As a Japanese-Filipina choreographer myself, I’ve found a unique sense of belonging through work with other Asian American dancers. So when I spoke with Deepali Jamwal, I was deeply impressed—but not surprised—that she’s harnessed the power of dance to bring her community together. Jamwal is the founder and creative director of Live2Dance studio downtown.
“When you’re an immigrant to a new city, it’s really hard to find people who look like you, who think like you,” said Jamwal, a Canadian citizen who is originally from India. “Most immigrants are far away from home. I wanted to create a space where the feeling is, ‘You’re new? We have a community of 500 people to take you into our warmth.’”
The majority of Live2Dance students are adults looking to blow off steam, get some exercise–and connect with people from a similar background. One website testimonial from a student named Yogesh Kumar reads: “I used to feel like I lived in a ‘foreign’ country for work. Thanks to Deepali, I now feel like I am part of a community that she built single-handedly.”
After many years of dreaming about making dance her full-time career, Jamwal left her corporate finance job to open Live2Dance in October 2019. But COVID-19 had other plans for the studio. After being forced to shut down, and many months of heartache and uncertainty, eventually, Jamwal was able to find a new space and pull the resources together to rebuild, with both financial and construction help from the community. Some people even took time off work to install floors, paint walls and murals.
Now, on June 17, Live2Dance is celebrating its first year in this space with an all-night “Dance-a-thon.” The experience includes snacks, coffee, prizes, breakfast and more, as well as back-to-back classes from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., June 17–18. All are welcome to attend, including those who have never tried South Asian dance styles before.
“Of course, we could have planned a celebration that went from morning to evening, but we thought that dancing the night away was something people might want to check off their bucket list,” Jamwal said.
A lifelong artist of Indian folk and classical dance (among other styles), Jamwal grew up always adapting, learning how to make friends, and getting creative in new situations thanks to a military father whose work kept the family moving. Jamwal enjoys collaborating with artists from different cultures and traditions. In addition to learning Indian styles, students can also take classes that mix Bollywood, Bhangra, contemporary dance, hip-hop and more to create offerings such as “BollySass,” or “BhangraHop.” Students have the opportunity to perform in an annual 90-minute dance-drama every year.
The studio provides a welcome familiarity for South Asians. Broadly speaking, Asians make up more than 19 percent of King County—the largest non-white ethnic group in the area. Some have come for jobs at Microsoft and Amazon. However, Asians are also a diverse group encompassing vastly different cultures, experiences, and positionalities. South Asians trace their origins from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Maldives.
Despite their differences, many South Asians in the Live2Dance community have found solidarity throughout the global pandemic. Last year, members of the studio supported one another as the large-scale COVID-19 outbreak threatened the health and safety of loved ones in India. These scars, the weight of trauma, the struggles of being a small-business owner for Jamwal, are real. But today, the joyful Bollywood beats that beckon people into this Seattle dance studio are real, too.
“This place has helped so many people survive the pandemic, smile through it, dance through it.” Jamwal said. “This community is an ode to life.”