'I want to put Dubai on the dance map' says UAE's biggest dance YouTuber Nidhi Kumar

Somya Mehta /Dubai
somya@khaleejtimes.com Filed on October 14, 2021





UAE-based content creator on how being faithful to a career on social media opened up avenues she didn’t know ever existed

With new features, creative tools and ample opportunity for monetisation, the social media landscape has made rapid progress in recent years to provide creators with a suitable outlet to express themselves, while reaping rewards for their creative labour. Giving way to a dearth of different types of content, the audience reach that new-age digital formats, such as Instagram reels or YouTube shorts, are able to amass in a quick span of time, is incomparable. But has social media always been this glamorous career destination?

Almost five years ago, a young creator found herself navigating the uncharted territories of YouTube, quitting a stable job, to pursue a full-time career in content creation, through showcasing her dancing skills. Growing an organic following of hundreds of thousands of followers across all social media channels, Nidhi Kumar, amongst the UAE’s biggest dance YouTubers at present, chose a social media career on a whim. And at 26, checking one blue-tick at a time, the dance-fluencer stands to be the CEO of her very own dance studio and first-of-its-kind content creation space in the region.

In a conversation with wknd., the dancing sensation, who was also awarded the UAE’s Best Influencer on the Kris Fade Show, unravels her content creation journey, mapping the highs, the lows and powering through, with the one and only aim of putting Dubai on the dance map.

When did your passion for dance take root?

I started dancing at the age of four. My entire family dances. My father used to dance at family gatherings, like nobody was watching. Dance runs in my blood. Growing up, when kids would say they aspire to become doctors and engineers, I’d always say I wanted to become a dancer and an actor. There’s a running joke in my family that when I was born, the nurse told my parents, “your daughter has come into this world dancing”.

How did your dance career on social media take shape?

I got a job with a multinational corporation after my graduation but I left it within six months. Even while I was working, I was always thinking about choreography, about what I can create and when I can dance. I had also started my YouTube dance channel at the time. One of my first few videos, on the song Kaala Chashma, went viral on YouTube! I became known as the ‘Kaala Chasma’ girl. But with a full-time job, I just wasn’t able to dedicate enough time to dance. So, six months later I decided to leave my job and just see what happens next. My parents were very supportive and encouraged me to take that leap of faith. They apparently saw the passion within me, enough to trust me.

Is social media a stepping stone or the final destination?

Not anymore. My content creation on social media is everything for me now. It gives me all the opportunities I need, there’s no reason for me to venture elsewhere. All the major enquiries for ads, labels, brand shoots I’ve received so far, have all come from my social media presence. I’ve realised that Instagram is such a tremendous platform for budding creators. The platform has endless opportunities now. And we can have an even wider reach, in millions, compared to conventional platforms.

So, is the big screen overrated in today’s reels-obsessed world?

For me, social media is my big screen. I reach everywhere. I reach the masses, and I reach even remote places where sometimes movies can’t reach. When my reel goes viral, it reaches the remotest of villages. That is the power of social media. You can literally reach everywhere with your talent. And that’s why I feel like I want to stick to this space.

There’s this notion that the TikTok-genre of content dumbs down art and creativity…

I don’t agree with that. In fact, social media really pushes talent. We now get talent from all over the world. Especially from all over India, even the inaccessible places. We’re apparently called “social media dancers”. I’ve never professionally trained in dance. At times, professionally trained artists take a dig at social media dance trends, almost looking down on content creators. They say we are ruining dance for everyone, making 15-second trends and getting everybody to dance. But isn’t that great? The whole world comes together and does a dance trend, it’s such a uniting force! All respect to professional dancers because they’ve been training for 15-16 years. Training is absolutely important but we’re just trying to create a market for ourselves. And if somebody wants to promote the “true” dance culture, then they can come in and do that. We all could learn from them. I definitely feel like social media is pushing talent that cannot be seen elsewhere.

But there’s so much content, and what people refer to as “cringe content” out there...

Social media is all about consumption. You need to figure out what you want to consume and what to leave out. To manage their social media usage, some people use the ‘mute’ feature and filter their content. Obviously after a point, you can’t do much, since it’s an open platform. But I also believe we need to be more accepting of people because at the end of the day, everybody’s trying to make a living.

Do you feel like the hard work behind-the-scenes, of creating social media content, often goes unnoticed?

So, I recently created a transformation reel on Instagram, where it seems like you change your outfits by the second, it’s a trend. There was lighting setup, continuity-check, editing, the whole process. The lifetime of creating a video does not stop when you finish recording it. You need to plan your outfits, storyboard, make a script, then comes the actual production and post-production. You also need a marketing plan of when you’re going to upload it and promote the content on your channels.

So, it’s a full content cycle…

Easily. A 15-second reel with original content will most likely take three to four days in total, from pre-to post-production. Everybody thinks it’s an easy job because it looks very effortless. The most crucial thing is; we need to capture our audience in just those 15 seconds. We only have that much time to make an impression. In a feature film, you’ll get an hour or maybe two hours.

How much of this content-cycle are you a part of?

Everything. I feel like I know my audience more than anyone so I need to be involved in every step along the way, to take care of the subtleties. Obviously, I have my team and professional videographers and editors for my YouTube videos. But for the shorter formats like Instagram and TikTok, I like to do most of it myself.

Doesn’t that make you jack of all trades?

Content creators are very self-sufficient. If we’re on the go and we see something exciting, we can just set up our tripod and start shooting. And we can post it quickly, that is the advantage of short form content.

Social media can easily be all-consuming. Are there days when you feel like running away from the virtual world?

Up until this year, maybe about six months ago, I had zero balance. From the past three years, I’ve thrown myself into work, no break. Creating content every day, not worrying about my physical or mental health. Six months ago, I started having breakdowns. For the first time, I felt like I wanted to quit. It was horrible. I felt mentally fatigued and had creative blocks. I’m someone who puts out content every single day, not just once or twice a week. I put it out every day because I know my community, #NidhisFam, will bombard me with questions if I go missing for a day. Obviously, they don’t want to pressurise me, it’s only out of love. But because I receive so much love, I feel like I need to keep at it all the time, to give back.

At times, I get such personal messages from my online community, it completely breaks me if I’m not able to help. It puts too much pressure. I’m just 26 myself. I want to be there to help them but at times I don’t know how to. To an extent, it’s self-inflicted pressure. But I have learned over the past six months that it’s so important to find a balance in whatever you do. Taking breaks, being with your family, going out with your friends is the most important thing. It’ll fuel your creativity in ways you can’t imagine.

How has fostering your own social media community helped you?

Building a community is so important because if I don’t have that then who will engage with my content? Audience is king and I’m not just saying this because of the reach factor. It’s so incredible to have people backing my work and being genuinely invested in my journey. #NidhisFam is literally my family, they do so much for me. They treat me as their own and keep me going on my bad days.

You became CEO at 25, when you launched your own dance studio. How did NKD studios come about?

That was my biggest dream ever. And now it’s true. I’ve been financially independent with my social media career. So, everything I had up until this moment: emotionally, mentally and financially has gone into the creation of NKD studios. Within three months I worked it all out, from searching for places to sorting out the operations. It all stemmed from my burning desire to build a powerful dance culture in the UAE… to put Dubai on the dance map. To create a community of dancers that unconditionally support each other. That’s missing here. This has always been my vision ever since I started my YouTube channel, so I knew having my own dance studio will help me get closer to it.

I want all the dancers to come together and grow Dubai to a point where we can compete internationally. NKD studios is the first content creation-focused dance studio in the UAE. When I started out, there was very little knowledge on how to pursue a full-time career on social media. So, I want to push young creators and give them the direction I didn’t have.

And how will NKD studios aid content creation in the region?

People can just come by and have a chat with me. Budding creators can figure out ways to increase their reach, create original content for their platforms, and I’d be happy to collaborate with them. I’ll be there to give pointers and direct video shoots, to share my tried-and-tested methods. The studio has all the right backgrounds, lighting and equipment required for social media content creation. I remember when I used to go around Dubai wanting to shoot videos with a plain black wall, the struggle was real. There was no plain black background in the city. Shooting in front of a black background can really enhance the quality of your content, the colour of your outfit pops beautifully. So, I said to myself if I have a problem, only I will fix it. The infrastructure of the dance studio is designed specifically keeping social media content in mind. People can just come into the studio and shoot their content. My aim is to up the content creation game in the UAE and be at par, or better than everything we see around the world.

somya@khaleejtimes.com

Somya Mehta