"She started with almost nothing. She fills my heart with pride every single day. Everyone in the village feels that way," says her farmer father, who earns a dollar a day.
A duo shows up on the brightly lit stage of the famous talent hunt, America’s Got Talent. Sonali and Sumanth, the young performers, stand in front of the judges, which include Simon Cowell, notorious for his hard-to-please persona.
Proudly, the duo from Kolkata, says, “We are the BAD Salsa group,” a name that is immediately intriguing for the judges and the audience that waits to be wowed.
Quintessential Bollywood music plays in the background, but the moves get everyone’s attention.
With fast-paced flips, twirls, lifts and a mash-up of salsa moves, the duo performs with smiles on their faces. The ease and confidence with which each dance step is executed show the time and effort that must have gone into perfecting every move.
Bad Salsa on America’s Got Talent 2020 (Audition)
Salsa dancers from India WOW Judges on #AGT #GotTalent
Posted by Got Talent Global on Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Throughout the performance, Simon Cowell has a bright smile across his face. And the performance ends to thunderous applause from all.
Sonali Majumdar and Sumanth Maroju express how that day was momentous for them. More so for Bivash Chowdhury, their choreographer, and founder of BAD, which stands for the Bivash Academy of Dance. Bivash has been training the children for close to a decade now. What makes the three special is their journey of hard work and grit.
Sonali is a farmer’s daughter from rural West Bengal. Sumanth, on the other hand, would travel almost seven hours from Odisha to Kolkata to attend the classes. Bivash, their mentor and choreographer, also had an inspiring journey.
In conversation with The Better India, the trio shares their experience while telling us how they achieved global fame.
From a farm to centre stage
“I started dancing when I was only three-years-old. I would often dance on the stage at melas and the events in my village. Everyone would appreciate me and tell my father that he should encourage me to dance,” begins Sonali.
She hails from Sholoardari, a village in West Bengal, almost bordering Bangladesh. Her father is a farmer who grows rice, bananas, and vegetables while her mother is a homemaker. Although struggling to make ends meet, he was determined to fulfill his daughter’s dreams.
“Someone from my village had given my father the contact of Bivash sir, and we decided to take a trip to Kolkata. On tracking down the academy, my father was relieved,” recalls Sonali, who was only about seven-years-old then. She is 16 now.
Her father, Shonnashi Majumdar, 43, has one bigha land and works on others’ lands. He had always felt his daughter’s potential of becoming a dancing star.
“She has been a talented dancer since birth. She couldn’t just walk, she would always be dancing around. And as she grew older, her talent and dedication motivated me further,” he recalls.
The proud father expresses how it was difficult for them to stay apart. But her success was worth the sacrifice.
“She fills my heart with pride every single day. It’s not just me, but everyone in the village feels this way, because she started with almost nothing. As a father, I only did what was in my power, but she accomplished everything else with her hard work and will power. That is truly amazing,” he says.
After speaking with Bivash, Sonali’s father was convinced that she had found the right mentor. “As a farmer, my father would hardly earn Rs 20 a day at the time. He knew that he couldn’t fulfill my dream, especially if I stayed in the village. Hence, he left me in Kolkata. Initially, I missed home a lot, but it got better with time,” shares Sonali.
The optimistic father now hopes that his daughter grows to accomplish everything she ever dreamt of. “We are here to have her back and support her throughout,” he says.
Sonali’s partner, Sumanth, on the other hand, always knew that dance was his true passion. Originally from Bhubaneswar where his father works in the Railways, he discovered Bivash Academy of Dance. He had seen another duo — Akash and Donna — also trained by Bivash go on the stage in India’s Got Talent (A ‘Got Talent’ franchisee of the reality show).
“Because I was so interested in dance, I enrolled in classes across Bhubaneswar, but it was not taught in a way that one could pursue it professionally. When I learnt about Bivash sir’s academy, I told my father about it, and luckily, he supported me,” says the 21-year old. Sumanth had started training at the age of 13.
However, travelling to Kolkata from Bhubaneswar every weekend was not a piece of cake. This trip was followed by four hours of practice on each of the two days until he returned home.
“But looking back, I am glad about the trips. It made me realise how dance was my passion, and I wouldn’t be here now if I had not worked hard then,” he says.
Fast-paced unique dance moves
The dynamic duo wouldn’t have pursued their passion if not for their mentor, Bivash. Not only did he see their potential but also trained them to be world-class dancers.
He began focusing on the two dancers when it was time for him to apply for India’s Got Talent (IGT) in 2012. “When Akash and Donna applied for IGT in 2011, we were the runners-up. But this time, I wanted my dancers to win and chose the two who could ultimately win the show,” recalls the 39-year-old.
Sonali and Sumanth were two of the six people chosen by Bivash who could represent his dance academy on stage. Initially paired with other dancers, Bivash ultimately decided to go with the two and created a dance duo that ultimately won IGT Season 4 that year.
Later, Sonali and Sumanth went on to participate in numerous shows like Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa and Dance Champion, among others. In 2019, when America’s Got Talent wrote to him inviting Sonali and Sumanth for an audition, he knew it was their moment to shine.
After hours of gruelling rehearsals, he did not expect anything less than a thundering response when they finally performed in February this year.
But there are 30 others like Sonali and Sumanth in his academy in Mumbai, popularly known as the Bad World Gurukul. He started it about eight years ago and trains them in hip-hop, salsa, Bollywood, aerial acts, semi-classical and other styles.
Struggling for nearly 12 years until he finally made a name for himself, Bivash understands the need to groom dancers with care and attention.
“I want to train all my students to become professional dancers. I am sure that Sonali and Sumanth can perform on stage for the next 15 years at least until they build a career and become choreographers. When I started, everyone thought that while choosing dancing as a career, one could become a background dancer at the most. I want to change that,” he says.
Now, Sonali and Sumanth are gearing up for the next round of AGT. The duo is excited, and their choreographer has prepared a dance routine to wow the judges. While Sumanth is optimistic about his dancing career in the future, Sonali knows dance is her life.
“No matter what mood I am in, dance has always brought me joy. I love it because I am my happiest self when I dance on stage,” she says.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)