All the world’s a stage
Braving social scepticism and rising above financial constraints, these dance groups from the bylanes of Mumbai are taking stages across the world by storm
Call it mayanagri, the city of dreams or Mumbai – the charm of India’s entertainment capital does not fade. Every day, hundreds of aspiring artistes, with big hopes of making it to the limelight, arrive in the city to pursue their dreams. While it harbours the ambitions of thousands, it is the proud home of a few dance groups – big and small – which have not only garnered international adulation, titles and accolades but have also carved a niche for India on the global dance stage. Take Kings United for example. Popularly known as ‘The Kings’, the hip-hop group, led by its founder Suresh Mukund, first tasted success when it went home with the Boogie Woogie (an Indian dance reality show) trophy in 2009. And that was just the beginning. In the years that followed they clinched first positions in such shows as Enter-tainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega (2010) and India’s Got Talent (2011). They hit the proverbial nail in the coffin when they beat some of the world’s best contemporary dance crews to win the third season of the American reality show World of Dance in 2019.
But the success story of this dance group that Mukund co-founded with Parth Vyas has been anything but a bed of roses. The troupe members faced not only scepticism about their ambitions but had to work their way through financial constraints as well. “Dance was the only source of escape for many members of our group who hailed from not so financially well-to-do families. We did shows and the stipends we got helped us serve our families,” says Mukund. For Kings United, life has completely changed post international success. “It has opened to us innumerable opportunities, and we are constantly travelling for multiple events in different countries. We just did our first international workshops across the US and are planning to tour Canada and Europe soon. We recently did our first international movie shoot in The Philippines too. This is just the start; we have a long way to go,” says Mukund whose journey inspired Bollywood dancer-choreographer Remo D’Souza’s movie Any Body Can Dance in 2015. And the latest feather on Mukund’s cap? A nomination for an Emmy in the ‘Choreography for Variety or Reality Program’ category!
Mukund and his passionate group of dancers are not the only ones who braved adversities to kiss success. B.E.A.ST (Born Ethical Abilities on Streets) Mode Crew cuts a close second. From b-boying and house to dougie, and from popping and locking to litefeet, and then some – there are very few ‘street dances’ that this talented bunch do not hold expertise in. The factors that led to the formation of B.E.A.ST Mode in 2013 is an interesting story, much like its journey so far. “We [dancers Ninja, Mik 62 and Sonic] were returning to Mumbai from Bengaluru when we got robbed of all our belongings. We survived thanks to each other’s company and somehow made it home. We realised then that if we could make it through this situation together, we can make it through anything. And that led to the formation of this crew that boasts not just b-boys but also b-girls, hip-hop and street dancers,” says Sonic from the group. However, the road ahead was long and riddled with uncertainties but nothing deterred the team’s pursuit of perfection. “We did not have a studio, so we did rehearsals outside a shop in Nagardas Road in Andheri East. The shop closed at 8 pm, and by 8.30 pm we would come together and start rehearsing. We braved several challenges in the form of heavy rains, neighbours who objected, and more,” adds Sonic.
But as they say, ‘pursue something with unflinching passion and it will take you heights you never imagined you’d be able to scale’ – this crew has not only carved a name for themselves in the domestic and international dance circuit but also holds a Limca record in b-boying! But the event that cemented the members’ talent and expertise was the Keep on Dancing (KOD) Street Dance World Cup title, that they brought home in 2017. For the initiated, KOD is to street dance and hip-hop, what the World Cup is to cricket. B.E.A.ST Mode not only won the India qualifiers of this world-renowned competition that began in Beijing in 2004, but went on to represent the country in the competition finals in South Korea and further on to win it too! In fact, in 2020, they are participating as the defending champions.
Salsa duo Elvis Mascarenhas and Namrata Wittke are not far behind either. In 2018, they travelled from the lanes of Mumbai all the way to Miami, the US, to represent India at the World Salsa Summit. The trip cost them approximately INR 8 lakhs but they didn’t think twice before pooling in everything they had. In fact, Namrata, who quit her job as a television producer to pursue her passion for dance, broke her fixed deposits and dipped into her other savings to get there. Elvis, too, spent the last of his savings to fund his ticket to New York. And their hard work and sacrifice bore fruit. While Elvis bagged a gold in the solo men’s category called Rising Star, Namrata became the second runner-up in the freestyle category. “Finance was one of the major struggles. Travelling to represent the country with your own money is not easy. Dance as a career, is not consistent in India. We have to spend money in training and there isn’t much support in the form of sponsorships either. But travelling to an international stage, solely on the wings of dance is something that every dancer aspired to do. It is quite humbling to be recognised globally and to have my style appreciated,” says Elvis, who is inspired by the likes of Prabhu Deva, Michael Jackson and Tight Eyez, among others