My first story is about dance and of a boy who performs ballet. This story drew me to itself as it took me back to my own childhood, my love for dancing and how I slowly internalized that dancing is not for boys.
I grew up in an environment where there was a limit to how far boys could dance. I always felt that, when it came to boys, the message on dancing was loud and clear — “It’s okay during social gatherings but don’t develop a passion for it”. I used to dance on stage at school events and deeply enjoyed it but slowly the teasing and lack of support that followed got to me and caused me to give it up. The messaging was clear, it’s a frivolous activity so don’t try to build a passion for it or pursue it seriously.
I think of dance primarily as an expression of emotion and I feel that our culture rarely makes room for men to talk about their own. Where I was growing up, many boys who dared to pursue dance were either discouraged from it or bullied out of it. The more delicate the dance form, the harder it gets for boys to pursue it. So you can imagine the near impossibility of a boy pursuing ballet, a performance dance form known for softness and a delicate aura.
This is the story of Manish Chauhan, a 24-year-old ballet dancer. He is the son of a taxi driver. His journey from the dusty streets of Mumbai to an international stage where he shines as a ballet dancer is the classic underdog story, and I certainly enjoyed it for expanding my viewpoint on this topic.
Tentative first steps
Manish never thought of dancing as his passion. Growing up and while in school, he thought dancing was for girls - a common stereotype most of us are made to believe. He tried to escape dancing whenever he could. He would prefer hiding in the toilet to avoid participation (when he had to dance).
However, destiny has it own way often.
As all boys get into dancing, Manish also got lured by the power moves. Backflips, head spins were cool moves and he did them so well that people noticed. He was so good that people recommended him to take dance classes. Being in Mumbai, Manish had access to learn dancing professionally but he was aware that it’s a privileged affair and he would have to fight many battles at home if wished to join a ballet academy.His masterstroke here was to acknowledge his skills and bet on himself, as he collected money and gifted himself a spot at a dance academy on his birthday.
After all, We make our own destiny.
From novice to an international ballerino
His journey into professional ballet picked up at the academy, as two years of unwavering passion won his trainer’s heart and a recommendation to pursue it further. He went to train at the prestigious Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) in the United States and has not looked back since. Fame came along eventually, and his story was discovered by Bollywood first in a documentary in 2017 and then in the dramatised movie Yeh Ballet in 2020.
Manish’s tale is riveting because being a male ballet dancer is as odd as it gets, not just in India but, all over the world. Ballet is considered sissy and the boys who practice it are considered weak. The truth is that ballet is an extremely physically demanding art form that requires immense strength to look effortless. Whoever is practising it, regardless of gender, is anything but weak.
I was raised to believe that being a boy is about hiding emotions, be it joy or sorrow. It’s an old and unnecessary belief that needs to be done away with and dance is an excellent medium for showcasing your emotions.
If you have come this far and enjoyed reading this story, I leave you with a movie recommendation to watch: Billy Elliot