Dance And Fashion: Anisha Shah Tells Us “What It’s All About” For Her

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Anisha Shah is a dancer. She has always been one. And dance twists, bends and finds its way into her closet as well. Why wouldn’t it, when she spends most of her time inside a studio. One big takeaway from our conversation with her was that she is very sound – not only is she extremely focused towards her dance, but she is an equally reasonable shopper and fashion follower. We were intrigued by how she puts good thought into everything, be it choosing her outfits or a dance project.

Let us take you through her interesting journey, and equally appealing philosophies on fashion. Read on.


WM: How did dance happen?
AS: When I was four, my mum took me to my first teacher who then said that I was too young, and that we should wait a little while. So, we went back when I was five and a half. I actually started with Indian classical dance. Shortly after, we moved homes, and so there was a short break, but once I resumed dancing again with my teacher, who then taught me for the next 14-15 years. So, Bharatnatyam is my foundation.

At 12, Shiamak happened, as most dancers in India have been associated with him at some point. Within about 6-7 months of being a student, I was put into a training program, after which I was chosen to be a part of the company. I did my first professional dance show when I was 14, and it was such an overwhelming experience. This was in 2000, when Shiamak did “Yes! The Spirit of Triumph“, it was huge. I was a student during the first season, and I performed during the second season, as a professional.

Anisha’s journey proves the understanding yet again, that it’s only through hard work and persistence that you can reach greater success. She has been racing ahead, from student to teacher, and to a great performer.

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My most memorable dance performance was at the IIFA Awards. I did a solo for Rani Mukherjee in 2003, and then partnered Salman Khan a few years later. And it’s amazing how it was not like how you have pre-shoots today. It was all live, and you could not make a mistake since it would be aired on television, as it happened. Also, I was too young to have a cell phone, and international roaming wasn’t much heard of back then. But, I remember my family was watching IIFA as it was being aired in Bombay, and nobody knew that I had a solo performance. In fact, I found out that I had one only when I landed there. From what my family tells me, they were sitting and watching, and when I started, since my back was facing the audience, no one could tell it was me. And then when I turned, they saw that it was me and they jumped…they were surprised as, obviously, they didn’t know. It was a good stint of about 3-4 years, with Shiamak, after which I took a sabbatical…I’m not sure I can really call it that though, because ever since I started, I have never really stopped dancing. Then, I danced a lot for my college, and at that time, dancing for your college was a big thing. I was representing my college at a big University level when I won my first silver medal in Indian Classical dance, and then, parallel, I was also freelancing.

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A few years back, I had the good fortune of going to New York, and furthering my knowledge of dance, where I met some amazing dancers from around the world. I feel that every dancer should, at least once in their lives, go to the US – not because in three months, you can become an exceptional dancer or anything, but I think it just opens up your horizons. That experience just changes your perspective. It was in 2011 that I went there for a period of about 4 months, and I still remember some of the experiences and it’s still a part of me. Since June 2016, until now, I’m freelancing. I just shot my first ad film as a choreographer, and I happened to also choreograph for some people for the Da Da Ding campaign for Nike. It was the Dubsmash version. It was fun (giggles), oh, it was ridiculous; I was literally picking up people from their morning runs, asking them if they would do a few steps that I’d teach them. So, my teaching skills came in super handy. I was working for 6-7 months in a company, and it being a start up, I was doing everything from planning the content of my class…to everything. But that came in handy for Nike, because I had to go, get people, convince them, show them the steps, so it was pretty cool.

WM: We hear you’ve collaborated with some of the finest artists from the industry.
AS: Yes, I did shows for Geeta Kapoor and Harshal Vithal. I’ve worked a lot with them, and even worked on A.R.Rahman’s world tour. We did some in Dubai, and a lot of shows in India. I’ve also worked with Rajiv Surti, who got really popular since Don. In fact, as a freelancer, one of the highlights was this opportunity that I got – to associate with two choreographers that came down from L.A., Fatima Robinson and J Blaze. Fatima has actually choreographed Michael Jackson, so I got to work with someone who choreographed a star who is an inspiration to every dancer ever! So, that was a big, big deal. This was for a movie, The Cheetah Girls; it was a Disney production, and this was their third film that they were shooting in India. So, that’s how it happened.

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Then, I somehow got into Salsa, and that’s where I met my husband. I was a student there and then progressed to become a teacher. Following that stint, I co-founded a company called Split Sole Dance Academy. Dhiraj Bakshi is the director of the company. Right from 2009 to 2016, I was working there, in the capacity of a Creative Director.

Amongst the most recent things I shot, was a music video with Neil Bhoopalam, and he was brilliant to work with. The choreographers Atul and Karan, are good friends, and it was directed by Puneet Rakheja, who’s been doing some really amazing work. It’s one of the most exciting projects I’ve been part of as an artist altogether because it was really a collaboration of theatre, music, dance, everything coming together. It was like a melting pot of creativity.

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WM: How has dance affected your wardrobe?
AS: Initially, the whole perspective of what one wears to dance, was, “oh, this T-shirt is getting old and worn out, so I will wear it to dance class. That way, even if I roll on the floor, what difference would it make to my outfit!”. But, at least for me, what really changed that perspective was, when YouTube was picking up. Since I hadn’t been to the US yet, my only access to the country was through YouTube. It was choreographers on Youtube that I saw and learnt that they looked great at what they wore. That’s when I started to dress up for classes.

There came a point where, if I had 1000 bucks for an outfit – this is when you could buy three things for 1000 bucks – I would end up buying dance wear worth 800 bucks, and then one outfit that I could wear at an outing. But, that was also because I would be at the studio for 12-13 hours a day, with no time to go anywhere else, so might as well invest more in dance clothes.

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Now, though, only when I have to be in class for a session that involves excessive stretching or intense movements, then I would be in my dance attire. But, even there, I would not wear a hip hop outfit for a ballet class – hip hop requires loose clothes you can breathe in and not feel restricted, ballet, on the other hand, snug but stretchable. I would wear tights at a hip hop class, but then I would definitely wear a big T-shirt, big hoops…I would accessorize it to match the genre. I would apply just enough makeup, to bring in that look-good-feel-good factor, but not dab on too much, only because I’m not really a makeup person.

In fact, it came to a point where, when I was working at Split Sole Academy, people started really looking up to us for the kind of clothes we wore. It started making a difference in the way we danced. I really felt the change. Even when I went to New York, I completely re-did my wardrobe, I started picking up really funky backless clothes, off-shoulders, and tanks…you get such a variety in the US. I would watch other dancers too, noticed how they came to class. I actually started wearing a lot of boots to class. Honestly, once I started dressing up a certain way, I noticed that it made a difference in the way I moved, because sometimes when you wear certain attire, your attitude becomes like that. And in dance, attitude is very important.

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Now, when I pick up clothes, I ask myself whether I can wear it in class and then also for if I had to head soon after, for a casual outing. For example, (pointing at her white shoes), I wear those only in the dance studio, so I get down, into the car, and straight into the studio. And despite wearing them in the studio, they get dirty. Here, we can barely wear white shoes. In fact, I think, everything light coloured is always jinxed, it’s only on such days that you’re your clumsiest.

WM: What’s your avatar outside of work?
AS: I do love glamorous dresses, but I’m otherwise pretty fuss-free. I love those easy-going maxi dresses, and because of my stature, I’ve been told that they really look good on me. Also, I don’t like to overdo things, I would just wear one watch, or either earrings or a chain, just a liner and lipstick and I’m ready. I like minimalistic looks, I don’t overdo things. I have tried it, but I’ve reached a point where I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I realize that for me, less is more – as a person, as a dancer, or even with the way I accessorize my clothes.

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I love shirts as well, and amazingly, they’re convertible. So, I can wear them with tights and a ganji underneath, but also otherwise. Like if I’m meeting my family over a dinner, I can depend on a shirt to make me look dressy enough, yet subtle and classic. You’ll never look underdressed or overdressed in a shirt and jeans. Also, white-blue and white-blacks are my favourite combinations, the former works for daytime, and the latter for the evening. In fact, everyone looks good in a white shirt and blue jeans. I’ve found myself complimenting my husband most times, when he’s wearing that combination too.

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WM: Style, utility and comfort. What’s your priority?
AS: Comfort comes first, and it’s not something I would just say. Of course there have been days when I have compromised on comfort, but that’s only when really required. Heels, for example, I hate them. I would carry a bag with my heels in them and wear my flats or flip flops in the car; it’s only when I get off the car to go to a party, do I change into my heels. I change back into my comfortable footwear as soon as I’m back to my car. I do dance wearing heels, but walking in heels is different, it can’t happen at the cost of comfort. Luckily for me, I have worn outfits at parties where I don’t have to wear heels.

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So, it’s utility, comfort, and style, in that order, but all are important to me. These are certain elements that I always look at even when I buy clothes.

WM: Which brands do you usually shop?
AS: I love wearing shorts, since they work for days when you don’t feel like wearing tights. As far as my dance attire is concerned, I often find myself picking up things from the men’s section, since they’re more loose and baggy, and hence more comfortable to dance in. H&M has the best shorts for all sexes. Though, I really identify myself most with Zara. But, I also pick up a lot of stuff from standalone stores, since these days, they seem to be having really interesting pieces. There’s this store in Bandra called Mesh, that I really like. These stores aren’t restricted to one line, they cater to all moods – you could feel Boho one day, so they’ll have something for you…and accordingly, another piece for another mood. Sometimes, I would pick up T-shirts from Forever 21.

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Cotton World has some great maxi dresses, and I really relate to the colours and fabrics, so I pick up a lot of those from there. Also, my friends organize this “shop for a cause”; they’ve been doing it for three consecutive years, and all the money they get goes towards welfare causes. I actually picked up my Ted Baker dress from there. When I reached Woodside Inn, which is where it was happening, which is also my husband’s restaurant, I was amongst the first few people to have arrived. I noticed that this dress was nicely wrapped and seemed like it was taken care of. Moreover, I just looked at it sitting there and it was like, it was meant to come to me. But I also have a friend who designs and styles, she understands what sorts of cuts suit me, so she makes some of my dinner dresses.

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WM: What kind of a shopper are you?
AS: Typically, I cringe when I have to spend too much on something. That’s exactly why I spend most on my dancewear, then on my casual attire, and finally on something I would wear to a cocktail dinner. I am not a hoarder, so I don’t go on stuffing my closet with clothes. If I haven’t worn something for six months, then chances are I am not going to wear it at all. I’ve adopted this ‘policy’ from my husband. It’s different when it comes to occasion wear though. I used to be very conscious about wearing the same cocktail dress in the same circle too many times. But now I realize that I am not going to buy 10 cocktail dresses to wear it just once a year. In fact, all my friends have seen me in my Ted Baker dress…I wouldn’t spend big on a dress that I would only wear on one occasion. That’s just a waste of money! And I realize that it really doesn’t matter, they’re my friends, because of who I am and not because of the clothes I wear. So yes, I’m more of a practical shopper.

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To me quality is very important. Even though I haven’t bought it, but this is how things should be. (Showing us her gold chain) This chain is really special to me. It was actually a gift to me by my mother-in-law, and was gifted to her by my father-in-law, when he was in college in the US. He was a freshman back then. And just imagine, all these years, it’s never been polished or never gone black.

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WM: Do you usually shop alone?
AS: I enjoy the company of people I shop with, but then also, shopping alone is much faster. You know what you want, you quickly pick up what works and ditch what doesn’t. By shopping alone, you can either take your time or shop really quickly.

WM: How often do you shop?
AS: I am a frequent shopper when it comes to my dance attires. But, since Mumbai weather does not allow me to wear heavy clothes, I only buy ethnic clothes when I have a wedding to attend or when I get really bored of wearing the same outfits during festivals. That reminds me of a function I have to attend, where I’m choreographing someone’s wedding. So, I know that I am not wearing something heavy; I’ll instead get silk pants and team them up with an embroidered top – it’s trendy and Indian-ish at the same time!

WM: What do you think about digitizing your closet through an app?
AS: It definitely would help me to streamline what I want to wear and what I should wear. If the app could miraculously put together things from my closet, that would be awesome. There are some things in my closet that I don’t wear that often but the truth is that I wait for the time to wear them. Other times, I feel the need to find that perfect piece to match my look with, without realizing I might actually have something else buried deep inside my closet that might work with it. I would love to have something to put things together for me, because I love mixing up stuff.

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My wardrobe tends to go through phases. There was a time when I used to wear only shirts, be it dinner, coffee, meeting, class. That went on for a good four months. For that, if someone can put a reminder like “Hey, probably need to shop a little bit in life!”, that would be perfect.


Shot and edited by Madhurjya Saikia for WODROB.