Shalini Bhalla on East meets West

Create’s Indian dancer Shalini Bhalla relishes opportunities to share dance with people who have little access to the arts.

Shalini grew up in Kenya, where she began dancing at just three years old.  Her mother had always wanted to dance but never had the opportunity, so she was quick to enrol her daughter in lessons. Shalini started with Indian folk dancing and began learning the art of Bharata Natyam (a form of South Indian classical dance) aged twelve.  For her graduation performance, musicians were flown in from India to accompany her.  After her GCSEs, Shalini travelled to India to learn more about her craft.  Pursuit of a “formal education” meant that dance was put on the backburner for the next few years.  It was only when Shalini came to England to complete a Masters in Tourism and Education that she began taking dance to schools. After her degree, she worked in a variety of hospitality roles, but none of these felt right.  Her sense of fulfilment came from her dance workshops.

“When a teacher tells me that she has seen one of her quietest pupils in a whole new light, I know I’ve done a good job.”

Shalini’s own work focuses on making dance accessible.  She wants her movements to speak to the people who have never seen dance before.  Working with Create, she has a chance to apply this ethos to her education work. For the past two summers, she has engaged people of all ages, from all walks of life, in Create’s free More Creative dance workshops at The Scoop, More London, SE1. Most recently, Shalini led Create’s East Meets West project, which brought together children from Muslim and Catholic backgrounds in Poplar, East London, to create Bollywood dance.  For Shalini, the highlight was watching some of the shyest children gain in confidence  and become active members of the group.

“Moments that stick out for me include three white teenagers from the local area dancing alongside a group of Brazilian internationals; and one man who, too shy to join in at first, was enjoying himself so much at the end he wouldn’t leave!”

East Meets West was particularly close to Shalini’s heart because the relationship between what she refers to as her own “East” and “West” sides is something that she explores in her own work.  Her cultural identity is the subject of a piece Āsmākan – The Quest, which she premièred at Cranleigh Arts Centre last year.  She is currently seeking funding to revive, develop and take the piece on tour.

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