In Srinagar, a dancer adjusts his camera on the tripod, in one corner of the hall. Soon he gets joined by other dancers. When the music fills up the space, the dancers start grooving by following the same steps.
In Shaheed Ganj area of Srinagar, the Alive Academy of Music and Dance is a place for dance and music enthusiasts.
Nasir Wani, an independent dancer, started the academy initially for dance lovers in 2018 but soon it was closed due to the unfavorable conditions in the valley. In 2020, the academy was reopened for the music buffs as well.
His journey in the field of dancing started in 2008 when the admirers of dance were very less in the valley. A self-taught dancer got inspired by the king of pop, Micheal Jackson. Nasir has drawn some of the moves from his inspiration and decided to go with the stage name as MJ Nasir.
Due to the death of his father at a very early age, he had to take up all the responsibilities of his family and started doing meager jobs from working in a local tea-stall to selling music cassettes and CDs but his passion didn’t let him rest.
“After finishing my work, I used to go to one abandoned Pandit house and practice there. People called me mad but I was too passionate to pay any heed to what they were saying,” he said.
With no platform available, he started making videos and uploading on social networking site, Facebook. One of his dance videos was seen by Rayees Mohiddin, a famous Kashmiri comedian, and he got a chance to perform on stage.
Till now, Nasir has performed in more than 60 events in Srinagar as well as in different districts of Jammu and Kashmir and has also performed in some events outside Kashmir.
Recently, he has worked as a director and actor in a Kashmiri music video Zindagi. Based on the true story, the music video pictures the story of love and separation.
“The best thing is I am dancing to express my sadness and frustration. Most of the times, in videos, it is shown that when you are frustrated you do wrong things or do drugs. It’s better to make dance a drug and let a person indulge in the flow,” he added.
In the academy, he teaches dance and makes his students fulfill their dreams. “Some came here just for the passion while some wants to pursue dance as a career. Things have changed a lot. Nowadays parents want kids to get enrolled in dance and music academies,” he said.
Currently in the academy, there are 30 students for dance and 20 students for music. The academy has students of different ages and occupations. The youngest one is 6 years old.
For Nasir, the objective of opening a dance academy in Kashmir is to channelize the energy of youth.
He said, “It’s not a shame. Dance keeps you fit and energetic. The problems of society like drug menace cannot be solved by seminars and events. Unless you don’t give an alternative option to kids and youth, they will continue doing wrong things.”
As dancing is a form of exercise, he said that many people come and dance to stay fit and healthy.
“Dance has a connection with your health and mood. You remain active, maintain good health, and your bone joints become smooth. Also it makes your mood better. You remain calm and relaxed,” he said.
Nasir who is versatile in various dance forms from classical to contemporary said that his students are interested in learning various dance forms likelyrical hip hop, pure hip hop, contemporary, bolly funk, crumping and belly dance.
Faiq Fazilfrom Batamaloo has been associated with the dance for 2 years. Currently studying in 10th class, his dance moves are considered graceful and different.
“I dance to express what I feel. It relaxes me. Most of the people judge us for the skills we have but here, we are appreciated and our skills are honed so that we can be better dancers in future,” he said.
Another 22 years old dancer, Burhan knows many forms but is good at Belly dancing and contemporary forms of dance.
“For me, it’s all about passion. The youth of other states takes part in various activities. We should be at par with them. We should be multi-skilled too,” he said.
Nasir said, “We promote artists, train them and give them stage experience and also cast them in music videos. For different music or dance projects that are shot in Kashmir, our dancers are taken. For parties or events in colleges, we train the students.”
He said that some people still show reservation towards dance in Kashmir and don’t think it can be a source of earning money.
"Dance is not accepted by people because they think there is no scope in the field. If the dancers like Micheal Jackson and Remo D’souza would have thought this, they wouldn’t have been famous. It’s all about creating scope by pushing your limits so that people will approach you to work with them,” he said.
He further said that social media has helped him a lot in garnering support from people.
Believing that people of Kashmir have a knack of dancing but one needs to know the techniques and remember the steps as well.
“In Kashmir, many people don’t take care of the technical things. When I was the judge of the show- Big Koshur Talent Hunt in March 2021, I received a number of dance videos but there were no techniques or discipline. Unless one doesn’t practice a lot, choreography is difficult to remember,” he said.
His plan is to train more and more youth so that they don’t need to go outside to learn dance and spend a hefty amount there. “I want to work for the people of Kashmir, for the people who are around me. I want to train the youth here in Kashmir only so that they can represent Kashmir at all big levels,” he said.
“I am the first dancer who has made a dancing video on the street in Kashmir. In one place, I was also beaten up but I didn’t stop. I have broken stereotypes but with discipline.”