What do you get when you combine a kangaroo, a baby, an a.m. dance class, and a 1997 hit Sugar Ray song? Amber and Meeshi Anjali decided to find out by co-founding GroovaRoo Dance, a dynamic combination of soul line dance and baby-wearing. Inspired by a baby-wearing salsa class Amber saw in Europe, the couple, who were pregnant with their son at the time, began looking for a similar style of dance class in the States. After coming up empty, they created their own.
Drawing on Amber's expertise as a doula with Meeshi's 20 years of dance teaching experience, the couple knew GroovaRoo Dance was their next pas-de-deux. "We thought how great it would be to combine our two passions together and have a business," Amber tells A Plus. At that time, she worked during the day as a nanny and doula while he worked at night as a swing dance teacher. With a new baby on the way, they realized that wasn't the ideal parenting schedule. "Let's see if we can figure out how to do something together where we can both be around the baby for the first year of their life because it's very important," Meeshi adds.
The GroovaRoo Dance style comes from soul line dance, "a very popular dance form in the Black communities in urban cities like New York or Philadelphia or Chicago," according to Meeshi, who also guesses he may be "the only Asian guy teaching" it. While the soul line dance community usually makes dances to current pop songs, Meeshi is particularly drawn to "uplifting songs" for his GroovaRoo Dance classes. If they happen to mention the word "baby," all the better. "Sometimes it's the lyrics; sometimes it's the melody; sometimes it's the feeling," he explains. "What I like about soul line dance, or line dance in general, is you can [express] more variety of emotions than just a Zumba class … So we try to do different ranges of emotion between intimate and then joyful, silly and then serious — the wide ranges of the emotions of a parent."
Case in point: GroovaRoo's dance to Sugar Ray's "Fly," the video of which garnered more than 7 million Facebook views. "It was weird because I had planned to teach a totally different dance that day … and then I heard the song on the radio," Meeshi recalls. "When he says in the chorus, 'Put your arms around me, baby' … I already imagined hugging our baby, and that's how the whole choreography started." Like all soul line choreographers, Meeshi works out of "phrase dance style," meaning the verses, chorus, and bridge each have a specific sequence of moves associated with them.
As much as each class is about learning choreography, both Meeshi and Amber believe GroovaRoo Dance is about teaching parents a new way to create a unique and lasting connection with their babies. "When you're wearing a baby carrier, your hearts are connected, so it's that heart-to-heart connection," Amber explains. "When a mom is wearing a baby, the mom can regulate a baby's heart rate, which is just this really amazing, magical thing."
GroovaRoo Dance incorporates specific elements into each class to help parents consciously reconnect with their babies. Every class begins and ends in a circle where everyone moves together and sings to their babies reassuring songs, like Jack Johnson's "I Got You" and Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds."
"I think it's really important for you to sing to your baby like, 'Don't worry. Don't worry about a thing, cause everything's gonna be all right,'" Meeshi adds, quoting the latter. "When you sing and clap and dance together, there's just a sense of community."
"I think one of the differences between our classes and other baby-wearing dance or fitness classes is that a lot of them are focused on just the mom," Amber says. "Our focus is the mom, but then it's also the connection between the mom and the baby, the connection between the mom and the other moms, and how everybody connects as a community … and all of the excitement and struggles that go along with that."
"The postpartum period is such a hard time for new parents," she explains. A new mom herself, Amber knows firsthand what it's like to get so caught up in taking care of another human being, you sometimes lose yourself in the process. "I think a lot of moms experience that in just trying to care for their child the best way that they can and trying to do everything right." By developing the GroovaRoo Dance classes, she and her husband have also created an irreplaceable community and support system for moms to relate to other moms. "Most of our moms — after our classes — they stay for half an hour to an hour and just hang out, because that's just what they need," Amber adds.
To encourage these strong familial connections, GroovaRoo Dance doesn't allow mirrors in its studios. "People get very caught up in their own image in the mirror, and they forget to connect to other people, so we constantly remind them," Meeshi says, drawing on his many years of dance teacher experience. "I think that's why our videos went viral, because people noticed, 'Oh, they look like they're having fun together.' " Not only have nearly 90,000 people noticed the fun GroovaRoo dancers have together, but many want to take part in that fun themselves.
While GroovaRoo Dance's Facebook page followers can shuffle and slide along at home to a new video every week, Meeshi and Amber have, in response to countless email requests asking them to expand GroovaRoo Dance classes all over the world, held two recent teacher trainings.
"People came from all over the world to our first training," Meeshi recalls. "Dance is a universal language. We're crossing boundaries. We're building bridges where things would never have happened." One of the most famous soul line choreographers, Ed Williams (known as "Brooklyn Ed"), plans to take part in their next teacher training in New York this spring.
Besides immersing students in a new form of movement, GroovaRoo Dance is also introducing parents to a new, creative way to spend their valuable — and irreplaceable — time with their child. "We're just excited that we're opening up baby-wearing to a whole new community of people that don't really wear babies as regularly," Meeshi adds.
And that includes dads. He and Amber hope to expand that GroovaRoo Dance community not just to moms around the world, but dads, too. One of GroovaRoo Dance's early viral videos featured dads dancing to Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music."
Though the video garnered more than 11 million views due to its novelty in flipping traditional gender roles, Meeshi hopes GroovaRoo Dance popularity grows because of its accessibility and appeal to the whole family. "I really wanna try to create a culture [where] not only parents dance with their children, but if you're a boy or a girl, you can feel more expressive and feel safe," Meeshi concludes. "I want it to be as normal as going to play catch."