Basanti Rai : Promoting Nepali art & culture by performing dance in the USA for 24 years

In her childhood, Basanti Rai used to dance to the tune of Radio Nepal news. At that time, she did not think she would become an artist in the future, but whenever a tune was played on Radio Nepal, she started dancing.

“Our house had radio and black and white television. As soon as any music came on, I would dance in a corner without anyone noticing.” If her father saw her Dance, her father would scold her. Because then society thought girls would be spoiled if they started dancing. – Basanti remembers the moment of that time like yesterday.

Thus, her dance journey that started from Jhapa reached America through school. Since coming to New York in 1998, she has been active in dancing. Basanti danced in more than one thousand stage shows in America in 24 years. Not only from the Prime Ministers of Nepal to the ambassadors but also from the politicians in America to the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams watched her Dance. She has danced on stage with artists ranging from Maha Nayak Rajesh Hamal to Govind Rai.

She added – While dancing, someone in the community looked at me with good eyes. Someone even looked at it with a bad eye. But I continued to dance without listening to anyone, with the aim of keeping the Nepali art culture alive in America as well. Many people discouraged me because I was a female dancer. But I persisted in my work.

She has received over 500 awards and certificates for performing dances in various programs. Once upon a time, the Basanti dance was not missed in the events of the Nepali community in New York. More people loved the Dance than cutting it off. Basanti never let her passion for Dance and artistry die. Even though she is Rai, she does not dance only as Sakela. Apart from Sakela, she performed Jhyaure, Tappa, and Kauda but also Maithali and Bhojpuri dances. Basanti says that performing original Nepali dances brings joy from her heart.

After learning Dance from Raj Kapoor in America since 1999, she has performed free Dance in hundreds of programs in the Nepali community. However, she said that she never thought about what she got from Nepali society while actively promoting Nepali art culture. She says – ‘I have enough love for Nepali society.’

From Broadway shows in America to United Nations programs, she presented Dance and Nepali art culture. She feels special about her performance at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC and his performance at the West Broadway Theater in the US almost 20 years ago. There was a program organized by Seriona Henry and Raj Kapoor in that theater, in which there was a large presence of viewers other than Nepalese.

Basanti wanted to dance with Maha Nayak Rajesh Hamal ever since she saw Shiva Shrestha, Rajesh Hamal, and Bhuvan KC in movies when she was a child. But after coming to America, that desire was fulfilled. Even though she has shared the stage with many artists, she also feels special about the moment she danced with Rajesh Hamal in a stage show in New York. She remembers – “I was very excited when I was told to dance with Rajesh Hamal. But at first, I was afraid. But when he came closer, I was very impressed by how he spoke and behaved. Then we danced to a song called ‘Rato Tika Nidharam Talak Talakyo’ in my choreography.

Later, she performed the music video with Rajesh Hamal by singing “Lane Bhaye Laijau Kancha” herself. She sang this song with Jagdish Samal, and the lyrics and music were by Bimal Dangi. This song was recorded and filmed in New York. Basanti has danced and acted in over half a dozen songs, including Barko Chhaya and Sarar Hawa Chalyo. She also gave voice in more than half a dozen songs.

Among them, Soi Dhole Soi is her most popular song. Wilson Bikram Rai and others danced and acted in this song which she sang with Rajesh Payal Rai, and this song has been viewed more than 45 million times on YouTube. It also has lyrics and music by Bimal Dangi.

Basanti says, “I started singing to fulfill my hobby and because of my interest in music. I don’t have any guru in singing. Since there was no teacher available to teach singing, I taught myself. But in the future, there is a desire to learn from the guru and progress better in the singing journey.”

The latest song she sang is ‘Baby Basanti.’ In this song, she danced and acted with actor Akash Shrestha. It also stars Surbir Pandit, Umesh Rai, and others. She said that she brought this song to practice fusion in the song. Basanti is also planning to release a new song in the near future. She said that the song would be shot in America.

Basanti says that in the current situation, Nepali artists can’t make a living in America by only doing Nepali art. Still, Nepali artists who come to America should not give up the task of continuing their art. She said that Nepali artists in America should also take the art field together, even if they do other works. She says – I also do other things. But I didn’t give up on dancing and singing.

She complained that the Nepali community in America is not working to protect and promote Nepali art culture in America. She has experienced that the Nepalese society in America is now very divided compared to the past. She says- ‘Once upon a time, there was only one Nepali community in America. All Nepalis were under one umbrella. During the program, the music hall was packed. It is now very divided. The Nepali community in America has been divided into different castes and regions.

Basanti wants to establish a foundation in the future and teach Nepali art culture to the new generation in America. She says – ‘Dance not only promotes Nepali art and culture, but it is also beneficial for one’s health. Dance is also exercise. It makes people physically and mentally active. There is no time to look at Dance negatively like before. Now there is a positive attitude towards Dance from the point of view of health.

Basanti, the senior vice president of the Nepali American Artists Association, is also one of the organization’s founders. She is also the Senior Vice President of Hami Nepali Global New York Chapter. She is also the vice president of the United Kirat Rai Organization of America. She has also received many honors and awards for dancing. She received the Covid Hero award from the Brooklyn Borough President in New York and her song Soi Dhole Soi also received a national award in Nepal.

Basanti says, “Everyone should learn to respect art. When an artist performs on stage, no matter how special the other audience members are, the practice of sitting down and watching is a form of respect for art. Artists should also be able to maintain this dignity.”