Fostering a love for dance among school children in Tiruchi

Benedict Malcolm Marcel (aka Sam) with colleague Siva Sharma and students at the MAS Sam’s Dance Academy in Kattur, Tiruchi. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU

Benedict Malcolm Marcel (aka Sam) with colleague Siva Sharma and students at the MAS Sam’s Dance Academy in Kattur, Tiruchi. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  


Choreographer Sam on how dance can create positive vibes among the younger generation

Dance can create and spread a happy energy among people, says Benedict Malcolm Marcel, a choreographer and teacher who is better known by his nickname Sam. Having taught over 2,500 children in Tiruchi (Miss India 2018 Anukreethy Vas was one of his students), in the past 12 years as director of MAS Sam’s Dance Academy, he has obviously had plenty of time to discover the benefits of rhythmic movement.

“I graduated in computer engineering and also studied Merchant Navy courses, but eventually I realised that I would succeed only in dance,” says Sam, who trained in 2005 under his uncle M Edwin at the Footloose Dance School in Coimbatore in Western, salsa and basic ballet.

Returning to his hometown Tiruchi, Sam started a dance academy for Western, folk and other styles in the suburb of Kattur, and decided to concentrate on school children.

“If you train kids properly, they will be equipped with the right skills to choreograph their own events at a later stage,” he says. “Dance keeps young people active, and improves their concentration. It can teach them how to interact socially with others. Rather than pushing choreography as a career, I try to show children the merits of learning dance for its own sake.”

Authentic art

Taking a nuanced approach to participating in competitions is also important, says Sam.

“I tell all my children to dance to their best level in any contest. This way, even if they don’t win prizes, their self-esteem remains high. Of course it’s up to the masters to select events that offer students a real platform to showcase their learning,” he says.

The school’s most recent triumph has been at a mega cultural gathering titled ‘Bharat Season 2019’ conducted by the performing arts NGO and Unesco partner Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrutik Sangh (ABSS) in Pune, Maharashtra, from May 21-June 1.

The academy’s team of 16 junior and 15 senior dancers won several prizes in the 10-day event that attracted 12,000 contestants from all over India, with the students emerging victorious in four group items, two trios and 15 solos.

The academy’s junior team got the first prize for its medley of traditional Tamil folk dances, while the seniors came second with their Rajasthani pot dance. Students also did well in the Western dance competitions.

“We bring specialist dance masters to train the children in folk traditions, so that we can retain the authenticity of the art,” says Sam.

“For the karagattam dance, the juniors learned how to keep the pot steady on their heads rather than taking the easy way out and securing it with strings. Similarly, the metal pots for the Rajasthani dance were weighted down with sand rather than being glued together. Each dancer was balancing nearly 5kg of weighted pots on their head for that event.”

The hard work paid off, as Sam’s Dance Academy has been selected to participate in the 10th Cultural Olympiad to be organised by the ABSS later this year in Singapore.

Long-term relationship

Sam is assisted by choreographers Siva Sharma S, Prasanth K, Govindraja K and Mano Renjin DR. “As a master, I feel very proud when a student starts understanding the essence of the dance steps,” says Siva Sharma. “But I don’t praise the children immediately — because it can make them complacent. Only when I see them perform beyond my expectations on stage, do I give my feedback.”

Right from the humble beginning of the academy in a shed to its present sophisticated premises, Sam has fostered a safe environment for children to learn dance. “It’s been a very challenging yet rewarding experience so far, because we are as involved as parents in our students’ lives. Sometimes parents request us to mediate between them and their kids,” says Sam with a smile.

The dance academy limits its class strength to 15 students per batch, and also maintains its costumes in a separate warehouse. Zumba classes are on offer for women as well. Interest in dance tends to wane after children leave school, but there are a few who do follow it up in later years as a specialisation, says Sam. “It is a hard field to succeed in, and you need to be unique to stand apart in such a crowded space.”

He hopes to create a core team of talented dancers in Tiruchi, so that they can take his work forward. “Creativity grows when it is shared,” he says.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 6:13:42 AM |

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