Dancing is an art. Apart from having flexibility, one needs a certain skill to be a professional in this field. Social Diary sat with one of the leading dancers of our country to know everything about him! Here’s an exclusive one with Wahab Shah!
Where did you learn to dance?
I learnt dance from Sydney Dance Center initially but that is not the only one place that I learnt dance from. Actually, I attended a lot of workshops, a lot of seminars, and went to a lot of different schools for learning different dance forms. So I went to Belgium Dance Festival, I’ve also learned dance in Mango Dance Studio in Australia. And then, besides that I’ve done workshops all over the world, like in Spain, UK, and whatever I could get my hands on. I did my Certificate 3 which is equivalent to Bachelors in performing Arts from TAFE College, Australia. That’s what I did initially as a professional. My dance mentor was Tifanny Morhed. She was a contemporary dancer. She used to teach dance in TAFE. She inspired me to dance and other than her, my father was a great influence and I had a few friends. Michael, who encouraged me a lot, and Jordan, who was a journalist as well as a fashion designer also was a great influencer in my life. There were a lot of friends who really supported me. My dance partner, Shabnam, inspired me as well and helped me put my dance company together and she was actually the backbone of the company. So these are the people who really inspired me and I learnt to dance through my association with them.
What was the reaction of your family? Did they support you?
Yes, my family supported me. I was a little immature back in my young days and I did not know what I was doing. I would attend parties and I used to be up to mischief as well. So when I told my parents they were taken aback and initially they didn’t take me seriously and also there was a bit of retaliation from them but nothing too serious. My father gave me and brothers and sisters a platform and told us to do whatever we want to do but always encouraged us to be honest with him and did impose some time restrictions on us. Other than that he has given me massive support and my stepmother also encouraged me to follow my dream.
What challenges have you faced as a man in a society like Pakistan?
I have never paid any attention to how male dancing is viewed over here. If someone even says something like calling me a Baji, I have not allowed it to become a barrier for me. My costumes are generally very flamboyant and feminine. I have worn heals as well. I always embraced such remarks as his or her opinion but never allowed them to affect me. I have invested so much in my work that it honestly does not matter.
What is the difference between classical dance and modern dance? Which one do you prefer and why?
A classical dancer who comes from a discipline like the Kathak or a Ballet are trained to move their bodies in a certain way due to hand me down rules to tell stories in a certain way. On the other hand, modern day dancing like contemporary to Hiphop are constantly evolving and are really fluid. I prefer modern day dancing because it does not have boundaries. You can do without adhering to a certain kind of movement. I feel that nothing in life is ever constant so why not be experimental and flamboyant to tell stories in a unique manner.
How has dance evolved over the years in Pakistan?
Evolution of dance is quite slow in Pakistan. There have not been a lot of dance institutions so people are mostly self-driven. Societies flourish and dance flourishes with the societies. Dance is all about celebration and artistry. Over all society in Pakistan has suffered from a lot of oppression. Even then, in my opinion Naheed Siddiqui, Sheema Kirmani, phenomenal Nighat Choudhry, Indu Mitha, Papu Samrat, Sohoy, Hassan Rizvi have done a lot of contribution for dance in Pakistan.
What about the views of the new generation regarding dancing as a profession in Pakistan?
I am all for it. I am a dancer and remain one till the end. I encourage everyone to speak the truth with their parents and the society. I believe that has to make One self so strong with hardwork that he or she is accepted as a pro. Your truth should speak for itself.
How can you help in the revival of dance as a profession in Pakistan?
I am trying to bring awareness about what dance can do. When I came from Australia I focused on developing a special dance style and I believe that my Sufi dance that I have been able to take all over the globe to 22 countries has actually been instrumental to achieve that. I have attempted to preserve our culture in the way I dress, and since a lot of young people come to learn dance in my studio so I feel that I have tried to positively encourage dance through providing a platform.
Has the political situation of Pakistan impacted your work? If so, how?
Yes, it has been a source of hindrance when a government official cancels the dance event on one pretext or the other. Also political turmoils like Dharnas and protests first of all affect art activities. But having said that, I have performed in front of politicians and senior government officials as a Sufi dancer, and a choreographer. I am honoured to have performed in front of Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Ex PM, Nawaz Sharif, the president of China, The Prime Minister of Turkey, and the German Chancellor. So as an artist, I have been given respect and have a stature so for me its been a great journey.
What is the importance of dance in Pakistani culture today?
Dance is an integral part of our culture. The color palette varies from one area to the other. From the Mohajirs in Karachi to rural Sindh and then within Sindh there are different sections like the Hindu cultural dance moving on to Seraiki cultural moorings and then the Punjabi belt starts and then the Hazaras leading on to the Baloch and the Pukhtoons stories are woven around the harvesting seasons, the culture that surrounds the dance done at the birth of a child, and like the embroideries done on different fabrics by women of different areas, the joys and sorrows of the people of Pakistan are depicted through different dance forms all over the country.
If you could go back in time and change things in your career, what would you do differently? Any future projects/goals we should keep a look out for?
I am so happy because I have done whatever I wanted to do. I don’t want to change anything by going back in time. I have met a lot of amazing people. I am very happy with my achievements except that I would like to grow ten years younger!!! I am working with the British Council on a art project, I have an international tour to undertake which I will be going on once the Corona pandemic is over. I am going to also host a program on television. I have done three films as a choreographer. I want to create a film around dance too. I want to open a studio in London to represent my work and give back to Pakistan through linking it with the community over here.
Words of wisdom for aspiring dancers?
Well I am not so old that I can actually give advice but still I would like to say that if something touched your heart you should certainly pay attention to that piece of advice and work on it before it is too late.