A few months back we asked you to nominate “boldness” — artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, leaders, and community-builders who have embraced an ethos of creativity, connectivity, and community. This is the first in a series where we spotlight some of the unsung heroes in our communities.
“Divya possesses a rare combination of skills: razor-sharp engineering chops, an unstoppable drive to affect social change on a local and global scale, and a contagious energy for experiencing anything life has to offer. Divya has made huge strides in bringing positive attention to Minnesota’s vibrant Indian community through values of inclusivity and equality, and with an energetic, positive approach to building understanding between communities. She uses Bollywood Dance to joyfully connect people and raise awareness for social causes. Absolutely nothing intimidates her, and nothing gets her down.”
— Meghan Wilker
Divya’s self-assuredness is deeply rooted in her development as a dancer. In her home country of India, confidence is tied not only to success but also basic survival. Divya Maiya gained a strong sense of self through Bollywood dance and now uses dance to help individuals and communities gain a greater sense of well-being.
Divya Maiya is a community organizer, arts advocate and dancer. Divya grew up in Bangalore, India where she was national swim competitor. During her childhood, she danced recreationally but it wasn’t until college, when swimming took a backseat to school, that she began to explore dance by studying belly dancing, salsa, and other international dance forms. Grad school brought her to Madison in 2009 where she also competed nationally on a college dance team. Two years later she moved Minneapolis where her husband had been living for a year. She now works as a storage systems engineer for Dell Compellent, but her passion for dance has finally taken center stage.
In 2012, Divya approached Tapestry Folkdance Center about teaching Bollywood dance.
“It was more of a selfish motivation to start this. My initial thought wasn’t, ‘oh I want to go help the community’. I get bored really easily and I needed something to keep me going after work. Then I started meeting other people and learning how Bollywood has influenced them.”
Divya met with two other Indian dancers who were as passionate about Bollywood dance as she and together they formed Bollywood Dance Scene.
“Bollywood is inspired by various dance forms like classical, folk, as well as street dances. So it’s a huge mash-up of those forms along with hip-hop, belly dancing, and jazz. It does not conform to any strict format. People of all age groups can dance together. It does not require partners. It is over the top ridiculous and you need that to forget all the serious and grim happenings in your life. It is loud and colorful; just what Minnesota needs especially in winters.
“It is loud and colorful; just what Minnesota needs especially in winters.”
A personal interest in Bollywood dance quickly developed into a greater concern for others’ well-being.
“I started this for myself. Then I started noticing the impact it was having on other people and how it changed their own dancing skills and made them more confident.”
Being raised in India, confidence was especially crucial as self-assuredness meant survival.
“Growing up in India with so many people, your mantra is ‘survival of the fittest’ where it’s always a struggle for day to day life. It’s not a struggle as in you don’t have money or you don’t have food. It’s a struggle more like if you have to get something, you have to go out there and get it for yourself. You have to communicate… there’s nobody to do it for you.”
Divya credits her parents with playing a central role in developing her strong sense of self.
“My parents tried really hard to bring me up in such a way that I am more confident, by pushing me out there and making me do stuff. My parents did not come from rich families, so they worked very hard to get where they are right now. We used to live in a small house with eight people living under the same roof, which was like a one-bedroom house. It was never a sad experience, ‘oh we didn’t have all of these things…’ My parents projected our living situation to be a cool thing. It was super hard for them, I can see that now, but I never felt that myself. I can see how much sacrifice and how much motivation they have given to my younger brother and I. If not for them, I would have been really shy.”
For Divya, dance provides a way for people to regain a sense of well-being.
“So many people have something going on in their lives—some bad or low moments and every time they go to class and come back home, they feel refreshed and recharged and ready to go on for another week.”
Divya continues to build on her experiences while bolstering self-confidence in others.
“My dream is to set-up a huge nonprofit school with all kinds of creative arts for children in India. My husband started doing improv here and I am doing dance, so all of the experiences that we have gained here, we want to take back home to India and start a school to inspire students and help build their confidence. It’s more about learning an art form and more about building a life skill.”
Since its founding, Divya has used Bollywood Dance Scene Twin Cities to advance cultural and social understanding. In 2013, she organized dance flashmobs in celebration of India’s independence day and Food Truck Day in collaboration with Hot Indian Foods. Later that year, Bollywood Dance Scene Twin Cities organized the One Billion Rising to End Violence Against Women event to raise awareness through dance to end violence against women and girls. The dance organization has partnered with Out in the Backyard, a group that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people (LGBTQ) to counter isolation by connecting to each other and community resources. The partnership resulted in a bi-weekly program teaching Bollywood dance to promote health and wellness for the LGBTQ community and to bridge the gap between LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ community members.
Currently, Divya, along with her very talented team, are choreographing and producing “Hi! Hello! Namaste?”—a Bollywood dance drama. Be on the lookout for it this August at the Fringe Festival.
Interview by Taylor Baldry.