Dance academy

“Why I created a dance academy”

HUsnain is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer who resides in the nation’s capital. Along with eight other dancers, he runs a dance academy called “We Are One”. Created in 2016, this academy now trains more than 90 students, the youngest of whom is eight years old and the oldest is 65 years old.

The one thing that sets him and his teachers apart from all other dance academies is that they are all people with disabilities (PwD). While some, like Husnain, are in wheelchairs, others have speech and hearing impairments. However, what connects them all is their passion to learn and perform.

“Even though I have been playing for several years now, the respect and recognition are far from what I deserve,” said the 30-year-old, speaking to The best India.

Dignity, empowerment, inclusion and equality

Husnain and his team.

“Six years ago, in 2016, when we launched We Are One, it was for the sole purpose of achieving dignity, feeling empowered and included and being treated as an equal to people with disabilities. “, he says. Promoting disability in the performing arts, especially dance, was important to him.

A bout of very high fever when he was less than a year old left him in a wheelchair. He shares: “Unfortunately there was no access to good medical facilities where I lived and the fever rose to a level that left me with polio. poliomyelitis It was at Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust, the school where Husnain studied, that dancing came into her life.

“This school also admitted children with disabilities and I was enrolled there in 1995. I spent my early years, from kindergarten to grade eight, at this school. In 2003, when I was 12, I had the opportunity to play in a band at the Talkatora stadium in Delhi. It was kind of a wake-up call for me,” he says. Although he was one of 150 other performers at the event, he says being on stage made him come alive.

When asked why he chose dance as his means of expression, he laughs and says, “I’m often asked that and I say the same thing. Why is Shahrukh Khan an actor and not something else? He was born to be an actor and in the same way I was born to dance and act. Nothing gives me more happiness than being on stage.

“I’ve performed in over 1,500 shows in eight countries.”

Despite all the performances, Husnain says that even now when he approaches people on behalf of his band, they wonder what a wheelchair performance will be like. He says: “Questions like what can we do, what will we do and how will we do all of this while sitting in a wheelchair always intrigue the public. They come to our shows more out of curiosity than appreciation of the dance.

“However, he continues, it only takes one minute of performance for them to be hooked on us on stage. While they start to watch the show with sympathy for us PwD performers, by the end of the show there is nothing but pure appreciation for the show. They realize how much we are capable of.

He keeps repeating that what members of his community need is opportunity, not pity. As a group, the members not only participate in Bharatanatyam performances, but also in salsa dancing, the Manipuri martial arts dance form, and even yoga on wheels. “We also have the distinction of being India’s first wheelchair band to practice salsa,” he proudly adds.

A day in the life of artists begins with a session in the gym, where each artist works to strengthen their upper body. This is followed by dance rehearsals, meetings to conceptualize new show themes and discussions on stage, costumes and make-up. “Most of the time we are teaching others or training for our upcoming shows. So we dance every day,” he adds.

“I am a Muslim practicing Bharatanatyam.”

Dance
During a performance

The journey so far has not been easy. As a Muslim, Husnain says his family members never understood why he wanted to learn and practice Bharatanatyam. It was not something they encouraged. “When I started, it was never to break a glass ceiling or pave the way for others. I did it because of the joy it brought me,” he shares .

While today there is respect for the art form he and his colleagues perform, he says there were so many instances where he would be called langda (a lame person) and apaahij (a pejorative term for PwD). “It would hurt. It made me feel uncomfortable and made me so disillusioned with what I was trying to do,” he says. He remembers his father’s words about not letting anyone else determine his own worth and says it kept him going.

With every performance big and small came appreciation. There were press clippings about the troupe and every time his parents read them, they felt a little proud.

“When my father started to be recognized as ‘Husnain’s father’, he started walking with his chest slightly wider,” he says with a smile.

To yet another beautiful dance performance.

Gulshan Kumar, another wheelchair performer associated with Husnain for over a decade, says, “Dancing has given me a kind of freedom that I can’t even begin to explain. As a member of We Are One, the pride I feel in being able to train so many others who want to learn dance is incredible. We forced people to look beyond our disability.

The journey of Husnain and his fellow coaches has been strewn with pitfalls.

Whether it’s missing their trains, having to travel multiple ways to get to their performance destination, or not being taken seriously and paid on time, these are just a few of the misfortunes that he shares. However, he adds: “When we see our audience standing up and applauding us, we seem to forget all the hardships we are going through. The language of dance is so powerful.

Her dream is to open We Are One centers in as many cities as possible. In conclusion, he says: “The more children who come to join us, the more joy we can spread.

If you want to contact Husnain, you can check their website here.

(Editing by Yoshita Rao)