Mohika Shankar

Future Dance Leaders Apprenticeship

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The journey of every creative is distinct as they carve their path in the industry. It is true when they say there is no blueprint one can follow to become a professional artist. My dance journey began as a 5-year-old in Delhi who revelled in the rhythm and joy of moving. Learning Kathak under the able guidance of the Late Guru Shri Munna Shukla Ji, I was always certain that dance would remain a part of my life and professional journey too. How this might unfold, was something I was unaware of. I moved to the UK in 2019 and completed my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Dance & Movement Studies from the University of Derby. Having limited knowledge about the dance industry in the UK, I wanted to learn more about the dance landscape here and work with different dance organisations. This was, however, a challenging feat with the pandemic marking my years at university. Nonetheless, I was fortunate to have been selected to work and volunteer with organisations like One Dance UK, Birmingham Centre for Arts Therapies, The Place, etc.

While my experiences with these organisations were extremely valuable, they also reiterated a paucity of real-world training opportunities and progression routes for dancers trained in South Asian Classical dance forms in the UK. Adding to these formally recognised limitations was the fact that I was a first-generation immigrant with no connections to or knowledge about the ways of working in this vibrant industry. As a new graduate, the Future Dance Leaders Apprenticeship Programme emerged at a crucial junction - a period of personal uncertainty and deliberation about my future pathway. The programme gave me opportunities to learn, network, gain professional experience, and apply these learnings to create. Having Sonia Ji (the artistic director of SSCo) as my mentor was an added golden opportunity. Being guided by her throughout the apprenticeship, both creatively and otherwise, learning the nuances of creation, and having her as a sounding board and confidant was a true blessing.
The flexible nature of the apprenticeship further helped me tailor it to my artistic needs. The mentoring days and masterclasses offered as a part of the programme included day-long workshops by industry experts in various strands associated with dance like music production, event management, Screen Dance, dance in education, securing funding for projects, and many others. These upskilling opportunities continue to play a vital role in my professional journey.

Another significant opportunity I was presented was to be a part of the Research and Development for Sonia Sabri Company’s new outdoor production – Mughal Miniatures Scene 2: Animal Paradise. This was the first time I had been a part of a professional production as an artist. The whole process of collaborative creation was challenging yet invigorating. There was so much to learn from Sonia Ji and my colleagues, grasping how my body moved and responded to different prompts, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. The process felt even more rewarding when we completed a school tour around Birmingham testing this new performance piece. To experience firsthand the impact created by dance on young lives was gratifying and powerful. This was definitely a turning point in my journey as a dancer which encouraged me to transition to a freelance artist. After the successful completion of the R&D I was offered to join the professional tour of MM for the summer of 2023, a truly monumental opportunity which propelled my dance journey forward.

Over the course of this apprenticeship, I had valuable insights into what makes one an ideal collaborator and human being. I made some beautiful friendships, got the opportunity to perform at unimaginable platforms, learn the practicalities of the profession, meet industry experts, have my foot in the door, and live my dancing dream (which I continue to do). I feel immensely grateful to have been chosen to be a part of this landmark programme which has the potential of creating a progression route for many South Asian artists like me. This vision of Sonia Ji and the company to guide the next generation of South Asian dance artists truly stands in its own right.