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Published: 23 May 2013

Dancing queen wins top Asian women’s award

Coping with clinical depression is exceptionally hard but for one Surrey graduate it was the spur that enabled her to set up a successful dance and fitness programme which has just won her an Asian Women of Achievement award.

Shalini Bhalla, who gained an MSc in Tourism and Hospitality Education in 1998, was named as joint winner of the 2013 Asian Women of Achievement Arts and Culture Award at the London Hilton for her business Just Jhoom!, the only accredited Bollywood dance-fitness instructor training programme in the UK.

Always a keen dancer, Shalini reluctantly gave up her hobby as her career in hospitality recruitment took off. However, when she was diagnosed with clinical depression, she rediscovered her passion for dance which helped her through the dark times.

“The illness is a big a part of why I started dancing again,” she said. “I left my job and worked at Cranleigh Arts Centre where I was surrounded by so many creative people. I realised I missed dance and found it gave me a kind of peace I hadn’t found for a long time. I was asked to run some Indian dancing classes and I realised that this was something I could develop.”

Shalini studied for an MA in South Asian dance and set up Just Jhoom! in 2010, recognising there was a gap in the market for a Bollywood-themed ‘dancerise’ class. Drawing on her own experiences, its aim is to tackle issues such as mental health problems and obesity.

The programme, which has classes across the UK, has been developed to help all ages, from three upwards. Alongside her regular classes, Shalini has also developed chair-based activities for people with limited mobility, Forever Jhoom! for older people and Junior Jhoom! for children.

The judging panel for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards said: “Shalini is incredibly competent at managing the artistic elements, business elements and her own personal life. Everything she does is with such enthusiasm and energy – that was one of the main things that struck us about her. She exuberates passion.”

Shalini also has a passion for Surrey, both the University and the county. As an international student from Kenya, she fell in love with the area and decided it was where she wanted to stay and now lives in Cranleigh.

Shalini’s father was a successful restaurateur in Kenya which is why she decided to study for her MSc in Tourism and Hospitality Education, choosing Surrey for its reputation as being the best. However, she subsequently doubted whether it had been the right choice for her.

“For a while I thought I had wasted a year of my life and couldn’t see how it had benefited me,” she recalls. “However that all changed when I started to set up Just Jhoom! I suddenly realised that a lot of the skills from my Masters were really relevant, such as management, human resources and marketing. I use them almost every day and  I wouldn’t have them without my degree. I can see how worthwhile my year really was.”

This month, Just Jhoom! celebrates its third birthday and with her recent award Shalini is riding high: “Just Jhoom! changed my life. I am a fitter, happier person.”