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Dance like a man

M.Edwin talks about how a radical change in his career was the best move he ever made. Divya Sridharan reports

Photos: K. Ananthan

It’s a double edged sword. Take a life-altering risk, and if it pays off you are considered brilliant, but if it doesn’t, you are forever branded a fool. The odds are also usually stacked against you. So much so, that it takes one with a big heart to chase a dream to its fullest. M.Edwin, Artistic Director of Footloose, a leading dance academy, is a fine example of a man who has converted a life-altering risk into a brilliant story.

Childhood was enjoyed in Chennai at Santhome High School, with dance maestros like Prabhu Deva walking down the same classroom aisles as Edwin. “I loved to dance even way back then. But I never won a single dance competition”, he recollects with a chuckle. And, although he continued as a dedicated student in class, Edwin didn’t forget his first love.

“My parents questioned my decision to quit a stable job and start something as adventurous as Footloose”, he continues. It began as a part-time occupation while Edwin worked as an engineer in Coimbatore. Five years hence, Footloose assumed primary importance in his life. And, there’s been no looking back.

Phenomenal growth

In 18 years, around 45,000 students have emerged from the portals of Footloose, Cha-cha-cha-ing their way into the real world. “When I started Footloose there weren’t any Western dance schools in Coimbatore. The city was more inclined towards Indian classical dance,” Edwin reminisces. And so it was imperative to gain as much expertise in the field as possible.

Gaining expertise

Edwin put himself through a Teacher’s Training course in Classical Ballet under the R.A.D. syllabus in Malaysia. “I also gained a certificate course in Latin American styles at the A&J Studio in Singapore”, he adds. Classical Ballet continues to influence his choreography. And, besides Contemporary and Latin American styles, Edwin enjoys working on Hawaiian and Village Folk dance.

He also carries the gene that runs through the veins of every systematic engineer. With tremendous pride, Edwin leads you through his ‘R&D Cell’ where the family of Footloose labour for hours to create the props used on stage. Edwin has also organised Footloose with precision. His is an umbrella organisation, which brings within its fold both the Dance School and the Dance Company. The latter draws the creative energies of those who have gained professional competence via the Dance School. And, besides Coimbatore, Footloose has branches in Salem, Dubai and Sharjah.

The Dance Company has taken close to 4,500 shows to over 10 countries. These professional artists are anywhere between ages six and above. “We try and give everyone the opportunity to perform on a wider platform. And, exposure has been given in countries like Dubai, France, Malaysia and Singapore,” he reveals.

Team-work

The latest was at the Global Village function held at the Dubai Shopping Festival, where Edwin’s Footloose represented India. Many of these artists move on to become assistant choreographers at Footloose or open dance schools of their own. “And, although I am the creative head of Footloose, in the end it is all team-work. I receive tremendous input from everyone, be it my assistant choreographers, or the students themselves,” he repeats, more than once.

Accomplished students

His students have also bagged prizes at national-level dance contests. The winning streak began in 2001 with Thilana Thilana on Sun TV. Daya, another contest on the same channel, was won the following year. And, the more recent accomplishment was that of Michael Thangadurai who was the winner in Jodi.No1, a show aired on Vijay TV.

While Edwin takes pride in the accomplishments of all his students, he also believes that there ought to be no discrimination. “It doesn’t matter if a member of Footloose comes from the lower economic strata. It also doesn’t matter if they are differently abled. Besides, I think that an education in dance can help those who seek an alternative career, especially if they are weak in their academic curriculum at school”, he states.

For further growth

For him, the autonomous respect that he gains from Footloose is irreplaceable. “I will also never forget the manner in which this city has brought me fame. It’s time to give back”. Ask him how, and the reply is instantaneous. “I plan to introduce street plays that deal with socially relevant issues such as AIDS in our colleges. This, by collaborating with the educational institutions in the city”.

Edwin also plans to start a play school.

“Child psychology is something that I have had to learn, since some of our students start at the tender age of 4. And, we only formally enrol these children once we’ve established that they are comfortable at Footloose”.

Diversification, as Edwin states, is the only key for further growth. And, it also brings home the fact that this brilliant story has come no where close to its final chapter.

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