Giju John’s mother was hoping he’d be a girl. So when John, son No. 3, was born, she figured she’d do the next best thing—enrol him in music and dance lessons. Which is how John, born into a Catholic family in Thiruvananthapuram, grew up learning Carnatic music and Bharatnatyam, two classical forms that would eventually serve him well when he began moonlighting as a Salsa dancer years later. “I resented it at first, but it grew on me and the two arts forms have never left me since,” John says.
John’s path to dancing may have been paved when he first began taking lessons as a child, but it was only truly cemented the year he joined Intel in 2000. “A bunch of friends and I were club hopping and skipped into a Salsa club. People were on the floor and dancing in their own styles, but what got me was their energy,” he says. “I signed up for classes soon after.”
From there, John, who went to the US as a master’s student, was hooked by the flamboyant, wildly sensual style of music native to Central and South America. He joined a dance troupe called Salsa Mania, now a well-known Mambo group in the US, but rather than leave it at that, he used his classical training and Indian roots to infuse it with some Bollywood pep. The happy result was a frenetic mash-up between Hindi dance tunes and Latin beats, a fusion that translated into his first album Rang Rangeeli Hai Yeh Duniya, released last year.
Second coming: John will re-release his album in India next month. Photograph: Hemant Mishra / Mint
“I came to India and spoke to every big label, but they were apprehensive and didn’t want to jump into anything that wasn’t already the trend.” That’s when a small label called Raaga to Rock signed him on. The album, though artistically rewarding, flopped in India—John asserts that it did reasonably well in the US. “There was a great level of excitement for two weeks after the release; I gave many interviews, my video was on music channels, but there was one glitch. My music CD hadn’t made it to music stores (in India). And that’s where it ended.”
Not quite ready to accept defeat, John is back in India on a two-month sabbatical, working on revamping the album and two new videos for its re-release. “I hope things go better this time” he says.
John has every reason to hope for the best. In the last few years, Salsa has gained a loyal toe-tapping following in India, with studios and schools springing up in cities across the country. Lourd Vijay’s Dance Studio in Bangalore, founded by Lourd Vijay a decade ago, has taught close to 30,000 people, while Salsa competitions such as the India International Salsa Congress, where John recently participated, are growing in popularity.
Step up: John rehearses for the Third India International Salsa Congress in Bangalore. Photograph: Hemant Mishra / Mint
Back in California, John follows a rigorous schedule, closing 8-hour work days at Intel by either rehearsing or conducting dance classes. Amazingly, his colleagues have accepted John’s extended absences from work because he manages to make up his hours at night. “That’s when I dance during the day and work in the night. I make sure I deliver because I know there’s a team that has made certain compromises for me and has been very supportive.”
As for quitting and devoting all his time to dancing? John says he isn’t quite ready to make the commitment. “That would have been easy if I was bored with my day job. I’m not. I enjoy every bit of my working day,” he says. “I’ll also be honest and admit that my job at Intel takes care of my finances, and it’s because of that that I have been able to make investments in my passion.”