When a teenager Kamal Singh caught the Bollywood movie Any body can dance in 2016, he was mesmerized and a little puzzled. Growing up in a traditional Sikh household where dancing automatically meant engaging in exuberant bhangra moves, Singh was surprised but drawn to the fluid elegance of the ballet he saw on the big screen. “It was unlike anything I had seen before,” he told VICE over the phone from New Delhi. “Until then, I had never really been interested in dance. I was just this very athletic kid who used to run and jump a lot.
Now, however, 20-year-old Singh is heading to London’s prestigious English National Ballet School, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised enough money for Singh to pursue his ballet dream, considered unconventional in his community. The son of a rickshaw driver in New Delhi, Singh not only battled the social stigma that comes with being a male ballet dancer, but also economic obstacles. Ballet itself is an expensive passion to pursue, with high training and equipment costs that make it less diverse and inclusive than many other dance forms. For someone from less privileged backgrounds, this therefore remains inaccessible. “It was after exhausting a few options that we decided to approach the Ketto crowdfunding platform for fundraising, on the advice of a fellow ballerina from my dance institute,” says Singh. Fundraisingwhich Singh launched on September 1, hit his target 45 days before the deadline, just in time for his departure for the UK tomorrow.
Singh’s story sounds like something just out of Netflix’s February release Yeah Ballet, a story based on two teenagers from lower-income backgrounds trying to make it big while pursuing their dance dreams. In this case, Singh’s foray into this world began when he reunited with the headmaster of a ballet school in New Delhi, Fernando Aguilera, who played the role of choreographer in the film that introduced him to ballet. ballet. He enrolled in one of Aguilera’s classes and felt an unexpected connection to dance. “On the first day, we started by doing barre exercises with classical piano music,” says Singh. “Honestly, classical music bored me because it wasn’t something I was used to listening to. But slowly I started feeling the music and my body started moving automatically.
At 17, Singh was considered a late beginner in ballet. But his agility, modeled not only by bhangra dancing but also by his penchant for athleticism, helped him learn ballet techniques with ease. “From day one, I knew there was something special about this boy,” Aguilera raves about Singh – or Noddy, as those close to him call him. “I put him in a beginner adult class because he didn’t know the dance form, but he showed his flexibility and his skills absolutely amazed me. Although he didn’t have the right technique because he lacked practice, he was practically flying around the room. And as he kept coming to class, I knew he had it in him to turn professional.
Singh was a devoted student, but his family couldn’t afford his classes, other than initially not understanding why he wanted to take them in the first place. But Aguilera succeeded, offering the young dancer a scholarship.
In just a few years of training, in 2019 Singh had the opportunity to participate in the summer program of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg. After a summer of intensive training funded by his dance school in Delhi, he landed the competitive position of principal dancer – and gave a solo performance – at the program’s closing gala.
He also had another opportunity to return to the prestigious academy the following year, but 2020 has arrived. “This year, I not only had to miss the course abroad, but even the practice was difficult because of the lockdowns,” Singh says. “I live 25 kilometers from the dance studio. There was no way for me to travel all the way, so I was apprehensive as I didn’t want to interrupt my training for so long after coming so far.
Aguilera returned once more, opening his home to his talented pupil. “I don’t just teach him ballet,” says the teacher who also accompanied Singh to Russia for his class last year. “I also teach him to talk, to walk, to sit and to exist as a ballet dancer.”
A few months ago, the young student decided to go further and apply for professional courses. The process, however, was far from smooth, with many schools not even responding to him. “And then one day, very unexpectedly, we woke up to see this offer letter from the English National Ballet School,” says Singh, his voice tinged with happiness and pride. Aguilera adds, “We were also surprised because they usually choose stereotypical tall, blond, blue-eyed and white-eyed dancers. But something about Kamal must have had them.
This training program is of exceptional importance in Singh’s career. This is the last level of training he must complete before becoming a professional dancer, which he aims to be as soon as he finishes his studies. One of 10 students selected worldwide, Singh knew this was what he needed to foray into the professional world of ballet where he could earn a living doing what he had discovered there. barely four years old.
But the one-year course came with a hefty price tag. With fees rising to £8,000 (around Rs 7.5 lakhs), not excluding the huge living costs that come with living in one of London’s wealthiest areas, Singh knew he had to look for money elsewhere.
Thanks to Ketto, Singh set an initial target of Rs 15 lakh (around $20,000) – and was again stunned when the target was reached within two weeks. The icing on the cake, he says, was Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan’s production house, which offered Rs 3 lakh (about $4,000) to help fund Singh’s dreams. “Honestly all the support has been amazing. I think it’s a source of inspiration not only for me, but for all the young dancers in my milieu who want to succeed in a field like this. With 226 backers for his crowdfunding campaign at the time of writing, Singh has now increased his goal to Rs 25 lakh (about $34,000) to ease his journey.
Although this is the end of the story for us, for Singh it is only the beginning. “My parents, like all Indian parents, wanted me to get a conventional job as an engineer or a doctor, and settle down,” Singh says. “Being a dancer is risky. But now they couldn’t be happier to see their son move forward and pursue his dream of representing India and the Sikh community on the world ballet stage.
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