When they perform on stage they leave you awestruck with their indomitable spirit and unimaginable grace. Whether it is a rendition of the Bhagvad Gita or the Mahabharata; a Sufi dance or Bharatanatyam performance on wheelchairs, this pool of about 150 dancers defeats disability through an inspirational and endearing show of dance and drama. The man behind these exceptionally talented performers is their proud mentor and teacher, Syed Salahuddin Pasha.
He is passionate about nurturing these artistes. “They don’t like being assisted when getting on the stage. As dancers, they can beat anyone,” says Delhi-based Pasha, who started the Ability Unlimited Foundation to educate and train differently-abled students.
Love for the performing arts
Recalling how he fell in love with the performing arts, Pasha says, “I was just six years old when I first performed on stage in my village Anekal in Karnataka. I grew up playing lead roles in drama productions like Bhakta Prahlada, Luv Kush, etc. I mastered Bharatanatyam and kathak and yoga. I have given professional solo performances on many prestigious platforms such as the Babylon International Dance Festival in Baghdad, and India International Day at Maldives. Later, I did a few Kannada TV shows and films. During this time I have been unable to forget many incidents related to differently-abled persons. I felt strongly that healing the society is my moral responsibility.”
Pasha has directed more than 100 productions and showcased more than 10,000 dance productions across the world with several differently-abled artistes. Describing his approach towards his students, he says, “When I teach them, I treat them like normal students. I never make them feel they are disabled. I see God in them and their aides. The wheelchair looks like the chariot of Krishna, the horses, and the angels. The crutches look like bows and arrows. It was very hard to convince their parents to allow their children to learn dance. They were hesitant because of the way our society treats the disabled. I directed many therapeutic dance theatre performances for persons with disabilities from Somalia, Estonia, Russia, Britain, and many Asian countries. Seeing them perform on wheelchairs is overwhelming. Recently, we performed at Tihar Jail for the inmates. I was so happy to hear from an inmate who said that he will start his life afresh after leaving Tihar.”
A proud teacher
Praising his students, Pasha says, “All my students are multi-talented. One of them is Gulshan Kumar who set a Guinness World Record of most wheelchair spins (63) in a minute. Sonu Gupta is a 13-time national champion in wheelchair table tennis. He has represented India at the World Wheelchair Table Tennis Championship.”
From past three decades, Guruji, as Pasha is fondly called by his students, has been teaching various dance forms to differently-abled children from across the country which is a result of hours of practice by him and his students to deliver perfect and breathtaking performances. “Formal education is very important and I always use innovative therapeutic education which is a combination of so many elements like dance therapy, music therapy, emotional therapy, group therapy, colour therapy and rhythm therapy. It is very powerful and I have got so many successful case studies.”
Whether it is a Sufi dance that has a meditative quality or Bharatnatyam on wheels, it is all about technique and precision. Pasha’s students master the various dance forms easily. Pasha combines male dancers on wheelchairs with hearing-impaired girls. “It is amazing to see the girls not miss a beat as they perform,” he says. Through his innovative therapeutic education methodology and training, he has brought light to the lives of people with disabilities.
The wheelchair looks like the chariot of Krishna, the horses, and the angels. The crutches look like bows and arrows - Syed Salahuddin Pasha
A special tribute
Sonu Gupta, 27, Kanpur
I am a para table tennis player and represented India on many prestigious platforms. I met Guruji in a community rehabilitation workshop that was conducted by him and I thought of learning dance from him. My life has become more meaningful after that. It’s a therapy to heal myself. His vast knowledge and experiences of life are always add-ons along with dance training
Priya, 18, Delhi
I know the world through sign language and visuals. Along with formal education, I am pursuing dance as my career. I got in touch with Guruji at a special school where I was studying. Initially, it was difficult to start learning, but under his guidance it became easy. Earlier, it was tough to communicate with anyone other than my family, but now I communicate with my audience in my language
Gulshan Kumar, 21, Delhi
My first achievement was when I went to the US, the UK and Canada at the age of 13 and performed at the Parliament House in the UK. In 2011, I broke the record of 32 spins in a minute by a Frenchman and created a new Guinness World Record of 63 spins on a wheelchair in a minute
Harbeer Singh, 21, Bulandshahr
I am a final-year student at Delhi University. I met Guruji when he came to my school for a workshop. That is when I realised I could achieve something. I have learnt several dance forms from him, the art of expression and creating magic through the performing arts. I have come a long way – from self-pity to self-confidence
5 ways you can become a great teacher
1 It’s all about listening: Hearing out your students, giving them timely feedback and remembering that each student in the class is different is the key. It’s about making your students respond and communicate. This works for introvert students too. Giving your students the right push to excel and encouraging them to participate in all academic and co-curricular activities is necessary. You will also be able to build a strong teacher-student rapport this way.
2 Set an example: You must remember this as a teacher. Students always look up to their teachers for guidance, advice and as role models. They even try to follow you at times. It is necessary that students see you as a confident person and are able to trust you.
3 Know that each student is gifted: A great teacher knows this and mentors his students so that they perform up to their potential.
4 Make them question everything: Questioning what’s going on around you and what is being taught in class helps in learn. But not every student is like that. As a teacher you must be able to cultivate curiosity in your students and tell them how important it is to ask questions and seek answers.
5 Take learning beyond books: Learning is not just about imbibing knowledge through books. Imparting lessons outside the classroom makes learning more interactive and fun.