Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to dance formally and thought it’s just a part of the celebration or to express joy. As a child, I used to think dance is just for girls and not for guys. Though as a child, I was always inspired by Bollywood films and its action stunts. An image that stuck with me was, Akshay Kumar, doing a backflip and ever since I tried to replicate them to impress people.
Backflip which turned to wall flip, head spin and eventually acrobats. That was just the beginning of my chapter in break dancing. Unknowingly I had entered the world of dance. In the beginning, my family was okay with it because I was indulging in something recreational rather than just playing around. Slowly and steadily, the dance bug got to me and I became interested in Hip-hop and other street forms.
Over a period of time, I mustered my courage including some finances to enroll in my first contemporary dance class. I took my first contemporary class at Danceworx, Mumbai. After a week, given my acrobatic capabilities and financial restraint they offered me probation where I could attend more classes. Thanks to the internet I was acquainted with Ballet furthermore to its knowledge and beauty and during my probation, Yehuda (an Israeli teacher), offered me my first Ballet class. It is one of the best moment so far. I was really excited, but also absolutely clueless in the class, as all the terminology was in French. But all thanks to Yehuda, as he ensured that I covered my basics, which the dancers abroad did at a very young age. He raised me to a level where I could stand on my own feet. He is the reason I grew on connecting to Ballet.
Where most people confused Ballet for Belly dancing due to their ignorance, I was dug in deep like a tick in Ballet. I was enjoying the routine but was very embarrassed about letting people know about my training as I thought everyone would question my sexuality. You know how it is… So I chose to keep silent and just work hard. As time passed, Ballet became so important to me that I started missing college and other activities. My parents always wanted me to get a white collar job but they saw my love for Ballet and decided to let me pursue my happiness despite all the hardships in store. After their approval, I quit college and started dancing full time.
For a year almost, I was reliant on my family for my finances and used only words to assure them that in the future there would be a return. It was a very difficult time, as my father under the influence of my relatives wanted me to quit dancing and tried to convince my mother too. But, my mother handled every situation without it reaching to me. While Yehuda in one of his trip to the US, showed my class videos to the director of Joffrey Ballet School, New York and I was accepted there for the summer internship on a full scholarship and financial aid for stay and meals.
At this point in time, I was approached by the media, as they were interested in my story given my orthodox background. This was the time when my first documentary was released on 101 India. This came as a gift to me as it gave reassurance to my parents about my future. But despite all this, I was refused Visa and couldn’t attend the programme. That was a really a low point in my life. I was refused twice and I thought my dream was over.
But by God grace, Oregan ballet Theatre, Portland, USA, offered me a full scholarship for a year as well as an M1 visa. That gave me hope again. I supported myself through crowdfunding and also luckily enough found a host family who took care of me as one of their own family. I felt my stars were aligning again. Meanwhile, my story was inspiring a lot of people and raising awareness and acceptance towards Ballet back in India. This was my first international exposure and since then there has been no stopping. I completed one year in Oregon and also performed Swan Lake with their company. Currently, I am in Israel at Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company(KCDC) sponsored by Mariam Ram, who came across my story and contacted my teacher to extend a supporting hand.
I am very grateful to people who have helped me at different points in my life and also to those who questioned my decisions. The only advice I want to give to all the young dancers and those who are called different is that don’t lose your spark ever. You are different for a reason. Don’t get lost in the crowd. And remember dance forms don’t have a gender, we label them. So be free. Be label-free.