Happy feet

Nov 27, 2018, 08:54 IST | Snigdha Hasan

As part of an initiative that makes dance accessible to all, over 450 underprivileged and differently abled kids will take the stage to showcase jazz moves and mallakhamb prowess

Happy feet

In times of political correctness, it's not uncommon to see people choose their words with caution. The coinages meant to be used in place of their less sensitive synonyms are thoughtful. But they often run the risk of sounding insincere. However, when Shiamak Davar, or the ace choreographer's colleagues at his dance academy, use the word "differently abled", they mean it.

"We do not see their disability, we look at their ability to overcome everything and perform as stars. They may not be able to move their hands and feet, but they dance from their soul," says Davar. "You just have to come and watch these kids do wonders on stage," concurs Lynn Mascarenhas, an instructor. "Special needs aren't given the kind of respect they ought to be given. All kids need is one chance to show the way they can rise up to a challenge," adds Parveen Mistry, head of operations, Victory Arts Foundation (VAF), which Davar founded in 2004 to make dance available to underprivileged and differently abled children.

The foundation has grown over the years, and for its annual presentation today, more than 450 participants will take the stage to showcase their moves and the healing power of dance. "From contemporary and hip- hop to Bollywood, the show will have a variety of dance styles showcased. The audience will be amazed by what we think and what we will actually see on stage," says Davar. Aerial and mallakhamb acts are part of the performance, too.

First steps
About the foundation's beginnings, Davar tells us, "When I started my dance academy, very few parents would send kids with mixed needs to class. About 25 to 30 years ago, a girl with polio came to attend the classes. After a year, she told me she could feel her arm move slightly. At first I didn't understand, but over time I realised that dance was proving to be therapeutic. This is when I decided to start VAF — to make dance available across age, gender, caste, class and ability, without prejudice."

Shubham Netti

Fourteen years on, the foundation is now seeing kids who started out as its students return as instructors. Raj Patil was introduced to dance as an extracurricular activity when he was with Prerna, an NGO, which works towards ending second-generation prostitution and protecting women and children from human trafficking.

"I come from a very poor family. So dance was a good stress buster. It made me happy," he shares. Little did he know that a few years down the line, dance was to become his vocation — the 23-year-old now performs with Davar's troupe at the opening ceremonies of Bollywood award functions and sporting events. "I studied at a Marathi medium municipal school. And given my circumstances, I would have ended up with a low-wage job in all likelihood. Dance changed my world," he adds.

Raj Patil and Shubham Netti (lifted by other dancers) in performance; earlier editions of the show
Raj Patil and Shubham Netti (lifted by other dancers) in performance; earlier editions of the show

Also an instructor at VAF, he has been teaching kids hip-hop, free-style, contemporary and jazz dance styles, while his own performance include Bollywood medley and rope mallakhamb. Shubham Netti, a dwarf with multiple disabilities, has been a regular at the annual show, too. He will be performing jazz and contemporary styles, as will Shahnawaz Shaikh, who has been on callipers since the age of seven.

Go professional
From wheelchair-bound children to those with Down Syndrome, dancers of varying abilities will be a part of the show. How do instructors accommodate that? "Just the way my dance company would prepare for a show — from music to costumes, choreography to visuals — this show is curated in the same professional way," says Davar. "The only unique factor is that there is a lot of compassion, and there is a true realisation of the ability of this art form to heal."

 Shiamak Davar

On Today, 1 pm
At St Andrew's Auditorium, Bandra West.
Free

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