We go behind the scenes with city's growing dance school ahead of annual showcase
Performers from the Sharmila School of Dance tap into the city’s growing love of the artform.Twerking – that latest hip-thrusting craze sweeping the globe – like cubism or cave paintings, should have its own chapter in the history of art. So believes dance teacher and entrepreneur, Sharmila Kamte.
Passionate about promoting the role of dance in the arts, Sharmila is bringing her company’s annual extravaganza to the city this month.
‘People had no respect for dance as a performance art when I first came to Dubai,’ she says. ‘Yes, there was investment in visual arts such as painting and there was always theatre, but people didn’t regard dance as an art form.’
This apparent disinterest only served to inspire the Delhi-born, classically trained dancer. ‘Back then I was teaching dance but there was nowhere for students to perform,’ she adds. ‘Parents were coming to classes to watch the dancing and that was the only chance to see it.’
That is how the first Sharmila Dance Extravaganza was born. Fourteen years later, the show is expected to attract more than 2,500 spectators and feature 220 performers and 23 dances during its run at Ductac next week.
The dances in the show, all of which have been choreographed by Sharmila herself, will this year feature more variety of musical and dance styles but also storytelling. Each of the 23 separate performances comes with its own theme, costume and in many cases, set design. One will be a homage to the visual arts with paintings coming to life to perform. There will be a barn dance, a video game tribute an interpretive journey through the seven sins and, intriguingly, a career retrospective of the many changing faces of Britney Spears. All told, of course, through the medium of dance.
‘Our first show was at the Jumeirah Beach Club. Right there on the sand. We eventually grew to the tennis courts and then to staged venues such as Ductac,’ explains Sharmila.
With each successive year, the scale of ambition, expectation and professionalism has grown. Tellingly, the Sharmila Dance Extravaganza is no longer chiefly a children’s event. Television shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and a chorus line of musical films are inspiring new people to turn up and register. Adults, professional performers and seasoned alumni of Sharmila’s school make up the numbers and the dedication and quality of students is a marked difference to the first time round.
‘The standard has risen dramatically in Dubai and this city can really dance now,’ says Sharmila. With many people using the rigorous training and numerous practice sessions as a workout, a new market is emerging – those looking to dance as a boot camp alternative. While Sharmila is happy to welcome all, the priority always has to be the dancing.
‘After seven minutes people want to be dancing at the highest level already. You have to practice to get to that level. Like any activity, physical or otherwise, you have to work at it. But in six months’ time you start to see the improvement and then people are really dancing well.’
There is a distinction between this professional level of performance and the moves you might drop in a nightclub. ‘We keep up with the latest styles. Something like classical ballet does not change much but a style such as hip-hop is constantly evolving,’ she enthuses.
Event: Sharmila Dance Extravaganza Venue: Centrepoint Theatre, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates (04 341 4777) When: Thursday April 24 (invitation only), April 25-26 Cost: Stalls Dhs185, balcony Dhs110