Meet Spice Madams from Japan! These women are set to perform live in Mumbai this weekend

Mar 16, 2017, 11:01 IST | Krutika Behrawala

They can do the 'jalebi'; sway to Balam Pichkari and trip on Bollywood naach-gaana. Meet Spice Madams, a dance troupe of wives of Japanese expats from Mumbai, who will perform live at a conference this weekend

Misa Tanaka, Natsu Sato, Aki Maruta and Yukari Takahara rehearsing for their upcoming performance. Pics/Shadab Khan
Misa Tanaka, Natsu Sato, Aki Maruta and Yukari Takahara rehearsing for their upcoming performance. Pics/Shadab Khan

In A huge table tennis room that acts as a makeshift dance hall at Kohinoor Club in Kurla, six Japanese women take their positions, facing a wall-to-wall mirror. As soon as Katrina Kaif's superhit number, Sheila Ki Jawani, starts blaring on the speakers, they begin their dance practice under the watchful eye of instructor Satish Vaidya aka Sam. Though dancing to the lyrics of an unfamiliar language, their movements - the hip twirls, hand-leg coordination and gestures that convey the sensuous lyrics - are perfectly in sync with the beats. They smile through the practice and even lip-sync to the English parts of the song.

Then, four of them - Misa Tanaka, Aki Maruta, Natsu Sato and Yukari Takahara - change into midriff-baring gold blouses, orange harem pants and coin embellished waist belts to rehearse for Badrinath Ki Dulhania's title track. This Saturday, the quartet will perform this track, along with Balam Pichkari (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani), Tattoo Song (ABCD 2) and Haseeno Ka Deewana (Kaabil) at a conference to promote an Indo-Japanese cultural exchange.

Instructor Satish Vaidya (extreme right) teaches a step to a few members of Spice Madams
Instructor Satish Vaidya (extreme right) teaches a step to a few members of Spice Madams

Spice it up
The four performers are part of Spice Madams, a Mumbai-based dance group launched two years back by wives of Japanese expatriates living in Mumbai. Comprising 15 members, aged between 20 and 50 years, from a community of 600 Japanese residing in Mumbai, the group showcases stage performances of Hindi film songs. To date, they have performed over a dozen tracks including Nagada (Jab We Met), Pinga (Bajirao Mastani) and Gallan Goodiyaan (Dil Dhadakne Do) at a New Year's Eve party and Cool Japan Festival held last year. "We've been learning Bollywood dances for over three years. But it was boring to learn without performing in front of an audience. So, we decided to form a group that would go on stage," shares Hanae Kawano, who was present for a morning practice session on the track, Tamma Tamma Again, featuring four more members.

Considering their husbands work in firms (oil paints, trading and electronics companies) on a contract basis for a particular time frame, the group witnesses a constant flux, with new members coming in and leaving frequently too. "Like Akari, the one who named the group, Spice Madams, has left Mumbai. She now lives in Amsterdam," shares Sato.

Do the dance
When we ask why they chose to dance on Hindi film songs, Sato laughs, "Because Mumbai is the land of Bollywood!" On a serious note, she adds, "Songs aren't common in Japanese films. Here, there is a song for every expression, be it happy or sad. That's interesting and we're keen to learn that."

Kawano adds, "I believe these songs are getting popular in Japan too. I heard that a few Japanese living in Delhi learnt the dances, returned to Japan and performed there. No one has done that from Mumbai yet. Maybe, we will, once we head back."

However, learning the dance isn't a cakewalk. Takahara, who has performed traditional Japanese dances, shares, "We have to wear a kimono and tie an obi (a sash) on our waist. So, we are unable to move our body fluidly. For Bollywood-type dancing, we have to move our hips a lot, which is challenging. Also, in Japanese dances, you won't see anyone smiling."

Since language poses a problem, the instructors are required to translate the lyrics in English to ensure the members understand the steps. To show us a demo, Sato curls her right hand into a fist and grinds it on her left palm. She laughs, "I was told this is called jalebi" and goes on to entwine her fingers to create an invisible flute, "That's for Krishna".

Dedicated lot
The group meets once a week for practice, and the frequency increases closer to performance date. The members watch the original videos to replicate the costumes, and get them stitched from a local tailor. The sessions have provided the women with an opportunity to bond, considering they were strangers before joining Spice Madams. Some of the members practise with Vaidya three or four times a week, and even take private lessons. "They come to my other dance sessions regularly to select the kind of songs they want to do. Most Indians join my classes for weight-loss or just to have fun but these women have a lot of dedication towards dance and that's why, I find it easy and fun to teach them," sums up Vaidya.

Where to watch them
Spice Madams will perform at the Japan Railway Seminar organised by Fujiwara Japanese Consultant and Japan Railway. The line-up also includes a performance by students of Japanese School of Mumbai. They will present Soran Bushi, a dance of fisherfolk community from Hokkaido.

ON: March 18, 8.30 am to 12 pm
AT: 91 Springboard, Akruti Trade Center, MIDC, Andheri (E).
ENTRY: Rs 50

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