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Cutting a red carpet

Indian dance teacher Nakul Dev Mahajan teaches some moves before the show.

February 23, 2009|Rachel Abramowitz

Want to learn how to dance like a "Slumdog Millionaire"?

As part of the pre-Oscar hoopla, personable 33-year-old Artesia-based Bollywood choreographer Nakul Dev Mahajan was called in to instruct media personalities and television viewers in one of the most popular dance forms in the world, a combination of classical Indian dance, folk dance and Western styles like hip-hop, Latin and jazz.

Dressed in white like a maharajah, Mahajan, accompanied by his enthusiastic young dance troupe of India-born Californians, led E! Network anchor Debbie Matenopoulos in a series of moves he's christened the "finger-pointing," the "flower" and the "twisting in the lightbulb," the ubiquitous dance move that consists of lifting an arm diagonally in the air and turning the wrist.

Matenopoulos wriggled her hips like a purple-gowned cheerleader to the tune of "Slumdog's" "Jai Ho" while Mahajan's troupe swayed their hips and arms considerably more seductively and energetically. Various E! technicians and crew members from all over the Oscar red carpet juggernaut joined in for select lightbulb twisting.

"They were all enthusiastic about us being there, the whole Bollywood phenomenon. They threw themselves into it," Mahajan says.

Two days earlier, Mahajan, who runs what he calls the only Bollywood school in the U.S., was rehearsing with his six-person troupe in his Artesia studio, under the watchful eye of a a statue of the Indian god of dance, Nataraj. All his young dancers were born in India except one, and grew up here, including Mahajan. About 80,000 Indians live in the Los Angeles region, and besides choreography and dance instruction, Mahajan has a lively sideline in Indian weddings. He's also appeared on "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Superstars of Dance," where his dance troupe served as Team India. (They came in fourth.)

While "Slumdog" has had a mixed response in India, Mahajan says, "the feedback has been nothing but positive in the United States" among what he calls the NRI -- non-resident Indians. --

rachel.abramowitz@latimes .com

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