For actress Madhuri Dixit, often called Bollywood’s dance queen or the dhak dhak girl, keeping her passion to herself was not enough. She wanted the world to brush up their dance skills.
And that’s when she thought of launching the platform Dance With Madhuri (DWM), where, she, along with many choreographers, teach people how to groove to the beat online.
"I love dancing and wondered how we can take this to everyone if it would be possible to take dancing to every house in India and the world. I wanted to share my passion with everyone. Then technology was involved and we came up with DWM. It actually became a reality from a thought," Madhuri Dixit told Moneycontrol.
"In today's world, it is difficult to take classes. You spend time in travelling, and the lessons are expensive. Not everyone can afford it and you cannot do it at your convenience. I wanted to solve all these issues," she said.
Making of Dance with Madhuri
Dixit's husband, Dr Shriram Nene, who manages the platform, said: “When we came to India (around 2012-13), there was a huge chunk of people who had no access to credible learning."
"One of our teammates had then suggested that we start with education and with dance," he said.
So, in 2013, the digital platform, Dance with Madhuri, was launched. “In February 2013, when we had launched DWM, our platform crashed because of heavy traffic.
“While the platform saw strong traction, it couldn't keep up with the traffic. So, everything was rebuilt in 2015 and technology was scaled up," said Nene.
Then, "within a year, we had 6 million page views and 200,000 users," he added.
DWM was launched in 2013 as an ad-supported, free platform with the intent to provide education for free. It was then relaunched as a freemium subscription platform in 2015 after DWM extended its services to DTH, airlines, and on-ground, as well as online.
Dancing during lockdown
In 2020, a lot moved online. COVID-19 pushed a lot more people to take up dancing online.
“This is why Dance With Madhuri saw a 5x growth in the last 10 months. In the last 100 days, the user base has grown to 300,000, and 70 percent of the digital revenue comes from international markets,” said Nene. There are more annual than monthly subscriptions -- both globally and from India, he said.
The platform has nearly 70 percent international and 30 percent domestic audiences. Nene also noted that the annual and monthly subscriptions are 50-50 in terms of the plan activations.
“We gave free stuff during the pandemic and many users bought subscriptions," he said.
With many more users coming on to the platform, Nene has set a 10x growth by the end of this year.
DWM becomes profitable
"We became profitable in January 2016. We have free cash flow since then and we have been using it to scale up the platform. On the website, 12 billion minutes of content has been watched. On YouTube, we have 1.1 million subscribers." DWM also has TV subscribers.
In 2015, it hit television, thanks to the partnership with direct-to-home (DTH) platforms, including Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV, and Dish TV. Currently, DWM has 250,000 paid subscribers on DTH platforms.
A learning for Madhuri
While Nene took care of the technology and business side of Dance With Madhuri, she focussed on the creative side.
"I am not tech-savvy, so I took care of the creative side like what kind of dances. I know many choreographers, thanks to so many dance shows I have been part of -- like Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, Dance Deewane, and So You Think You Can Dance (India)."
"Plus, there are so many popular songs of my own that people wanted to learn. Whenever I have interacted with fans, they wanted me to teach them. So, I did a few classes."
But the actress did not find teaching easy initially.
"Learning is different and teaching is different. When I had to teach, I had to break every movement. Our audience is not only people who know dancing. There are also people learning from scratch," said Dixit.
"When I used to learn from Saroj ji (Saroj Khan), I used to pick up the steps and never thought why I did it this way. So, teaching has been a big learning for me because I realised how difficult it is to teach. But I have enjoyed every moment," she added.
Dance and more
While it is all about dancing on DWM, Nene shared how, on Dance With Madhuri, content can be categorised under four to five buckets.
“We have masterclasses from Madhuri Dixit, Remo D'souza, Terence Lewis and 58 other celebrated choreographers. We teach over 35 different styles from Kathak to Tango. Then there is the immersive approach where trainers can teach one is to one or one is to five.”
There is also snackable content on the platform under Madz Minutes, where one can learn a step or a hook step in a minute. “If you are outside a party and you want to learn one step so that you don't like a fool on the dance floor, we will teach to you in one minute,” said Nene.
“We are also doing a bucket in health. We had put a tracker on MD (Madhuri Dixit) while she was dancing and we saw that she had burnt 400 calories in 15 minutes,” he said.
There are range of dance workouts on the platform -- from Dancercise to Garbaerobics.
And now the couple wants to add more on DWM.
"I also want to do long-term certification courses and create structured classes which can help people start teaching people. I also want to add folk dances of India which are dying. We have added many choreographers to our panel -- from Rujuta Vaidya to Savio Barnes -- and these people are strategising on the creation of certificate courses," said Dixit.
Barnes, who is one of the star choreographers of Bollywood, has been part of many dance reality shows, inlcuding Jhalak Dikhla Jaa. As for Vaidya, her works include AR Rahman's Slumdog Millionaire performance at the Academy Awards in 2009, Sridevi's English Vinglish, Priyanka Chopra's In My City, among others.
Overall, the platform has around 86 choreographers.
Getting the right investor
For both Nene and Dixit, certificate courses are important as they help people get jobs.
“One of the hardest behaviours is uploading content back to us (on the platform). But we found people doing that. This is how we gave people a skillset and we are also testing it. Plus, we were not only letting people learn a skill but that is translating into jobs as well. People who have got training on DWM have got jobs in schools to teach dancing,” said Nene.
Dance With Madhuri, a passion project of both Dixit and Nene, have seen all investments coming from them so far, but now they are looking to get an investor on board.
“We are in advanced talks with one of the education technology unicorns for collaboration,” said Nene.