From the streets of Mumbai to ballet school in New York: Amiruddin Shah's inspiring story
#Fweekend: Amiruddin Shah's passion for ballet lead him to joining the most prestigious ballet school in the world | Yehuda Maor | Danceworkx | Ashley Lobo
Amiruddin Shah, 17, waits in the seating area of the Danceworx Studio in Andheri for his 73-year-old ballet mentor Yehuda Ma'or. He has his headphones on, and seems to be listening to music to prep himself up.
I ask what music is he listening to. "Ballet music," he says, smiling slightly.
As I do a mental double take, I realise this 17-year-old does not fit into the category of the moody, hormonal teenager who has taken up dance to blow off steam.
No. For Ammiruddin, dance is life. It's been a way out of his life of poverty: his family consists of his father, a construction worker, mother, five brothers, and two sisters, in Navi Mumbai.
But now Shah is on his way to School of American Ballet Theatre in New York on a full scholarship program. He got offered a scholarship from Royal Opera House in London too, but chose the New York programme instead.
As I sit down with him for the interview, I realise that this story sounds more like a fairytale dance film. There's the old, whimsical, yet brilliant mentor, there's a child prodigy from the streets who dedicates his all to achieve his dream — and what's best is that his dream comes true.
Shah tells me how he got into dance: He and Manish Chauhan (who is at Oregon Ballet Theatre right now and trained with Shah) were a part of The Danceworx's (Ashely Lobo's dance studio) Going Home programme, an initiative started by Lobo to help underprivileged kids achieve their full potential through dance.
He talks about how his brother used to dance at the studio and asked him to join. He says, "I initially joined as a hip-hop dancer. I was just resting after practice and Yehuda Sir saw me and asked me to stretch my foot. I guess he saw something in me and took up my training in ballet."
I ask about missing out on normal teenage things — chilling with his friends, catching a film or even just going out. What does the dance prodigy do in his free time? "I just dance," he says.
Does he like watching films?
He says his favourite film is Center Stage — a film about a group of teens who want to get into the fictionalised version of School of American Ballet, and succeed. It also stars one of Shah's idols— Sascha Radetsky — who was Ma'or's student and now will be mentoring Shah when he enters the School of American Ballet.
He says his other idol is Daniil Simkin, whom he will also see in New York.
Does he miss hanging out with his friends because of the intense training? The prodigy looks unfrazzled and shrugs: "I just dance."
Shah just came back from a four-month-long stint at the prestigious Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) in Portland. A crowd funding campaign was started to send them (Manish and him) to USA for the programme. He talks about how much he enjoyed the term and how much he is looking forward to dancing in New York.
Ma'or interjects by saying, "I am really looking forward to him going to New York because it will be something to challenge him. I have done whatever I can for him. Now New York will challenge him. There will be many exceptional dancers like him, so he will be challenged, and he will rise above them all."
Shah trains for six hours a day, and Ma'or expects the best performance from him (and the rest of the class) every time. Like any great teacher, he tries to extract the best from his class by challenging them. Ma'or demands the same dedication to dance from his students as he has. He says, "I have been doing ballet since I was 10. I went to training school as soon as I left high school. And I have been teaching ballet since 40 years. "
I ask Shah and Ma'or if the dancers follow any special diet because of their intense training. Like any weary guardian to a teenager, Ma'or sighs and says, "Diet! I'll tell you what diet he follows. He loves Indian food. He loves dal. I tell him not to eat spicy food, but he sneaks out and eats it anyway."
Shah grins at this.
I ask Ma'or about his equation with Shah, other than being his ballet teacher. "I am like his third parent. I am very much a part of his life and will continue to be," he responds.
And to sort of prove this, he calls out to Shah: "Amir.. are you going to help me?"
Shah smiles and says, "Ya Yahuda, I will fix your music for you." He takes Ma'or's iPad, sort of sighs, and fidgets around on it.
He turns on ballet music for him and smiles.
Third parent indeed.
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