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No Fear No Favour

A Dance To Success: This Is How The Mumbai Boy Is Making India Proud In The American Ballet Theatre

There’s a general perception among the people that dance too “feminine” for boys. Kicking the lame stereotypes, 15-year-old Amir Uddin Shah is tip-toeing his way to be ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet.

Having grown up in the slums in the city of dreams, Mumbai, Shah’s story reminds many of us, Slumdog Millionaire, only his is more filled with ballet.

Shah is now New York-bound for a four-year training program at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

“I never thought I would become a ballet dancer,” Shah said. “India is not on the ballet map, and I want to take India to an even higher level.”

Shah, who started to have his love affair with dance at just the tender age of 6, had started studying ballet less than three years ago from Israeli-American instructor Yehuda Maor.

It’s a surprise to see in a country where there are no special ballet academies being operated, Maor was invited by the Danceworx Academy to teach ballet in India. Here, Maor saw Shah doing cartwheels and backflips as part of the Danceworx jazz and contemporary dance program for underprivileged students.

I had no idea about ballet,” Shah recalled. He had been dancing freestyle whenever he got the chance, sometimes he was invited to weddings to perform, and sometimes he just goofed around with friends

Impressed with Shah’s move, Maor went on to see the bottom of Shah’s feet. He finds out the boy had perfect arches for ballet and urged him to train.

In the next two-and-a-half-years, Shah nailed his pointem pirouette and arabesque, “Which is unheard of,” Maor said.

“I knew I had found a diamond in a coal mine,” said Maor, acknowledging that his pupil now “needs to be challenged” by more teachers.

Maor has helped Shah and another young dancer, 21-year-old Manish Chauhan, win scholarships in June to New York’s Joffrey Ballet School. But they could not secure US visas in time.

Shah and Chauhan were then offered scholarships at the Oregon Ballet Theater starting in December. Shah attended for three months, while Chauhan is still training in Portland.

Now, Shah is trying to raise funds for four years of travel and tuition with the American Ballet Theatre in New York. They have enough for his first year, beginning in August, but have set up a website to accept donations for three more years in the U.S.

Shah said he is eager to stay in a dormitory and “be in a proper ballet school.”

“I am so excited, but slightly scared, too,” said Shah, who speaks basic English. “How would I interact with people? New York is very crowded.”

One day, he hopes to be a principal dancer in the New York Ballet.
And eventually, he said, “I want to teach other children who cannot afford to pay fo the dance.”

We wish Shah the very best of luck.

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