Published: 24th March 2017
Dance is therapeutic, it has the ability to heal
...says the dance guru, Shiamak Davar as he opens up about his academy, choreographing for films and why dance needs to be in the education system
He’s known as the guru of contemporary dance in India. He’s been responsible for modernising dance styles. He’s the brains behind many popular movie dance sequences that we’ve come to cherish like ‘The Dance of Envy’ number from the 1997 hit, Dil Toh Pagal Hai. But 55-year-old Shiamak Davar still hasn’t run out of energy. With his motto ‘Have Feet, Will Dance’ firmly in place, Shiamak believes that everyone can dance and that everyone should be given a chance to express themselves through dance. Excerpts:
When were you introduced to dance? Did you always know that dancing would be your career?
My first love was singing and I used to act in a lot of musical productions. Dancing happened to me much later. I chanced upon dance classes at the Pineapple Studio in London, where the teacher thought I had prior training. She was shocked to know that I had never learnt ballet before. I took the training forward and then decided to come back and start western jazz dance classes in India. I realised my mission was to spread joy through dance. Thirty years later, my mission is still going strong.
You must’ve faced a lot of opposition to take up dancing as a career. How did you cope?
Dance wasn’t accepted as a career when I started out, for men or for women. So here I was, trying to start a dance school for a style that was unheard of in this country. So, I had faced a lot of rejection. Even to find a space to conduct my classes was a task. My first class had only seven students, five of whom were family and friends. But I knew that this was what I had to do, this was what made me happy. So, I never looked at it as a failure. Sometimes, I find silly joy in knowing that the people who had ridiculed my passion back in the day, are now sending their kids to me for classes.
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Who is your favourite dancer in the film industry and why?
You know, it is amazing how hardworking and professional our actors are in Bollywood. Right from legends like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Govinda to current stars like Ranveer Singh and Varun Dhawan. My dream came true when I choreographed Madhuri in my very first film. In the current roster, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt are just so talented. But honestly, my personal all-time favourites are Helenji and Govinda!
What was your motivation behind starting a school?
Belonging to a family of educationists, I always understood the importance of education. My parents ensured that I completed my graduation before I decided to pursue my passion. Even in my field of choice, I followed the path of education — dance education. Like I said, when I started thirty years ago, dance was not considered a viable career. That is why I started a school that offered dance classes with complete knowledge and training. I wanted people to experience the same joy that I derived from dancing. I wanted to create a platform for people to express themselves through movement, without being judged. Whether they are four or eighty four, everyone learns and performs on stage. The sense of achievement and fulfilment they get is greater than any other feeling. It’s great to see what impact it has had on people over the past three decades.
Why do you think dancing should become a part of the curriculum?
We started the SDE (Shiamak Dance Education) programme for schools to incorporate dance in their regular curriculum. Schools across the country have embraced this programme with open arms and the results have been overwhelming. Whilst at school, children are more receptive to the process of learning and using dance as a medium of physical activity and creative medium, this programme aims at channelising their energy in a resourceful manner. The objective behind starting SDE is to make it a part of the regular curriculum with a specially-designed syllabus that encompasses all aspects of the performing arts. This helps children develop skills, knowledge and understanding that goes beyond the classroom. Students are taught the various aspects of musical theatre and stage performance. They are empowered with technical knowledge, spatial awareness and performance guidelines. The complete performing arts experience helps students overcome stage fright, become more confident, learn to work in teams and feel a great sense of achievement. Using jazz technique, ballet exercises, yoga asanas, dance therapy activities, and theatre arts, the essence of the programme is in dance expression, knowledge and creativity that goes beyond the periphery of dance movement.
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Could you explain what the Victory Arts Foundation is about?
When I started my dance classes, very few parents would send their kids for classes. But those who did, saw a world of a difference in them. Dance not only gave them free space to express themselves but also helped improve their motor movements and brought about positive behavioural changes. That is when I decided to start the Victory Arts Foundation, for so more people would be encouraged to dance. We started the NGO in 2004 to address the lack of access to dance for the underprivileged and those with special needs. With this, we took the motto of ‘Have Feet, Will Dance’ one step further to ‘Have Spirit, Will Triumph’. Through the Victory Arts Foundation, people in wheelchairs, in crutches, those with special needs — all learn and perform on stage.
How did you see dance change the lives of children?
Dance is therapeutic; it has the ability to heal. It is a great way to release energy, shed inhibitions and vent out emotions. When you dance you sweat, and you release ‘feel good’ endorphins that make you happy. Whether in their motor movement, in their behaviour, or their ability to interact socially; dance brings about a positive change. They learn to understand space, coordination, teamwork, understand music and rhythm, learn to express themselves, their focus and concentration improves and they engage in art.
How different is it choreographing for films and dance shows?
I enjoy choreographing, be it stage or film. But stage is closer to my heart. There are no second chances; it’s live and you receive the audience’s reaction instantly. I feel more at home on stage. There is movement that you can create and it is a living, moving thing. It is all about the flow, without any retakes. The energy of a stage show is completely different. Invigorating!