UAE: This father-son duo defied stereotypes to become top dancers

UAE-based father-son duo Rahul and Bharat Gupta are pushing the boundaries of dance, one step at a time


Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Wed 10 Apr 2024, 7:03 PM

Last updated: Fri 12 Apr 2024, 10:06 AM

We live in a world where everything is gendered. Societies have defined roles for men as well as women. And every once in a while when either tries to enter the role assigned to the other, eyebrows are raised, you are considered a less-than-perfect specimen of your gender.

Rahul Gupta was only four years old when he found himself drawn to freestyle and folk dances, watching them often on television and stage first in Ambala and then in Kolkata — two Indian cities known for their affinity towards arts and culture. It isn’t so uncommon given the dramatic elements these dance forms have to offer. It also helped that his mother herself had once aspired to become a classical dancer.

Eventually the mother-son duo bonded over dance — discussion on how certain difficult steps were achieved and what went into the choreography became a common talking point in the Gupta household.

But things took a different turn altogether when, at 17, Rahul told his family that he wanted to become a professional dancer. As long as dance had been a hobby, one of the many things Rahul was interested in, it had been alright. But in taking up dancing as a fulltime career he had deviated from the rulebook drawn for him.

And yet, as he recalls, in dance he found a way to express himself freely. “The prospect of communicating through facial expressions without using language allowed me to express myself authentically,” he says. “Dance conveys a wide range of emotions, stories and ideas through movements, gestures and this makes it a unique form of expression.” While his immediate family supported his decision, relatives ridiculed the idea, dismissing it as a career option not viable for a bright young man.

Rahul remembered the criticism as much as he remembered the support. A reason why when he became a father himself in 2010, he promised himself that he would let his son find his calling in life — a calling that, unsurprisingly, turned out to be dance, given that both Rahul and his wife Seema are professional dancers.

Today, Rahul Gupta works as a dance teacher and choreographer at The Millenium School in Dubai, and his 13-year-old son Bharat has become something of a child prodigy in the world of dance, having won the prestigious Balshri Award by the Government of Haryana and the best child dancer award by International Film Festival of Australia (IFFA).

In the UAE, the father-son duo has been part of a number of performances. From Indian classical and folk dances to salsa, hip hop and stick dance of the Middle East, the duo have left audiences spellbound with their graceful movements and storytelling. “Ordinarily, Indian classical dances have a story running through them. But in my choreography for even Arabian dances, I try to tell a story. I remember for one of my 90-minute dance dramas, which even Bharat was part of, we told the story of Aladin through fire dance, gypsy dance, stick dance, Egyptian dance and contemporary hip hop,” says Rahul. “While Indian classical dance and Arabian dance may differ in their cultural contexts and styles, both share a deep-rooted connection to tradition, storytelling and the expression of human experience through movement and music.”

Bharat, who is in ninth grade, says juggling between dance and academics is somewhat of a challenge, but “my genuine interest in dance makes it easier for me to balance both”. “Time management is key to growth in both these areas of my life,” he says. Rahul adds that at times he does feel his peers mock him for his choice of hobby, but “due to my achievements and dedication, I have managed to earn my peers’ respect”

As a team, Rahul and Bharat have certain rules about performing together. “Eye contact with your audience is crucial to hold their interest and captivate them. While performing, our expressions and the way of storytelling develops a connect between the dancer and the viewer. Since no words are used, we keep the choreography so simple and neat that transcends all language barriers,” says Rahul, with Bharat adding, “The choice of music and its relatability also plays an important role in engaging people while performing.”

The duo says they put in a lot of hard work in practising the steps. “Bharat being my student as well as my son, we have a very good understanding on and off the stage. Over the years, our shared passion for dance, effective communication and the joy of performing together has cultivated a wonderful chemistry,” says Rahul.

That chemistry is evident in the little anecdote the duo shares. Three years ago, Rahul and Bharat had to perform in Sydney, Australia, on a rather short notice. “We had to perform something entirely new and we didn’t have much time to set the choreography,” recalls Bharat. “We had to choreograph while travelling, which we did in the flight, in buses and metros. We practised wherever we could, even while waiting outside the washrooms! We continued our practice till the last moment in the hotel room and backstage. We were quite nervous, but surprisingly the performance was well-coordinated and was highly appreciated. It is one of our shared memorable experiences as performers where our chemistry really paid off,” adds Rahul.

As both Rahul and Bharat have evolved as artistes, so has the extended family, which now sees them as success stories in their own right. “They witnessed my growth as an artiste and the opportunities that arose for me, both personally and professionally. Over a period of time, they came to appreciate the importance of following one’s passion and pursuing a career that aligns with one’s interests and talents,” says Rahul.

It also helps that the UAE provides artistes like him with a dynamic platform to pursue their dreams. “Recently I was given an opportunity to perform with Bharat at the International Bharat Parv, organised by Indian Consulate in Dubai, Nrithyam 2023, where Bharat bagged the first position,” says Rahul. “The UAE has provided us with various other opportunities for cultural exchange and artistic expression. A lot of students from here have also shown keen interest in learning the classical dance form, which gives me a sense of great joy.”


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