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In step with the times
WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN Mohsin Ali and Huma Naz have wholeheartedly embraced dance
They took a flight from Karachi to Lahore. Then came from Lahore to Amritsar by bus, crossing the Indo-Pak border on foot. Then took a train from Amritsar to Delhi and flew down from Delhi to Bangalore. All for the love of dance. And because otherwise it would have cost them 65,000 Pakistani rupees to fly all the way!
Huma Naz, 29 and Mohsin Babar (Ali), 26 share a passion for dance that has taken root in a Pakistan that was beginning to open up once more to the performing arts around 10 years ago. From level zero, post the Zia-ul-Haq regime, dance is now establishing itself firmly in the lives of people, points out the gorgeous and chatty Huma. They dispel any notions we may have of our neighbours, and take us to a world of dance that we rarely get to hear about in the news. And yes, almost 90 per cent of their dance life is dominated by Bollywood music.
The wedding dance
The duo was in the city to perform at the Attakkalari India Biennial 2011 as part of the young choreographer's platform.
Huma talks of her shaukh for dance since childhood. “When I was 17, I told my family I wanted to take up dance seriously,” she says. Her mother encouraged her. Her father (who had separated from them) didn't approve, but said she could do what she wanted on her own. And so began her journey learning the “cultural folk dances” of Pakistan's various provinces. Huma even came to India to study dance at Delhi's Kathak Kendra.
Mohsin's window to the world of dance opened up when he was barely 10, at his sister's wedding, with Hindi film songs like “Subah subah jab khidki kholun…”. The dance group performing at her wedding saw the little boy dance and asked him to join in their performances.
Mohsin chose to study Kathak then under the tutelage of Shado Mahraj (contemporary of Birju Mahraj and from the same school of Kathak). When he started out giving performances, he would often come home late at night to a house whose doors wouldn't open. “I would carry my school uniform, change at a friend's place and go directly to school in the morning,” Mohsin gets misty-eyed. “I would walk about 25 kilometres to be able to learn dance and save pocket money to pay at least the accompanists.”
The Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) was the epicentre for Huma and Mohsin during their late teens. They learnt their folk dances there and also chanced upon their common Kathak guru Sheema Kermani, one of the only dancers who continued with her passion during the Zia regime.
Sheema was doing a Kathak ballet and both found roles in it. “We never really did any ‘course' in any dance,” clarifies Huma. “We've never paid any ‘fee' at any point in time to any guru. Whatever we have given, is a gift, out of love. We are learning for life.” Sheema is now training them in choreography, and the two have performed together for over seven years now, as part of the Sheema's NGO Tehrik-e-Niswan. Is Kathak perceived as an Indian dance form or does it defy nationalities? No, says Huma, “Kathak's background is linked to Muslim culture…it was something Bahadur Shah Zafar popularised in India.”
Both Huma and Mohsin insist that it was during Pervez Musharraf's rule that the arts, and dance in particular, saw the best of times. “I travelled to 14 countries in a five-year period giving performances,” says Mohsin. “We would be invited to give at least two performances a month at the President House and Prime Minister House for visiting cricketers, foreign delegations, ministers and diplomats,” adds Huma. “Even mullahs and their families come to see our performances…Of course dueto constant political upheaval, we expect objections at any time” she says candidly when asked about the kind of threats they face for embracing dance.
“People talk a lot but do nothing,” insists Mohsin. “We've never had any problems. We dress like this back home too,” he points out to their tees and tracks. Now they are often invited to teach dance, sometimes even classical dance, at schools. Mohsin even teaches garba and the Rajasthani jhoomar. “Sometimes when we select kids for a school performance, parents of those who get dropped, call us and ask us to take them in. They offer to pay us for separate classes,” says Mohsin. “Parents want an aesthetic and cultural upbringing for their kids,” adds Huma.
Huma goes on to say how street concerts do happen, how the Michael Jackson style of dancing is a huge rage, and how b-boying is catching on.
Both have tried their hand at choreographing for reality dance shows on TV. It was their performance “Dil Jaa Raha Hae”, which they choreographed for their guru's birthday and uploaded on YouTube that got them the invitation to Bangalore.
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