Bollywood dance school founder Honey Kalaria on her humble Goodmayes beginnings and stardom
On researching the Bollywood Ambassador to the UK, as she is affectionately known, I was astounded to discover how much the hard-working dancer, choreographer and businesswoman has managed to fit into just 36 years.
When Honey Kalaria arrived to meet me, dressed in full traditional Indian dress, her energy and enthusiasm were infectious.
After ordering a cup of tea, with lots of sugar, we sat down and I soon discovered her love of working hard has driven her career since she began dancing as a four-year-old.
The Malawi-born star moved to England when she was five years old and her father opened a corner shop in Goodmayes.
“When I first moved to the UK I found it crazy, but I soon settled into the British way of life and I consider it to be my home,” she said.
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“My family were used to a very comfortable life in India and it was much more of a struggle after we moved. I think that taught me how to be flexible and we slowly built up our lives.”
Honey, who now lives in Glenwood Gardens, Gants Hill, said she “instantly” loved being on stage as a youngster.
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After performing in her first show when she was 13, Honey was approached by a promoter who wanted to book her for a show in Norway.
She said: “It was from there that my life became a whirlwind of flying here, there and everywhere doing shows in America and Canada. But I never let this interrupt my studies, as that was very important to my parents.
“I didn’t even think about the money side of things, I just really enjoyed performing. Every weekend I would be jetting off somewhere and my mum was always with me. I thought this was what every teenager was doing.”
The self-confessed workaholic added: “I didn’t even tell my teachers at school about my dancing. When I used to watch Bollywood films as a child I used to say I‘ll be working with these people one day and I really believed I would.”
The former Mayfield School, Pedley Road, Goodmayes student said: “It hasn’t always been plain sailing for me; my dance teaching started in a garage at the back of my dad’s shop.”
Honey, who set up a dance school in 1997 after ignoring advice, has seen it grow into Honey’s Dance Academy, in Eastern Avenue, Newbury Park.
“I never wanted to work for anyone, as I was so used to working on my own terms and dance was my passion,” said Honey. “I saw a gap in the market as many British Asians wanted to combine their background with a modern style of dance.”
The academy now offers classes in everything from belly dancing and rock ’n’ roll to hip hop and contemporary dance.
Honey said: “I wanted to train versatile dancers. And of course people told me it wouldn’t work because no one knew what Bollywood dancing was.
“Now you see some of its biggest stars made into waxworks! There was no demand for it but I made it my mission to make it popular and mainstream.
“For five years I did everything from TV appearances, radio interviews, movie promotions and event openings and slowly people’s appreciation of Bollywood grew.”
All the hard work paid off, and in 2001 she was approached by Andrew Lloyd Webber to help produce the musical, Bombay Dreams.
“They were struggling to find Indian dancers to fill the parts, so I took along 70 of my dancers who were brilliant,” said Honey.
Since then Honey has worked alongside Gareth Gates, Beyonce, Craig David, Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai.
She has become one of the top three Asian business women in the UK, with 18 Bollywood schools and a workout DVD.
“When I was approached for my fitness video I loved the idea instantly,” said Honey. “The week it came out, I went into Woolworths to see the chart and I worked my way up from the very bottom.
“When I realised it had reached the number one spot I was so shocked.”
When discussing all the ventures she’s been a part of, Honey said: “My favourite thing has got to be teaching and watching someone grow from a nervous child to a star.
“I never give up on someone and I am a stickler for technique and will keep going on about perfecting the hands.”
Honey believes all the travelling she experienced at a young age helped her “understand people from all different cultures”, and drove her to set up her The Honey Kalaria Foundation.
The charitable organisation aims to improve the lives of otherwise disadvantaged women and children throughout the world, while encouraging others to work together in unity to support and help make a difference.
Her inaugural project, The Unite Us Project, hopes to raise �1million by the end of the year.
Honey added: “The idea came to me through meditation. I am passionate about empowering women and children through the creative arts, which is what I love, so I will do as much as I can the way I know how.”