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Wahab Shah: So you think you can dance?

LAHORE: Wahab Shah is no new name in Pakistan. In the last five years, he has carved a niche for himself as one of the best performers and choreographers on the contemporary dance scene. And now, in his latest attempt to revive the dying culture and appreciation for the art of dancing, Shah has opened a dance studio with the hope of creating “the first professional dance troupe in Pakistan”.

While talking about the difficulties of surviving in such a profession in the current times, he says; “It’s actually very tough and saturated in terms of the market. Lahore is like a ghost town because there really isn’t a major industry off which the side industries can thrive. You know, the film industry is dead, so parallel industries have to struggle to survive and flourish.”

Apart from the slumped state of the industry, Shah, who previously coordinated seasonal dance workshops before the launch of his studio, has also had to fight the stigma attached to ‘dancing’ in Pakistan. “There is a certain mentality towards dance, which associates it simply with mujra. But we’re trying to break and bifurcate that mentality by proving that dance is not necessarily vulgar.”

Shah, 28, grew up in Australia where he was professionally trained in the field of performing arts; studying acting at Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Australia followed by receiving professional training at the Mango Dance Studio in Sydney, Hands Heart Feet dance company, Dance Central and Sydney Dance Centre. Eventually, his experience led to the creation of Eastern Flavaz Dance Company in 2003 which saw him choreographing and performing alongside artists of global fame including the Oscar winner AR Rehman and singer Sonu Nigam.

In 2006, Shah moved to Pakistan, a decision he says he made in spur of the moment. Not wasting much time, he started by signing on with Rafi Peer theatre group and by now he has an impressive portfolio which boasts of various high-profile performances.

Crossing borders
Shah’s goal is very simple: to put together the first professional dance troupe of international standard in Pakistan. Thus far the troupe, Wahab Shah Dance Company, has performed at the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC) fashion show and received a decent response. “I noticed that most of the choreographers here were constantly complaining that the government should do something, but my question has always been: ‘what is your contribution to making it right’,” says Shah. “I am certain that the steps I am taking to formulate this dance company will go places. Since there is not any dance competitions happening in Pakistan, we will focus on representing the nation internationally.”

Behind the scenes
While talking about how a dance troupe is formed, Shah explains that it’s a specially designed team which includes two boys and two girls. The troupe trains every alternate day for five hours plus one hour gym routine. Also, grooming remains an essential part of the acts.

Apart from that, Shah’s studio is popular among those who are interested in learning dance for weddings or other events. Currently holding three sessions a week, the studio offers salsa, Bollywood and hip-hop classes for people who want to learn dance as a hobby. “This is my haven where I get to unleash myself,” says the choreographer.