Whether on functions in the colony or Ganpati Visarjan processions, Mahim boy Elvis Mascarenhas has danced for as long as he can remember. But when his friend introduced him to the dance-comedy “You Got Served” that swayed around Hip Hop, his interest in pursuing dance more seriously was piqued.
“I grew up in a lower-middle-class home in Shahunagar. So the internet was a luxury. I only had the TV at my disposal, and I would look at dance videos, and replicate the moves. But when I tried the steps in “You Got Served”, I realised it was difficult. I then started researching the dance form at cyber cafes.”
When he went to Chetana’s College in mid-2008, he was able to learn hip hop from other dancers.
“I practised a lot. Winning college competitions boosted my confidence. That was the beginning of my journey to becoming a trained dancer.”
Namrata Wittke, on the other hand, had a successful eight-year-long career in the TV industry, where she worked as a producer for biggies like Balaji Telefilms, Zoom television, and Reliance. A heartbreak pushed her to find solace in dancing. Though she may have begun as merely watching and sometimes grooving to Salsa Nights at Zenzi in Bandra, today, she is a dancer of international repute.
Namrata and Elvis have been dance partners for more than eight years and have been running Rare Grooves Dance Company for the last three years. But why are we speaking about them?
Because this dancing duo has not only represented India at global dance summits but also won accolades there. Competing with top dancers from more than 45 countries at the World Dance Summit in Miami, 2018, Elvis bagged the gold in the solo men’s ‘Rising Star’ category, and Namrata won second runners-up in the freestyle category. Elvis also created history as the first Indian/Asian to win the Solo Category at the Summit.
The World Salsa Summit
A dream for most Latino dancers across the world, the World Salsa Summit in Miami is one of the oldest and most prestigious world championships that take place annually.
The Better India (TBI), got in touch with the dancing duo to document their journey.
After winning several competitions representing his college, when Elvis graduated, his mother, like all parents, asked him to settle down with a job. She believed that dancing couldn’t be a secure full-time career.
But Elvis wanted to pursue dancing and started exploring options. Hip hop was relatively new to Mumbai at that time.
His first big break came in 2014 when he won Dance @Live, the national Hip Hop championship and represented India in the same championship at the international level in Taiwan. Competing with more than 32 countries, he emerged among the Top 6.
“When I approached the newspapers, they told me my story doesn’t have any masala,” laments the international champion.
He also realised he wasn’t getting the guidance he required in India and had to often rely on YouTube. One of the lowest points of his career was when he was diagnosed with a low-spine injury that almost ended his dancing dream. After a break of two years for extensive physiotherapy, he learnt the dance form—House, for which he later competed in House Dance International, NYC and emerged Top 8, and later Top 4, in Juste Debout Paris 2016.
After this, he was introduced to Salsa.
“I used to think hip-hop was the best dance form, and the performers knew exactly how to groove and had the best moves. But Salsa opened a whole new world. Similarly, my array into other forms like Bachata, Kizomba, etc. helped me flow free and be parts of different worlds all at once. It wasn’t just about the moves, but the history, its origin, culture, and even the spiritual aspect of dance that transformed me.”
For Namrata, the journey to Salsa began with heartbreak.
The 32-year-old who hails from the small town of Kanpur came to Mumbai as a student. After completing her post-graduation from Xavier Institute of Communication, she had a successful seven-year-long career in several production houses. The opportunity came in the form of the Director of Salsa India walking up to her at Zenzi during one of the Salsa nights asking her to be a part of the company. Though she had quit her job, she was still freelancing with a few production companies at the time. Besides, when she told her parents about wanting to quit to pursue dancing, the first reaction was disbelief.
“I was a senior producer and drawing a comfortable salary. I danced through school and college but never looked at it as a career option. So wanting to quit it all to dance seemed like a considerable risk to my family. Though there was initial hesitation, they extended their support. So I joined Salsa India. It was at the time I met Elvis.”
Meeting and being paired up
The duo met at Salsa India in Mumbai. While Elvis had auditioned and been selected to teach hip hop at the company, Namrata was already training there. Elvis was presented with the opportunity of learning Salsa for free, as a company employee. It was only a matter of time until the duo was paired for their sense of rhythm, chemistry, technique, and passion for the art. From setting up routines, winning festivals and dance battles to now representing India on the world stage, they have been setting the stage on fire for more than eight years now.
They travelled to New York and lived there for close to four months, where they were introduced to the World Salsa Summit.
“One of the major differences that I found in training in abroad as opposed to India was, whenever I had questions about how a particular move came about or why certain techniques were used, my curiosity was never satisfied here. But when I travelled to train in New York, I got extensive exposure not just to the art but the story behind the forms too.”
The duo’s win at their debut World Salsa Summit in 2018 was a significant boost for India. It takes dancers years to win in the competition, given its level of competition, the lineup of veteran judges and experts.
Even as dancers from other countries had rows of supporters in the audience, yelling their names and waving their flags, Elvis and Namrata were the only two Indians.
When asked if they had expected to win, Elvis says, “People compete for years, and the chance to win in the first shot is almost nil. I had no expectations to win. But I did my best. It felt good to look at myself on the big screen; almost a dream come true.”
“It was surreal,” said Namrata.
The duo is eyeing the Asian Games in Japan in July next. They have been shortlisted, and if it all goes well, they will be able to represent India at the prestigious platform.
“Whether it was our training for global competitions or running our dance company, we have spent all our time, energy and savings to keep our dancing dream alive. We wanted to participate in the Summit this year too. But frankly, we could never collect the finances to go again. We could either use our savings to train more and upgrade ourselves to go for the competition,” says Elvis.
In a final message to aspiring dancers, Namrata says, “If you are passionate about dancing, put in all the hard work you can and persist in following it, regardless of what naysayers have to say. Several dancers today train for eight months and open dance studios, which according to me, is wrong. I danced for eight years and am now teaching an advanced level class. Even veteran dancers abroad never shy away from going back to class and upgrading themselves. That’s what helped them reach where they are. So focus on your art and don’t compromise training.”
If you want to extend financial support to this exemplary dancing duo, get in touch with them at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can check out their Rare Grooves Dance company on Facebook here.
Connect with Elvis on Instagram here
And with Namrata here
All image credits: Elvis & Namrata.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)