IT WAS sheer luck when polio-affected Sid Shah scrolled through a social media page to find a fresh batch of garba dance classes in Malad earlier this year.
A Navratri enthusiast herself, she immediately called up choreographer Hardik Mehta to enquire if he would be willing to teach a wheelchair-bound woman. “He asked me to come. That day I got late but he patiently waited for me,” smiles Shah, whose legs have been rendered non-functional by polio since childhood. That was two months ago.
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Every day now, for an hour, physically-challenged people learn garba at Rasleela Institute in Kapol Wadi, Malad. “The idea came when Sid first approached me. After observing her, I realised since there is no leg movement, I could make her dance with her hands,” said Mehta, a stock broker-cum-choreographer.
Mehta has 22 other instructors under him at four branches of the Rasleela Institute in Malad, Kandivali, Vile Parle and Ghatkopar.
This year, Shah — an executive manager at Airtel — will be playing garba for the first time. “I will spend the first day of Navratri playing garba in Surat,” she says, as she swooshes her hand in a well-practiced arc and double claps her partner Dhawal Shah, also wheelchair-bound.
Dhawal, 26, suffers from a congenital spinal ailment that has affected his back and legs. He runs a property business with his father in Kandivali. Passionate about dancing, he had been attending Falguni Pathak’s yearly Navratri shows since two years to at least sit in the wheelchair and wave his hands. “Since the arena is huge I have never encountered accidents during dancing with other people playing garba around me,” he said.
Every day now, in a batch of 25 people, Dhaval practices for an hour-and-a-half to play garba with his hands. Due to his spinal ailment, movements from waist down are impossible. He remains stationary, unlike Sid who uses one hand to maneuver her wheelchair and another to dance. “I am scared to dance,” he says, then adds, “But I am crazy about garba.”
Like these two, Jesal Shah, 31, has also taken to garba. With partial hearing and speech problems, the interior designer says she loved the idea of being able to socialise through dance. “People who can’t even dance much, perform so well now,” she said.
For the three, who are set to join in the 11-day Navratri celebrations, dancing has helped vent frustration of a physical disability. “It feels energising… liberating,” says Shah, resident of Malad.
Following her two-month training in garba, she is now planning to advance to Bollywood dancing to keep herself motivated.
Mehta said all three of his students have been taught beginners’-level steps. He conducts garba classes for from July to September every year.
“Although my profession is into stocks, I am passionate about dancing. The remaining year, I choreograph Sangeet functions,” he said.