Shane Shambhu: ‘The unusual steps I took to pursue a dance career’

BOLD MOVE: Shane Shambhu combines dance, theatre and comedy into his new show

by LAUREN CODLING

A BRITISH-ASIAN dancer has spoken out about his unconventional journey into the arts, as he tours the country with his latest theatre show.

Shane Shambhu, 42, is an Indian classical dancer and comedian. His latest show Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer combines dance, theatre and comedy into a performance which questions how race and culture define people’s identity.

It is also a personal narrative, one which weaves Shambu’s journey as a young British-Asian aspiring dancer in east London into his current performances on an international
stage.

Shambhu told Eastern Eye he has an interesting story to tell audiences.

Growing up in East Ham, he initially became interested in dance when his parents forced him to attend Bharatanatyam lessons as an 11-year old.

“I was a fat kid and they thought I could lose some weight,” he joked.

In the show, Shane plays with the ways in which race, language and culture define our identities

As he continued with the classes, he fell in love with the dance form, Shambu revealed.

It intrigued him and before long, he dreamed of becoming a professional dancer with his own company.

However, Shambu, who now lives in Birmingham, decided to keep his new passion a secret from his peers.

“I felt they wouldn’t understand,” he admitted. “I knew I would be taken the p**s out of, so I kept it as a secret side to myself that I would practise over the weekends.”

As is the case in many other Asian families, his parents wanted him to pursue an academic path. Shambhu went to university, but soon realised he had no interest in it. He still aspired to work in dance, so he didn’t graduate. However, the then 24-year-old’s moment of clarity came when his family took him to India for an arranged marriage.

“That was when I realised that I didn’t want it,” he said.

Shambhu recalls walking into a room and meeting a woman who served him tea. His father asked if he wanted to speak to her.

“I closed the door and apologised to her. I said, ‘I’m so sorry’, and I told my uncle who took me there that I wanted to leave,” he said. “It was the moment that made me realise that as much as I embraced my cultural heritage, I also recognised it is not fully who I am. It is just a part of who I am.”

He returned to the UK and decided to make his dream a reality.

Two decades later, Shambhu has worked on a variety of mediums, including short films and theatre.

His parents are supportive of his career and Shambhu believes they are proud of where his journey has taken him.

“I did have some parental pressure to find a different career to support myself,” he said. “And although I did go with that for a while, I knew I had to be true to myself.”

Growing up in a working-class environment, Shambhu says he is aware there is a divide when it comes to the arts. He understands the challenges of persuading a working-class family to spend £20 each for a theatre show ticket.

A career in the arts is also not built into the culture of migrants and most working class people, he said.

“The drive of work isn’t necessarily entertainment, but to fulfill their dreams of supporting
the younger generation,” he said.

Despite this attitude, Shambhu is determined to break down barriers and wants to engage more with people who may not have access to the theatre.

There is something to be done about building those audiences, he added, but also in terms of the art industry itself.

He also believes there is a divide between those who come from a working-class background and those who have the resources to support themselves in the early stages of
their arts career.

“As young artists, when we are starting to get on the pathway of creating an arts career, you need to find resources and that is very hard to come by,” he said.

Shane Shambhu is on a nationwide tour with his show Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer until March 28

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