For Sugandha, 13, dance is god. Her interest in dance was prompted by her uncle’s passion for it. Coming from a financially-disadvantaged background and a “caste that does not allow lowly profession such as dancing”, she is sure that she wants to dance for the rest of her life and make a career out of it.
“It hurts when people in my family say that this is a profession of nachaniyas (a slur for dancers) and respectable people should avoid it. But I want to make a mark through dance and tell them that my choices are conscious and fruitful”, she says.
She joined the initiative Dance Out Of Poverty in April and her passion started to look like a career option. “They don’t just teach me about dance but also how to develop myself as a human being and present myself in public, all of which really helps in life”, she says, explaining why she joined the organisation.
Dance Out Of Poverty, an initiative by Sinhayana Foundation, was established in 2016 by Vinay Sharma. He had already been teaching dance to underprivileged children for free but the idea to make it an organised initiative took form when he discussed it with one such student, Mohit Kumar.
“Vinay Sir taught me to dance and I had started earning and making a living out of it. This gave him the idea to develop such skills in children so that they can be financially independent”, Kumar explains.
Kumar works as a senior mentor and operations manager for the initiative and has been associated with the organisation since inception. “In the beginning, we started as classes without any particular vision in mind. But when we started to receive positive responses, we registered ourselves as a non-profit organisation. In our first audition to participate in the initiative, there were almost 600 students – most of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds”, he says.
The official website of the initiative articulates its vision: “If poverty is a disease, then the only cure is making them (underprivileged) empowered through education and skill. We believe in making these students proficient. The skills they acquire will act as a tool to become independent.”
The organisation focuses on overall development of the students – from equipping them with skills like dancing to making them good public speakers and helping them gain professional confidence.
“All these children face financial difficulties. Some of them even have a past of abusing drugs. We try to channelize their energy into something positive, something they are passionate about. We also take them to places that they couldn’t have gone on their own. All of this gives them confidence to face the world”, Kumar says.
Before the pandemic, the initiative ran three programmes: Right To Dance that empowers slum children of various cities, Slum 2 Stage that provides platforms to trained dancers, and Dance Out Of Poverty that holds daily classes for dancers. In Right To Dance, the trained dancers of the initiative take classes in multiple slums and jhuggi clusters of Delhi to empower students with the dancing skills.
“We had classes in 27 locations in Delhi, five locations in Mumbai, and four in Hyderabad. All these activities came to a halt during the pandemic and we wish to resume in full force soon. The mentors for these classes are those we have already trained so they can learn how to teach dance”, Kumar says. Presently, two classes are held thrice a week for senior and junior batches.
The initiative focuses more on empowering students through skill development rather than participating in competitions. However, many students have participated in national competitions such as Dance India Dance, India’s Got Talent and Dance Plus. Many of the senior dancers are already teaching dance in schools and for various government programmes and corporate events.
There are classes for Indian classical dance occasionally but the emphasis lies on Western contemporary dance. “Classical dance training requires years and we want to make them financially independent early in life so that they can help themselves. Western dance is also the area where the interest lies of most of the students. But, we are looking for ways to increase our reach in terms of genre”, Kumar explains.
For Harish Kumar, Dance Out Of Poverty was life-changing. An ardent dancer who did not have enough money to pursue his dream, the initiative served as a gateway to a professional career. “The usual classes for dance are around Rs 2,000 per month, which is a lot for me. I came here because it was free and the quality of teaching is much better than commercial academies”, he says.
Harish teaches dance at a school and says that the organisation helped him to better understand the dance industry. “It may look like we only learn to dance here. But the mentors also teach us how to crack an interview, how to present ourselves professionally, and how to pave our way in the industry”, Harish says.
Harish often skips meals because he is ‘always dancing’. “I can’t imagine my life without dance. It is the only thing that keeps me alive and going. It gives me so much satisfaction to think that I can finally earn a livelihood with it – all of this was only possible because I had such amazing mentors”, he says.
Vineeta echoes the same sentiments and tells Patriot that she has achieved a lot ever since she joined the initiative three years ago. “All of this was possible because the mentors here kept my creative energy in check. I could not have seen dance as a profession if I was not a part of Dance Out Of Poverty”, she says.
Vineeta has performed in over 50 competitions and was also a participant in India’s Got Talent Season 9. “My family only started supporting me once they started to recognize me as a dancer. Dance is what keeps me going”, she remarks.
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