Young Indians dance their way to fame and fortune

by AFP/Shail Kumar Singh, Nov 13, 2009 | Destinations: India / Mumbai

Mumbai - Dancing has always been a part of Bollywood, often with huge casts performing set-piece numbers as the glamorous hero and heroine lip-synch love songs in improbable locations.

But improved production values and an explosion in television dance shows in recent years have promoted dance from a second-best bit part to a viable -- and potentially lucrative -- career for aspiring young performers.

In a sign of the demand, newspaper classified sections on any given day are filled with advertisements offering tuition to would-be dancers, and with it hopes of a starring role on the small or big screen.

Jeetendra B. Singh ditched his job in the shipping industry to follow his heart rather than travel the world.

"I was just fed up with shipping, so, I gave up and decided to do dancing, which was always my passion since childhood," he said.

At 30, Singh has no regrets and now commands 4,000 rupees (84 dollars) a day to dance in shows.

"Five years back the money was not good. Sometimes I danced for 150 rupees a day, but today dancers are well-paid and the perception in Indian society has changed and they are willing to pay more for dancers."

Dancing as an art form has a long tradition in India, from ancient classical styles performed in Hindu temples, the courts of Mughal emperors and princely states, to regional folk interpretations.

Bollywood numbers were traditionally modelled on classical dance but have recently imported moves and music from Western pop videos -- often with foreign dancers and increasingly suggestive choreography

The profession has struggled to shake off its poor reputation among respectable families.

Singh said his family was "very hurt" when he told them his plan.

"My father is a school principal and he felt that I was wasting my life," he said.

But he added: "I appeared on the dance reality show "Nach Baliye" ("Dance Girl") as one of the choreographers and became famous. Now, I am a well-respected dance professional in my locality and also with my family."

Singh has choreographed cheerleaders of the Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings XI in the big money Indian Premier League cricket competition.

"I have many assignments and am constantly busy," he added.

Remo D'Souza has a similar story.

"In 1992, when I came to Mumbai after telling my father that I wanted to be a dancer, he told me I had gone nuts," he said.

"My father was in the Indian Air Force and my family was from a defence background. They just could not believe that one of their family members could be a dancer. They discouraged me but I was adamant."

D'Souza, in his mid-30s, persuaded his father that he would return to Jamnagar in western Gujarat state within three months if he failed.

"I gave dance tuition to children and also did odd jobs to survive in Mumbai. Finally, I got a part in a film -- "Rangeela" ("Colourful") -- in which I was one of the dancers. That changed everything for me. I never looked back," he said.

D'Souza is amazed at the recognition dancing now has in India -- and the money involved.

"There are immense opportunities. One of my dance students won the reality competition "Dance India Dance", which had a prize of 50 lakhs (five million rupees).

"Who will give you this kind of money in one go if you toil in an office from nine to five? In Bollywood, if you are an established dancer you can command a price of 25 lakh for one dance.

"Today, I say I earn more than a bank manager. When I look back I feel happy that I took the decision to pursue my passion rather than joining the Indian Air Force. I wasn't cut out for that."

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