There was a time when the Vasai-Virar belt was known for its beaches, picnic spots, temples, salt pans, the red banana and a dreaded don. But a group of intrepid youngsters from humble backgrounds have changed all that. They have now turned this region into the dancing hub of India. With their astonishing moves, they have forced the world to sit up and watch in awe. That is precisely what Kings United did when it won the World of Dance Championship in the US, beating tough competitors from across the world, including those from the host country.
It all began around 13 years ago when a group of youngsters, passionate about dance, got together in Nalasopara. “I had gone to the US in 2004 and I was inspired by the street dancers of Los Angeles and New York. There were other inspirations too. For instance, I watched the film, ‘You Got Served’, which impressed me a lot. But I was truly inspired by UK B-boys (a Hip-Hop dance competition held annually in the United Kingdom). I used to spend all my money on DVDs,” smiles Rohan Rokade, founder and mentor of India’s first recognised Hip-Hop crew, Rohan and Group.
Rohan started dancing at the age of 10. “I learnt martial arts, which has made my body so flexible that I don’t find any movement difficult. I could do a 180 degree split with ease,” he shares.
However, pursuing his passion was not as easy. “I have sat in an STD booth, even sold newspapers to sustain my family. There was no family support. I have been my own support system,” he says.
When Rohan began dancing, he was not even aware of the fact that the dance style he followed was popularly known as Hip-Hop around the world. The group was formed soon after Rohan returned from the US and his nephews Amit and Abhishek were among its early members. Later on, many students became a part of the academy. They shot to instant fame after winning the popular dance reality show Boogie Woogie. “I didn’t care about the fame I received after winning Boogie Woogie,” says Rohan. “Back then the only thing that mattered — and still matters — is my passion for dance. I was ambitious about participating in shows and competitions. Hip-Hop is like a stress-buster for me. I love Hip-Hop music too,” he reveals.
Suresh Mukund and Vernon Monteiro started their journeys with Rohan and Group. They later split from the group to start their own group called Fictitious. As is well known, the Varun Dhawan-Shraddha Kapoor starrer, ABCD 2 is said to be inspired by this group. However, this very film also led to a split in their group because of ego clashes between the two dancers. Suresh and Vernon then went on to form their own dance academies. It was not easy for them either. ‘You can dance if you want but you cannot pursue it as a career’ — this was what Suresh’s family said when he told them about his passion for dance. They wanted to know where the money would come from. It was only when they started winning competitions that family members were pleased. “The main aim was to compete, to participate in competitions. I never imagined that one day I would have an academy of my own,” he smiles.
This proved to be a boon for the region as more and more dance lovers began enrolling in these two academies. In fact, both the academies are attracting students not only from the region but also from abroad. “We have been getting offers from across the globe. A tour is also on the anvil. Renowned international artists are approaching us to work with them,” Suresh says proudly.
Over the past few years, several other dance academies have sprung up in the region, teaching numerous dance styles ranging from the popular Hip Hop to Salsa. One of them is Tuttix, a dance academy based in Virar. There is a reason behind its peculiar name. “Tuttix is a combination of two different dance styles. Tut derived from Tutting and ‘Tix’ derived from Robotics,” informs Shubham Verma, founder and lead choreographer of the group, Tuttix Crew.
These academies are now attracting youngsters in large numbers. “In the initial stage there were many performers from the Vasai-Virar region participating in reality shows. These performers have inspired other localities, developing a dance culture in the entire region,” says Suresh Mukund, founder and mentor of the World of dance winners Kings United, who had the likes of Jennifer Lopez gaping open-mouthed as they displayed a dance move in slow-motion, live on stage. “Although we are facing challenges such as space constraints, our goal is to spread this dance culture as much as possible,” he says.
Their efforts are already showing impressive results. “This region has gained such a reputation for great dancing that these days, whenever we participate in inter-college dance events, all we have to do is mention that we are from Vasai-Virar, and the people’s expression change! They look at us with respect and awe. And that is a very rewarding feeling,” says Verma. Well, if the number of youngsters – including tiny tots – enrolling in these academies is any indication, the Vasai-Virar belt is likely to remain the dance capital of India for a long time to come.