Journey of compassion

January 12, 2008 12:00 am | Updated October 10, 2016 01:48 am IST

Broadway performer Shaun Parry travels across continents using music and dance to light up the lives of the underprivileged

“Ballroom dance instructor needed; no experience required,” said the advertisement. He responded and Shaun Parry’s life changed forever.

Now Shaun travels across continents using music and dance to light up the lives of the underprivileged. From playing Skimbleshanks in “Cats” to conducting workshops for the children of the leprosy afflicted in Kanchipuram, it has been quite a journey for the Broadway singer, dancer and actor.

In his 20-year-old career, he has touched many highs. He has performed in the classic “Beowulf”, the spectacular “Phantom of the Opera”, the New York Theatre Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera. Shaun has also been choreographer and coach for MTV.

“I was fortunate to be the first “haole” (white man) to dance in the Night Show at the Polynesian Culture Centre in Hawaii and to perform both on Broadway and for the Gekidanshiki which is Japan’s Broadway.”

But it is easy to make out where his heart lies. Talk to him about the workshops conducted by him for his organisation Promethean Spark and the Rising Star Outreach of India, to benefit the children of the leprosy affected in the village of Thottanaval, and words fail this articulate performer. “I just … love it”, he manages and nods his head vigorously.

How do the workshops help the children? “It changes their whole outlook on life. They have no self esteem. The training helps them focus on their lessons and also provides an outlet for their energy. When they start singing and dancing and experience the success of that discipline, they feel they can accomplish anything. It lights a spark in them that can be used in other endeavours,” he explains.

This is something with which A.D.S.N. Prasad concurs. He is the Founder-Director of Pathway, the Centre for the rehabilitation of the mentally challenged, in Thiruvanmiyur where I met Shaun on the eve of his departure to Kenya. “We have children with autism and behavioural disorders and they respond very well to movement (dance) therapy”.

Based in New York for the last 11 years, Shaun came to Tamil Nadu to work with Rising Star Outreach.

“Its founder Becky Douglas who came to Chennai four years ago was struck by the plight of people affected by leprosy. She sought the help of Padma Venkatraman, who has been working for the last 20 years for the rehabilitation of the leprosy affected, to enable the leprosy colonies become self sufficient through building schools, providing medical care and micro credit”.

Shaun imparts training to children between the ages of 3 and 15. He feels he is able to understand children as he helped raise eight siblings.

No one in the family was in the performing arts. Shaun started as an X- Ray and lab technician and also worked on construction before he turned to full-time dance. Shaun performed in the opening ceremony of the 2002 Olympics. “I was asked to carry the Olympic flag during the ceremony by the committee to represent the civilians who helped in the rescue effort during 9/11.”

This came about from a newspaper article which spoke of Shaun searching through the rubble for five days as a volunteer.

“The therapy part started in Peru where a friend, ballerina Vania Masias organised a programme for impoverished youth two years ago,” says Shaun. The training resulted in their dance performance in Lima which gave him the idea to repeat it throughout the world. He founded Promethean Spark last year to make this happen.

“In May 2007 we performed in the United Nations with children from upstate New York in tandem with Broadway dancers. We put up a benefit performance for Rescue a Million to educate impoverished children around the world.”

His life’s mission? “This is starting to be it”… says Shaun. “If this article helps us in getting dance instructors to volunteer substantial time to train the underprivileged, I will be really glad.” Call 2729 2676/ 98405 63226.

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