Bollywood dance master teaches Atlanta class

'Slumdog Millionaire' is his claim to international fame

Few stories have been written about Longinus Fernandes that don’t mention the omission of his name from the credits of the Academy Award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire (this story being no exception).

But when director Danny Boyle acknowledged the oversight from the Oscar stage, it boosted the Mumbai-based choreographer’s fame far more than a rolling credit.

“I was really touched,” said Fernandes of Boyle’s gesture to make things right. “He really exemplifies humanity. An ordinary choreographer became extraordinary in a matter of minutes.”

After getting his props for directing some 3,000 dancers in Slumdog’s final “Jai Ho” scene, he launched into choreographing the recently aired Independent Film Channel mini-series “Bollywood Hero” starring comedian Chris Kattan. Next he is off to shoot “So You Think You Can Dance Canada.”

Fernandes, who is represented by local agent Aris Golemi of Xcel Talent Agency, is coming to Atlanta for the very first time to teach a Bollywood master class at Dance 101.

Though it may seem strange for an in-demand choreographer to teach master classes at a local studio, Fernandes considers that part of his mission.

“There is nothing that is too big or too small,” he said by phone the day before arriving in Atlanta. “It is a feel-good feeling to spread the art and craft. I want to educate people on what Bollywood dancing is all about.”

Fernandes has the kind of humility you don’t always expect from someone with his credentials. Even with credits for some 350 music videos, and more than 100 films, commercials, theater productions and television shows — including a stint on the Indian version of Dancing with the Stars — Fernandes easily recalls his first job as a backup dancer in an Indian horror movie in 1985. Two years later, he took first prize in a dance contest in India, and quickly embarked on several years of competition around the country.

Along the way, he met various people who would encourage him to be a part of different films. He worked side-by-side with some of India’s great choreographers who helped him learn the industry. He was inspired by dancing greats such as Fred Astaire, Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly and his childhood favorite, Michael Jackson, but he considers his parents to be his greatest mentors.

“They showed me it is all about learning the art of living, bringing a smile to people’s faces. That has really taken me forward,” Fernandes said.

In addition, his father was a flamboyant type of guy with a style like Elvis Presley. Fernandes said he has fused that sense of the peculiar into his work.

Something about his formula must be working since Bollywood dance is experiencing an upswing in popularity outside of India.

“It is both entertainment and expression. When it comes to Bollywood-style dance it is special because it makes you move your hips,” Fernandes said. “It looks funny when you don’t do it in the right manner, but nonetheless it makes you feel good.”

Fernandes has worked with his share of rhythm challenged dancers. After corralling 3,000 Slumdog dancers of varying skill levels into lockstep, he was warned that on his next project, “Bollywood Hero” Chris Kattan, was no dancing machine.

“I said no matter what I will try to create magic with this person,” Fernandes said. “I always believe very strongly in myself that I’m like a magician, and if my magic fails I have something else to pull out of the hat.”

Still, there are only so many hat tricks one can do and Fernandes said his greatest challenge as a choreographer is trying to be as successful as his last release.

“It keeps me on my toes,” he said. “The minute you win acceptance, people wait to see what you are doing next and I do not want to let people down.”


Bollywood master class with Slumdog Millionaire choreographer, Longinus Fernandes

7:30 p.m., Thursday, $40

Dance 101, 2480 Briarcliff Road, Atlanta