Why dance matters to Sharmila Kamte
The Dubai-based artist on the evolution of the dance scene in Dubai.
Sharmila Kamte is not an unfamiliar name in the dance world. Her choreography has graced stages around the world. Trained in classical ballet, Sharmila knew her heart was set on dance since a young age. She says she was very lucky because her parents were very supportive since the beginning. Her mother always knew how talented she was but her father was a little hesitant in the beginning. "My father asked my mother, 'How good is she? Because you're making me spend a lot of money to send her to England to train. How do we know she is that good?'" said Sharmila when City Times met up with her recently. Dance guru Shiamak Davar's mother was her father's neighbour at the time and she was taken to him to see whether she really had what it takes to make it as a dancer. She explains, "My father got him (Shiamak Davar) to take me to his studio and actually see if I was talented. He came back and said 'It would be a crime if she wasn't sent to a dance college.' He had convinced my father."
Sharmila's Dance classes, which used to be held in DUCTAC, were in full swing when it was announced that the arts house was going to shut down. According to her, it was such a shame because it was a place where the young, the old, the musical, everyone could get together and do what they are passionate about. She says, "It was a big shock to me because I didn't see it coming, especially having been there for 12 years. I was notified on the same day that the public was told." Nevertheless, she did foresee a risk. "If you don't own your own place then there is the risk that the owner can decide what he wants to do and you have no power. You've got to pick your socks up and get out there and do what I did. The moment I heard the news, the next day I was out looking for buildings."
Getting your own place to practice something you love is a dream come true. That dream, however, involves a lot of hard work. "It was always my dream to open my own place but I got comfortable and so what happened with DUCTAC gave me the push that I needed. When I decided to do it, I wanted to do it right because that is my nature. I decided to not have just one studio like in DUCTAC but to have three and to allow other teachers who are more versatile in different styles that I don't touch to be able to share their talent. So, it was a massive endeavour, it was difficult - right from the permissions to everything. It was a lot of stress. I feel like I've aged 10 years. Nothing comes easy in life. No one knows that better than a dancer. It was a lot of work and I am a perfectionist," says Sharmila whose new venture Sharmila Dance Center is located in Al Attar Business Centre, Al Barsha.
When she first opened her institute, it took time to make people understand that dance was not a shameful art form.
"They thought of it as something not suitable for girls from respectable homes to be doing. It was enjoyable to showcase dance as an art form. I made them understand that it is beautiful and it is not just dance but a sport and an art."
Among the artists she admires are Madonna, Beyonce and J-Lo for their dancing. She loves dancing to Michael Jackson, Beyonce's old music, Motown classics like Marvin Gaye, and Bollywood songs.
Although Sharmila has been trained classically and has a lot of respect for classical dance, she leans towards lyrical contemporary and jazz.
'Social media has got its pros and cons'
When it comes to dance, Sharmila admits that the media has given the art form a major boost. She feels dance shows have brought dance to the public and have allowed countries from all over the world to really catch on. What irks her, though, are the dance movies. "The movies are all the same. It actually kind of annoys me because they don't really tell the struggles of a dancer. The storyline is terrible but the dancing is phenomenal. It opens our eyes and educates all of us. The dancing that comes out from the United States is just another level. It is THE place."
When asked about social media, she says she has mixed feelings especially since she is from the older generation, but moving with the times is important. She says that a lot of people can learn from dance videos on YouTube especially in places where it is difficult to find dance institutes or classes.
"It is crazy- the talent you can get out of a person who has never even been to class but has watched YouTube dance videos. So, it's wonderful even for me. I stay up to date by watching and studying these videos," says Sharmila. She also talks about the downside of social media.
"A lot of people say 'oh, I want to do that!' and it's a video where they are filming in a huge studio around the world and the choreographer is famous. That's what these little kids want to do but dancing in a class doesn't earn you money. What earns you money is going on tours and getting a job. Its got its pros and cons but it has definitely got more pros than cons if you use it wisely."
When asked whether some of her younger students come for classes because they are being forced by their parents, she says that she is one of the rare schools where you pay per lesson. She believes that if you don't want to come, you don't have to come.
"That's why I don't keep terms even though some other teachers prefer doing that and that's their choice. I always believed that terms make a child come in even when they don't want to because parents have paid for an entire term. My method has worked beautifully and I suppose that's because they actually want to learn. One thing I take pride in is making others love what I do," says Sharmila.
Dubai-raised Saudi Arabian actress, Dina Shihabi, stars in Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan but what many don't know is that she first started her career in the performance arts, training under Sharmila.
"I feel so happy for her," Sharmila tells us. "No one knows how difficult it is to make it in this business. It is cutthroat. Dina was a little girl with me and she was very determined and fiery. It was about 15-18 years ago that she started dancing. She is a powerhouse and is so bright. She was always talented. She wanted to be a dancer but then she fell in love with acting. She still dances though, so if tomorrow there's a movie where they need someone who can act and dance, she can still do that. When I saw her on the big screen at a theatre in India, I was so delighted."
Anamika Prem Kumar