And, on International Dance Day, I present Shiamak Davar. He’s the Guru of Modern Dance in India. And my friend for over 30 years. I met him one-night last week in his cavernous dance studio beneath the old stone bridge of Mahalaxmi Railway Station. Where at 57, close to midnight, he was energetically teaching a class of 40 enthusiastic young dancers with sinful bodies and happy expressions his signature Shiamak Style of Dancing to pulsating Hindi film music. I cannot describe this. But you have seen it on screen and on stage. Brought to life by Bollywood’s best. From Madhuri Dixit and Karisma Kapoor in the 1990s to Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif and Varun Dhawan and Jacqueline Fernandez today. They proudly and expertly give life and meaning to Shiamak’s exciting choreography in films, at award functions, opening ceremonies for big sporting events, ad films, on international socio-political stages, at glamorous wedding sangeets, charity shows. They have the bodies and feet to dance. Shiamak and his small army of fabulous and outstanding trainers put the soul into their movements. I don’t think International Dance Day would have been a celebration it were not for Bollywood. I asked him what was his biggest contribution to dancing. Without hesitation, Shiamak replied, “The fact that I gave it respectability. And that I remain loyal to dance education.” I know what he meant. Shiamak could have done anything. From making films to cutting music albums. But he continues to teach dancing around the world because he believes it’s a healing process. “Kids from the age of 6 to the elderly over 80 learn to build self-worth and confidence through dancing,” he said. “Especially children, so many come from problem families and troubled homes. But they are so happy when they come to my class. Dancing is healing. It’s also good for fitness and as a creative art. The one-and-half-hour they are here, they forget everything and just get into that space, they channel all their energy into preparing for shows, into their costumes, make-up, the lights, sets, practicing their steps, it’s positive energy and powerful, it liberates people.” Again, I know what Shiamak meant. Try teaching dancing to people who have cerebral palsy, who are HIV positive, who are wheelchair bound since birth, who cannot see, speak or hear like those from the Helen Keller Institute who he lovingly and painstaking coaxes to dance through touch, and you will know how he makes winners out of those with no hope in life.
But he owes it all to Bollywood. When he started out in the 1990s, dance schools were suspect, people thought if a boy was learning dancing then he was a pansy or something was wrong with him, and that girls wanting to dance came from bad homes. “I was terrified. It was the worst and best time of my life. I didn’t know what choreography was. I thought I would not get a job. I was just entering dance competitions and winning. Dance schools were unheard of. Girls used to come in kurta-pajamas to my class because they were scared their parents would kill them or nobody would want to marry them,” Shiamak admitted. “But today, it’s a social status, Hrithik and Katrina are dancing, and Shahid Kapoor and Varun Dhawan learned dancing at my school, because dancing is a way of life, it’s like sports, there’s so much opportunity, it’s become a profession, there are reality dance shows on Indian television.”
He accepts that Bollywood, like cricket, is the soul of India. It is what people like and relate to. But he didn’t want to get into Bollywood. Dancing in films to him meant Helen who was so sensuous and elegant without being vulgar. Yash Chopra, whose films created dreams, offered Shiamak ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’. He refused because he thought his style of dancing was eclectic and would not be accepted.
[caption id="attachment_63435" align="aligncenter" width="660"] A still from Dance of Envy[/caption]
But Shah Rukh Khan, whose wife Gauri was a Shiamak student, told him, “If you want to be known, get into films and show the world what you are all about, otherwise, only South Bombay will know you.” That was the start. And look where Shiamak Davar is today.
Synonymous with dancing in Bollywood. But for him, dance education and spreading dance continue to be the top priority. “Dancing keeps people fit and happy because everybody is so stressed or messed up, there’s so much pressure on young people from family and society – for what? In my day, I didn’t know what depression was. And what is Attention Deficit Disorder? Why are people harming themselves for small reasons? Life is tough. But how you take the journey is up to you. I don’t know what’s next. I go with the flow. I don’t think of what’s next. That could cause disappointment, expectation, desire. I stopped thinking. That’s what dancing does. It makes you spiritually, mentally and physically a happier person. You know what I mean?” Again, I did.