Trailblazing teen brings Bollywood to small town New Zealand
Moving schools is a nightmare many teenagers dread.
But when Jayshri Ratnam was faced with a move from suburban Auckland to the South Island's West Coast, she decided to turn what could have been a major downer into a whirlwind of colour and life.
Jayshri has brought Bollywood dance to Westport, forming a dance group that has scooped national awards.
The 15-year-old grew up in Auckland's Mt Roskill, where she was able to practice Bollywood dancing every day with her friends, family and classmates.
"When I was first told I was really upset. I didn't want to leave my busy life. There was no [Indian] arts and culture club in Westport."
She couldn't comprehend the prospect of going from daily dance practice to nothing.
She wrote about her feelings in a school essay and principal Andrew Basher invited her to perform at school assembly.
"Before I went to dance on stage my mum asked me did I want to do it. I didn't know if they would understand or appreciate it but I built up the courage and everyone was quite welcoming and really enjoyed it. I really didn't expect that."
Her performance inspired classmates who had never seen Bollywood dancing before.
When her father invited anyone interested her performance to meet after school, the Buller High School Bollywood group was born.
Initially with just seven students, they made their debut at a fundraising event for Westport North Primary but before the year was out they had grown to 12 and were dancing at various fundraising and community events, including the Westport Whitebait and Waitangi festivals.
"We've grown a lot. I do all the choreography but sometimes it's a group effort," she says.
"We started off doing little simple dances and it got bigger and bigger. We introduced Westport to Diwali, the Indian festival of lights."
A first in Westport history, the group fundraised to host a night of Indian dance, food and fashion.
The group's second Diwali festival was expanded to include an adult Bollywood group Jayshri coached every Saturday morning. Buller mayor Garry Howard gave a speech about how the Bollywood group had helped Westport.
Tickets sales from the festival funded two trips to perform at the Christchurch-Fiji Association's Diwali shows where the group won best performance of the night.
Jayshri says the highlight of the year was going to Auckland to compete in the Bollywood High School Rockerz competition.
"We had auditions and we had 10 students learn a dance so we could go and compete. It was months of fundraising and planning with car washes, henna stands, bake sales and raffles. For most of the group members it was their first time being in a big city or on a plane. We were shocked at how many people were cheering us on."
They were the first school from the South Island to compete alongside high schools, with school rolls not far off the population of Westport and schools with strong Indian communities.
They took home five trophies, including the top prize for best costumes and second for overall performance.
"It was an amazing experience. We plan to go back to get first place this time," she says enthusiastically.
Once she is finished school, Jayshri plans to follow her dream to be a dance teacher and hopes to do a BA in Dance or go to Nasda, a dance school in Christchurch.
The group was also nominated for the Buller Trustpower Community Awards.
"We really weren't expecting to win at all. The arts section had gone and we thought 'oh well we aren't going to get anything' but we got the supreme winner and we were very very happy and excited and overwhelmed too. We are so thankful that the community has accepted us so wholeheartedly and genuinely," Jayshri says.
As the supreme winner, the group will go on to represent the Buller district at the national 2017 Trustpower community awards in Rotorua in March.
- Sunday Star Times