Co-written by Partha Mansukhani
NEARLY A decade ago, four boys, including a graffiti artist, a master in b-boying and a rapper, had come together in Dharavi to form a group. Little did they realise that in the years to follow, they would create such a craze for hip-hop dance in the lanes of Dharavi that hundreds of teenagers would take up the dance form.
“For us, hip-hop was never a dance form, it was a culture,” said Vicky Dhangar, now 29, who had started the trend of hip-hop with brother Akash and friends Heera and Mandeep.
While Vicky was a b-boy and graffiti artist, Heera and Aakash also performed b-boying and Mandeep was the group’s rapper.
The four called themselves ‘SlumGod’, after the movie Slumdog Millionaire became a household name in 2009. Akash (27) said they did not like the name ‘Slumdog’ as it came across as derogatory, and decided to interchange the alphabets.
Now, the teens who started the group teach children from Dharavi how to dance. Vicky’s six-year-old daughter Sonali can breakdance and do a head-roll as children in the slum cheer for her. As young boys like Kailash and Ayush do a footwork battle in b-boying dance, other watch. They resemble any hip-hop culture one sees in movies, minus the fancy sportshoes or the glamour attached to dance form.
Vicky said the idea initially was to just practice together. “Back then, we would practice for two hours daily in parks. Slowly, local residents started taking interest.”
Vicky was in college then, and Aakash in school. Along with Heera and Mandeep, they started organising cypher — random dancing or jamming — on Dharavi streets. As interest piqued, slum children joined, and the gang grew.
“In Dharavi, many boys are known to stray into criminal activities. They have a lot of potential… and once they got attracted to hip-hopping, we channelised their energy in a positive direction,” said Vicky.
Akash added, “It brought about some sort of physical activity in a routine which would otherwise typically involve just long hours of studies.”
Gautam Jeevan, who teaches dance, said that several choreographers and dance teachers have started visiting Dharavi. “Until three years ago, I used to teach dance to children aged between eight to 15 free of cost. Several other dancers would come in their free time as well.”
Thanesh Chandrashekhar (23), popularly called Steve, started dancing in 2011 and loves b-boying. He was surprised to find several dancers in Dharavi where he resided. “It is an underground community of dancers and a very local flavour to Dharavi. The group does not plan to go big, we host unofficial dance battles regularly,” he said.
There was always a vision to start a school to teach dance to slum children, he added. This paved the way for Dharavi Project, a dance school set up in Dharavi in 2016. The school brings a lot of variations in hip-hop, with no particular form to adhere to, thus giving the dancer the freedom and flexibility to express himself. Several have taken to professional dancing through the group, said Chandrashekhar, a social media manager by profession.