It may be from 20 years ago. But for many of us, the refreshingly new dance moves of Karisma Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan in the film Dil To Pagal Hai still remain etched in mind. Dance choreographer Shiamak Davar made his entry into Bollywood with a splash that year and added the word 'contemporary' to the staid world of film dance. And till today, he remains a favourite celebrity dance trainer, showcasing Indian contemporary dance on world forums, and also reaching out to underprivileged and disabled children through his therapeutic dance training.
Twenty years, several films, and hundreds of stage shows, and thousands of students later (he's choreographed every single IIFA show!), he's the one every aspiring young dancer who wants to make it on their own looks up to. As his dance company gears up to start auditions for their year-long professional course, Shiamak chats with Sunday Herald about the secret to looking great at 56, and how each song tells him a story.
You are 56, dancing great and looking good! How much of a role has dance played in that?
Thank you for the compliment. Honestly, dance has everything to do with it. I think when you do something you love, you have something to look forward to every day and this motivation keeps you happy.
What made you want to dance when you started off?
I think it was always inside of me. Singing was my first love. I used to perform in musicals, so it was always something to do with the performing arts, and I knew that it was a stage where I felt a sense of belonging. Dance became a great platform to express myself.
What role has Bollywood played in making people want to learn dance as an aspiration?
Bollywood has a phenomenal reach. It is a part of our culture for over a hundred years. Also, music and dance are an integral part of our movies. So, in that sense, commercially, it has had an impact in making dance and movement reach people. Dance-based Bollywood songs always have a signature movement which becomes hugely popular.
How did you develop your signature style?
Over the years, I developed a style that was uniquely me. For me, each song says something different and it tells me a story through its rhythm. My choreography is an interpretation of that. Whether it was jazz when I started off, to my style of Bollywood jazz work, or my Indo-contemporary style today, people always come to me and say 'We want to learn Shiamak style', or 'We want to watch Shiamak style'. I think it is the grace, finesse, technique and discipline that people see through the choreography that they like.
What does your one-year professional course equip dancers with?
The one-year dance certification programme (OYP) is a full-time course that helps potential dancers nurture their skills in a professional environment. The programme focuses on technique, training and knowledge in over 10 dance styles with specialised training in Shiamak style. I myself actively teach this programme and monitor the progress through the year. OYP is a part of my mission to help dance enthusiasts make their passion a profession. Each year, students with the most potential are inducted into my dance company, become a part of musical productions choreographed by me, teach classes as a part of my 'school dance education' programme, amongst many other avenues. The response is phenomenal. Thousands of enquiries come in each year and we audition to select 80 to 100 students per year. The auditions for the next academic year for OYP are in December. The programme runs from April 2018 to March 2019.
A lot of Indians regret that the current generation has moved far away from classical Indian dance to more Westernised dance forms. What is your response?
I do feel sad the classical dance forms have taken a backseat. I always encourage my students to learn at least one classical form as it makes you a complete performer. Along with the grace, it teaches you a lot of discipline.
Dance reality shows are dime a dozen in India. Has this sense of competition added to the betterment of dance?
Dance-based reality shows definitely provide a great platform to dance enthusiasts from far away cities, smaller towns and remote areas to come and showcase their talent. It has given so many opportunities to people who are immensely talented to make their passion a profession. The only thing is that I wish there was more dancing and less of back stories on their life and that the focus was more on choreography than gymnastic-type stunts. Also, it is important for participants to take the reality show as a great starting point but know that training is important and focus on becoming better at the art, before going professional.