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How Amiruddin Shah pirouetted his way from Mumbai's slums to the Royal Ballet School

The son of a welder, Shah had a perfect arch, which won him a three-year scholarship into one of the world’s most prestigious ballet schools in London.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   16-04-2019

BrainGain Magazine
Amiruddin Shah (pictured right) was accepted into one of the world’s
most prestigious ballet schools in London founded by ballerina Ninette de Valois.

Amiruddin Shah’s Israeli American ballet teacher in Mumbai, Yehuda Ma'or, was quick to spot his prodigious talent when he was 12.

"I don't know how the ballet theory got into this kid's body. He knew everything. He learned the language very naturally," said Ma’or, who spied Shah doing cartwheels and backflips as part of the Danceworx jazz and contemporary dance program for underprivileged students.

Ma’or was impressed with how fluidly Shah moved and asked to see the bottom of his feet. He discovered Shah had perfect arches for ballet and urged him to train.

Within two and a half years, Shah mastered difficult techniques in ballet and ultimately it changed the trajectory of his life. In September 2017, the Royal Ballet School in London, one of the world's greatest centers of classical ballet training, reeled Shah in with a three-year scholarship.

Today, as a student of the Royal Ballet School, Shah has a crack at training to be a classical ballet dancer for the Royal Ballet based at the Royal Opera House in London and the Birmingham Royal Ballet company.

Dr Yusuf Hamied, the chairman of drug giant Cipla chipped in with $30,000 to help Shah out with living expenses.

Like many teens growing up in Mumbai, Shah got interested in dancing because of his love for hip-hop. His journey towards ballet started with his desire to be a hip-hop dancer.

Shah, the youngest of six siblings says his eldest brother, Nizamuddin, who was interested in jazz, was his inspiration. “My father is a welder, and mother is a housewife,” said Shah, who is close to his mother. “They both support my passion for dance.”

Shah, however, first resisted the very idea of ballet. “I didn’t know what ballet was when I started dancing,” said Shah. “While I was doing contemporary and jazz in a ballet school in Mumbai, attending ballet was compulsory for us. I had no interest in ballet because you must wear girls’ clothes. I really tried my best to not go for classes. Then at one ballet class, ballet master Yehuda Ma’or saw my feet arch during warm-up and said he knew I would be a ballet dancer.”

Ma’or says he could recognize natural talent, but had to push Shah to sign a ballet sign-up form. For Shah, it was a rocky initiation. His disinterest in the dance form made him resist learning ballet. He claims he would get yelled at by Ma’or and cry after every class.

Shah attended a government school in India till 2013 so was handicapped in understanding English. This made learning ballet even tougher. Shah relied on people to translate what Ma’or was saying in class.

“I don’t know when I suddenly developed an interest in ballet and it became fun for me,” said Shah. “My inspiration and ideal is Daniil Simkin, a Russian ballet dancer and principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. I want to be a principal dancer like him.”

Shah says his love affair with ballet would never have bloomed without his teacher Ma’or, who even made sure he received tuition in English.

If Ma’or was an enthusiastic teacher, Shah was a receptive student.

“I was really impressed with Amir’s dedication and improvement — he stayed back after class to ensure perfection,” said Ma’or, adding that Indian children, with their lean build, could in fact be ideal ballet students.

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