Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance

In the world of dance, where rhythm meets expression, Swarali Karulkar stands as a dynamic force, not just as an exceptional dancer but as the founder of BollyHeals, a company dedicated to transforming lives through the power of dance. Her journey is a testament to the belief that movement has the potential to heal, inspire, and empower individuals. Driven by a vision that extends beyond the stage, Swarali founded BollyHeals, a company with a unique mission. During an exclusive interview with TINDS, Swara shared her inspiring journey of coming this far and making a successful business out of her passion.

TINDS: Tell us a little about your childhood. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Swara: I was born in Mumbai, India, and grew up there. My childhood was full of a lot of activities. My mother has always been an extremely ambitious human being. Growing up, she did not have enough resources to be involved in any form of art, so she wanted both daughters to be involved in these. I started dancing when I was only six years old. I was told that the first time I went up on stage, I was barely eight months old during a fancy dress competition. I had a hectic childhood coping with school, classes, gymnastics, competition, and whatnot, but it was also very fulfilling in several ways. Most of my confidence comes from that period because I have been very independent from a young age.

Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance
Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance

TINDS: What three words do you think describe you the best?

Swara: Creative, Empathetic & Ambitious.

TINDS: Pursuing a career in any form of arts is challenging. You’ve been involved and dancing almost your entire life. How do you feel about that?

Swara: It is a love-and-hate relationship, to be honest. Dancing is exhausting on a physical, mental, and spiritual level. It requires a constant use of my creative energy. In every class, I give all of myself, my emotions, body, mind, energy. I take on other’s energies, their emotions into my body. When people dance they become extremely vulnerable, and my body serves as a container for their insecure emotions. Playing this role over and over again can be draining. As a dance entrepreneur, I also wear a lot of hats so apart from teaching dance, I build strategies for my team, marketing plans, admin, manage teams, create content for several social media, I manage instructors, perform, travel to teach. I get very little time for myself, and my body. Although I get to do what I love, and turn my passion into a profession, it comes at a cost. My body needs a lot of upkeep, I constantly have to sacrifice my social/family time to conserve my energy and make time for my company. As I get older I have had to learn to balance my energies, and find different ways to fuel my passion. My relationship with dance is entirely different than what it was when I started dancing. It is deeper and more convulated. As hard as this job is, it’s also fulfilling, I get to do what brings me joy and watch people grow and heal through that dance. YOu can say I am constantly fluctuating back and forth between these 2 extremes of exhaustion and deep gratitude for a sense of purpose. 

TINDS: When did you move to the States and why?

Swara: I moved to the United States in 2014 to pursue my master’s and dance movement therapy. The reason that happened during that specific moment in my life was that I was looking for a transition. When I was in India, I was doing dance reality shows and Bollywood, and it seemed like I had it all from an outside perspective. The fame, money, and career. I started very young, and everything that I could achieve within the space, I had already achieved. Everything that was going on around was a repetition of something that had already happened. So I wanted change. I have always been interested in psychology and human beings, how they behave, and how dance can become a part of their journey. My own journey has been in two parts, one being chaos in my personal life  and the other being  confidence and catharsis through dance. At my class with young girls at Jhariwala Muslim Girls Orphanage at age 16 I realized very distinctly that dance could bring change in someone’s life beyond just visiting the classes. I was curious about how and why that happens and if there is something that I could do to make that actively occur. That is how I stumbled upon dance therapy. Applied to one of the 6 colleges all over NYC and was accepted in a program limited to 14 students from around the world, so I took the opportunity with a one way ticket to the US and set on for a new direction in my life. 

Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance
Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance

TINDS: What inspires you to keep at it?

Swara: I would like to mention one specific incident that moved me. I used to teach dance to little girls at a Muslim girl’s orphanage every Sunday. I remember what happened on the very last day, and I was moved. On the path to the big iron gate entrance of the orphanage, as I was walking, I saw these little shoes of girls waiting at the gate for me. I walked in, and I was surrounded by all thirty girls. They all made greeting cards to let me know how the experience of the dance class was for them. I was only 16 or 17 years old at that time, and I was absolutely moved, realizing that I had achieved something simply by doing something that I love only that had the capability to touch such young hearts and lives. Since then I have traveled the world and have had the luxury to witness how dance evolves lives across borders beyond the boundaries of countries, race, gender, shape. It is a universal language for communication and catharsis. I feel blessed to have received this gift and truly believe my purpose in life is to share kindness through dance & movement. That’s my Ikigai. 

TINDS: Tell us a little about BollyHeals? 

Swara: Bollyheals started as an effort to do two things. When I came to the US, I noticed that people’s perception of Bollywood was like what it used to be back in the 80s or 90s, and that needed to be changed. India has evolved so much since then, and they needed to be made aware of the modernity of these cultures. I felt disconnected, and I wanted to introduce people to modern Bollywood. Also, I had just moved to the States then and felt out of place, so I wanted to create a space for myself as well as other people to express the ambiguity and that it’s okay to be in a state like that. The complexity of us being who we are should be celebrated. I started off the classes as Bollywood on heels, which was meant to be the place that combines the West and the East, mostly for women. Throughout the process, I realized how so many brown women had a hard time feeling sexy without feeling any sort of guilt for it. I emphasized inviting women to be comfortable in a space, to be themselves, and to be comfortable in their own skin. The dance classes started off as one thing and ended up being another. I was also doing several workshops every now and then. I did twelve workshops in a span of fourteen days, and eight of them ended with people becoming extremely vulnerable with their emotions and sharing personal stories as they welled up. . I was curious about what I did exactly, and I figured it was due to my training as a dance movement therapist that organically seeped into my teaching method. . I researched what went into making people feel the way they felt, and that’s where it evolved. Throughout this time, we have been able to solidify what we do as a company and what we bring to our clients. We focus on the three C’s, which are confidence, connection, and community, which is the secret to being a holistic and grounded human being.

Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance
Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance

TINDS: Which age range of people do you usually see coming into your classes?

Swara: We mostly get adults who are enthusiastic about dance. When I travel for workshops I get a wide range of students from kids to seniors. A lot of women are interested in our offerings especially for confidence. We take pride in stating we have a lot of beginner dancers or people coming back to dance after a long time. We relish in guiding them towards their strongest selves. Apart from classes we work with privates clients and venues for performances, sangeets and host corporate wellness workshops with multinational companies across the US

TINDS: When did you start Bollyheals?

Swara: I started my classes and workshops in 2017. The tours started in 2017 and 2019. I quit my job and turned Bollyheals into an LLC towards the end of 2020. In 2022, I hired my own team. This business just as my method and body is always evolving. 

TINDS: What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Swara: If I had to quantify my achievements, I would say that I have dreamt big, and I have been able to achieve most of my goals. Obviously, I had my moments of doubt, and things don’t happen easily. I am not afraid of dreaming big, and I realize that I have to figure out the steps to get there eventually.- That is how a girl from a middle class marathi family in mumbai is now running a successful global business as a dance entrepreneur in a tough city like New York. I have always worked against the grain, and made my own path against all odds and I am extremely proud of my ability to endure that hardship and take on challenges with grace. I have earned and learned that has led to this moment and the conversation that I am having right now.

Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance
Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance

TINDS: Coming this far, what have you had to struggle with?

Swara: The arts industry is extremely challenging, it doesn’t have many jobs, people don’t value it as the other professions. There is a constant need to prove oneself which can be quite demotivating. I did not have much financial support and I started saving since age 10 by working my way up through competitions and shows as a kid performer. I have sacrificed my childhood for this. Moving to the US knowing no one here with limited money for survival, I had to work 8 jobs at a time to make ends meet on top of my school. I had no one to fund my grand ideas so I did it myself. Everything I achieved has been standing up on my own two feet, step by step, against all odds of money, circumstances, people not believing in me.  

TINDS: What would your advice be to young dancers?

Swara: Dream big, there is nothing you can’t achieve if you don’t put your mind to it. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Having said that, if you do dream big, have the patience, passion and develop the discipline to make it happen. You will stumble and fall the way, learn from those mistakes and let them shape you. Be open to all possibilities, be flexible and most importantly be kind. The love that you give will be the love you receive. 

Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance
Swarali Karulkar: Empowering Lives Through Dance


Find Her

Website: https://www.bollyheals.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bollyheals/?hl=en

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtGK4baUEyl9MTe4ovCbItQ

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