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Spring Festival celebrates Indian culture with food, Bollywood music

Dolly dancing in the WMUK studio
Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Imagine a giant snowball fight, only instead of snow, everyone has a handful of a different colored powder. That’s what the Hindu holiday of Holi is like in India. Here in Michigan, the India Association of Kalamazoo will hold its Spring Festival on Saturday to celebrate Holi and other Indian festivals that mark the coming of spring.

Although it’s too cold to throw color outside, attendees at the festival can still get a bit of paint.

“What they have is a little tray with the colors in it and they would put like a little dot on your head, which is called a tilak," says Dolly. "And they’ll say ‘Happy Holi.’ Sometimes they’ll put a little color on the cheek.”

Dolly is a long-time dancer and cultural secretary for the association.

"Most people know me as Dolly and I usually stick to that," she says. "But I’ve been teaching, dancing and choreographing dance in Kalamazoo and in other parts of U.S.A. for 32 years.”

The festival has been going on for about as long as Dolly has been dancing in the states. Every year the India Association of Kalamazoo has booths with food from different parts of India, as well as songs and dances from Bollywood—a nickname for the Indian film industry. Almost every Bollywood movie is like a musical, with group choruses and big dance numbers.

KalavatiMartinez will sing a few Bollywood songs at the festival. She says unlike American musicals in theatres, the music for Bollywood movies is played on the radio months before the premiere.

“So the music is good, it builds interest for the movie and then more people go to watch the movie for the songs too," Martinez says. "So there have been movies that, the movies suck but the songs are awesome so they get a good opening. Or at least four or five days until people realize that the movie sucks and then stop going for it.”

Martinez says, while she also sings traditional Indian music, Bollywood songs are a better fit for more light-hearted festivals like Holi.

“It has the appeal, you know. A lot of people know the songs so they can sing along or enjoy it," she says. "Whereas if I sing more traditional Indian classical music, that kind of music is played in a setting where the crowd is seated, quiet, listening to you. You have accompaniment and you’re singing for the crowd which is totally into listening to music, whereas this festival is more about the food and enjoying with others. So it fits the mood to sing ‘lighter music,’ as I would call it.” 

Just like top 40 hits on the radio, Bollywood songs and dances have a way of uniting people from all parts of India. And Dolly says the dance moves are so easy, anyone can follow along. Dolly demonstrated how Bollywood dance can be as simple as changing a light bulb or petting a dog.

“Music is a very important part—music and dancing—of Indian culture," says Dolly. "We dance to births. We dance at weddings. We dance at deaths. We dance at festivals. I mean, pretty much music goes hand-in-hand with daily life.”

Dolly and KalavatiMartinez will perform at the India Association of Kalamazoo’s Spring Festival. The festival starts at 6:30 Saturday night at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center.

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