officially started as a choreographer last month only. She says the decision was “based on my lifelong passion for dance and acting.”
The pandemic brought with it a lot of demotivation, but Shahadat says she is “back in the game. I am booked for four weddings already.”
While having a chance to do what she loves and earning money from it has been incredible for Shahadat, she points out that there is stigma attached to the job, especially for a female choreographer like her who is also a student in a reputable university. “People look at you differently,” she says. “They ask you why you decided to get into this when you had other options. They don’t understand what passion is.
“A lot of patience and skill goes into this job. It deserves recognition.”
For younger choreographers, safety concerns are also an issue. Since they may not yet own a studio, they have to move from place to place for work. Going to a stranger’s place can be unsafe but they have to rely on collaborations and goodwill from fellow choreographers in order to increase their reach and form a trustworthy clientele.
Shahadat recently collaborated with Hafeez Bilal Hafeez, another popular name in wedding choreography in Lahore, for a performance on the hit Tony Kakkar song, Laila. To their joy, Kakkar acknowledged their effort.
“These days, people are looking for someone who can not only teach them dance steps but also be the lead performer and eye-candy,” Shahadat adds. “I think only the newer lot of young, hip choreographers is able to meet these criteria.”
TNS also reached out to the award-winning dance director of the Pakistani film industry, Pappu Samrat, who wrote off the job of a wedding choreographer. ”They have no future,” he stated. “I find wedding choreography to be an activity that dies away during the off-season.”
“Wedding dances are only copies of Bollywood numbers,” he adds. “They lack original thought and effort. A choreographer’s true recognition lies in film choreography.”
No wonder Samrat refuses to choreograph for weddings. Though, he occasionally helps close friends or family with dance steps at their wedding events.
The writer is a student of political science at LUMS, and a freelance journalist