Bollywood in North Bergen

Residents enjoy Indian dance classes at library

The North Bergen Public Library continues to expand its free programs for residents with the recent addition of a weekly Bollywood dance class. Nine people attended the first session on Thursday, Jan. 28, learning basic Indian dance movements, as well as snippets of spirituality and a few sprinkles of Hindi language from teacher Mathy Pillai.
“Bollywood” refers to the wildly popular Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, hence the nickname). The largest filmmaking center on the planet, out-producing and out-selling Hollywood in sheer number of tickets sold each year, Bollywood is known for its hugely colorful and energetic musical dance numbers, squeezing them into everything from love stories to science fiction epics.
Erika Yvette Garcia used to watch Bollywood musicals in Colombia and enjoyed the dancing scenes. When her cousin told her about the class at the library, she signed up to try it for the first time.
“It’s fun,” she said afterward. “Something to distract yourself from the real world, releasing the stress.” And Garcia, it turned out, had a good reason to release stress. Earlier that same afternoon, she had been in a car accident and hurt her back.
“She told me at the beginning of the class, ‘I’m just going to sit and watch,” said instructor Pillai. “And then a few minutes later she was dancing. That’s the energy.”
“She has much love about life, and she can express that. Passion, that’s the word,” said Garcia’s cousing, Zamara Otero, about the teacher. “Two years ago I had a stroke and the coordination was hard for me today, but I was able to do it.”

“My philosophy at the library has been to educate and entertain and bring everybody together.” –Library Director Sai Rao
Otero was also struck by some of the philosophical precepts passed along by Pillai at the class, finding personal meaning in the teacher’s musings about the interconnectedness of all humanity.
“I took the class for peace of mind,” said attendee Madeline Rosa, who also signed up for yoga classes through the library. She had seen Bollywood dancing on television. “There’s so much energy. So I said I’m going to come here, lose a little bit of weight. It’s spiritual, you get peace, and you lose weight.”

Bringing India to North Bergen

Many of the attendees also take other classes at the library. Nereida, one of the attendees, said, “I’ve done the computer program. I’m doing the knitting program. I’m doing the zumba and the yoga and I’m doing this now. Plus I get my taxes done here, too. I practically live here.”
Born in Jersey City and having lived in Hoboken, she has resided in North Bergen since 2000. “It’s wonderful to come to the library, especially when you can’t afford classes. This is a wonderful town to live in because of it.”
“My philosophy at the library has been to educate and entertain and bring everybody together,” said Library Director Sai Rao, who programs the different classes. “We’re doing a lot of computer training and we also now have conversational ESL. One of the staff members sits with residents and has a conversation in English.”
Rao knew Pillai as a regular patron of the library and approached her to see if she’d be interested in teaching a dance class.
A 20-plus-year resident of North Bergen, Pillai has been teaching Indian dance for about 15 years, after initially training in India. She holds regular classes at the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the oldest Hindu temple in the U.S.
“I teach pure classical dance. This is my first Bollywood dance today,” said Pillai. “I didn’t make it complicated. We didn’t do the belly exercise. The first day I didn’t want to make them scared of dance.”
For the six-week library class she mixes Bollywood music with western pop hits to make it more universal. “My dream is to put a show on with these students.”

More classes upcoming

Isil Murray works part time at the library at the circulation desk and the kids’ department, and helps out with kids’ day programs on Thursdays. She moved to North Bergen from Miami with her family three years ago.
“This library is the best thing that happened to us,” she said. “I’ve been only working here for two months but my kid, who’s three years old, has been attending every single program they’ve been offering.”
Was she familiar with Indian dance before she signed up to take the class? “I’m familiar with the food,” she laughed. “I came because I am very inquisitive. This is my first time, but I’m from Turkey so we do belly dance. It’s close. It was harder than I thought. It’s a lot of movement on the hips.”
Among the things Rao is considering adding to the class schedule is meditation. “Our biggest challenge is becoming space,” she said of the ever-expanding program list. “My next goal is to do a more intensive early learning center with absolutely no screen time, so the kids won’t be playing with electronics. No iPads and computers and televisions. Hands-on, the old fashioned way. Studies prove that screen time before two is not good at all for development.”
For a full schedule of events visit the library’s web page at or call (201) 869-4715.

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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