Visually Impaired Shalu Dances into Glory at International Salsa Congress

October 6, 2008

It was an event filled with glitz and glamour. The India International Salsa Congress 2008 held at Bangalore recently had dancers from all across the globe find their way to the city to flaunt their talents and woo the audience. They came, they danced and they conquered. But just for a while. Amidst all this magic, was a true star - 14-year-old Bangalorean Shalini Menon who won the hearts and the generous applause of the crowd.

Born visually challenged, Shalini's world to us may seem dotted with insecurity. Fighting all odds this teenager has not limited herself and her potentials. She has made dancing her forte and for this chose Salsa - one of the most sensual dances in the world as her area of preference. And what more, Shalini recently performed at the 3rd India International Salsa Congress - a coveted dream of many a dancers.

Shalu, as she is fondly called among her friends and family, felt the need to learn dance at her sister's wedding almost a year ago. She did not want to just sit while everyone else was enjoying on the dance floor. It was here that she was introduced to Salsa by her sister and another relative.

The bitter experience of Ballet lessons in the past, where she was just made to sit in a corner throughout the class, was a stumbling block to get back to dance. Further, finding a Salsa instructor to train her was difficult.

Soon hope came in the form of John Anthony of Latino Rhythms Dance Academy who willingly agreed to tutor Shalu. Through their initial few interactions, Shalu and her mother Nirmala Menon knew that John could really help them realise her dream of dance.

Till recently all this enthusiastic girl knew about dance was what she heard from friends but now it was her turn to experience the magic of Salsa. With just a few special classes, Shalu picked up her basic steps and was made to join a regular batch of dance learners in March 2008 where she proved herself greatly. Visual impairment never took the better of herself. What followed were serious classes and even serious practice at home. And the fruit of all the hard work was out for everyone to see at the Salsa Congress.

"Shalu learns her steps twice as fast as her fellow sighted learners. Unlike others she has to learn every step by feeling and this is not easy. However being just a few months into Salsa, I must say she is doing very well. I really admire her determination to excel, the need to remain focused and the attitude never to give up", says John who has adopted a practice of providing descriptive instructions on body movements in his classes.

In Shalu's words, John is her best teacher ever and is always encouraging. Initially she was a little apprehensive about how John would teach her. But all her doubts were thrown away because John has taught her in ways that she wanted to learn. She learnt that it was okay to make mistakes and learn. In class, John first describes the step to her and then teaches the same through touch. Shalu is made to feel each movement after which she tries the same herself.

For John too, it's a first-time experience to teach a visually challenged student. But with Shalu picking up her steps very quickly, it brings about a sense of satisfaction.

Partnered by Nalin, a class VI student for the Salsa Congress performance, Shalu is more than happy and thankful. The young couple performed alongside thirteen other couples at their special performance. Months of hardwork and long hours of practice have gone in towards the performance and it all paid off. They were the only team to get a standing ovation after the performance. 

Shalu is able to follow every lead given by Nalin and sees a great friend in him who gives her funny descriptions of each step so she can remember them and yes, he does look for perfection even if it means making her do the step over twenty times.

Ask Nalin what he thinks of his partner and this is what he has to say. "I am happy to have Shalu as my partner. She is quick in picking up steps. And whenever she finds it a little difficult, I do the step myself and tell her to feel my hands, legs and posture."

Shalu's mother is her greatest support in everything she does. "At class my mother very carefully observes John and the rest of them and tells me how to improve my steps. She sometimes even tries a few of them so I may have a better idea", says Shalu.

Shalu is truly a gifted child. Apart from working her way to master Salsa, she has many other talents that are taking her places. With a keen ear and a taste for music, she has completed her 7th grade in the recorder, 6th grade in the Piano and 3rd grade in singing pop vocals along with learning the Guitar. Not only does she play numerous musical instruments but also composes her own songs. Shalu is currently pursuing her IXth standard at Aditi Mallya International School.

by Melisha Noronha
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Comment on this article

  • Raj, mangalore

    Wed, Oct 08 2008

    Mellisa you have done a great job. CONGRAGULAONS. This inturn will make many more visually impaired children to take up the challenge. Every time there needs to be a start once someone gives the start many will start compeeting and break the record that is set in the past. GREAT MELLISA.All The Best ...Keep Rocking

  • Karen D'mello, Bangalore

    Tue, Oct 07 2008

    Shalu has been an "INSPIRATION' in the true sense of the word .There is never a Dull moment with her around during our Salsa practices. Her Dedication and Perseverance makes you want to run a Self check, giving you the required Motivation to achieve that Dream or Goal you thought you couldn't. Shalu is a live Example of -'Nothing is Impossible'. Thank you Shalu.

  • Januelle, Mangalore/Bangalore

    Tue, Oct 07 2008

    Shalu was a joy to have around during our Salsa classes. Her indefatigable spirit inspired us all and pushed us to work a little harder than we otherwise would. She danced her way into all our hearts.

  • patrick, India/USA

    Tue, Oct 07 2008

    This show that with Gods blessing, support of parents ,friends and teachers shalini has proved that great things can be achived,you have greater things comming your way,best wishes .

  • Harold D'cunha, Mangalore, India

    Tue, Oct 07 2008

    Thanks Melissa for your heart touching & inspiring article. Shalu's performance is worth appreciating. Desire, motivation, hard work definitely can reach your vision and goal. Special appreciation to John who has taken training to Shalu not only as a challenge but with a purpose as shalu is born visually challenged. God bless John & Shalu.

  • Ivan C Monteiro, Urwa, Mangalore

    Tue, Oct 07 2008

    Dear Shallu Congratulation and wish you all the best for your future. This is an eye opener for all of us that nothing is impossible in this world. I was fortunate to help in programs and music to visually impaired children and I know the pain, effort and patience required to teach these children. Hats off to her Instructor John for all that he has done for this child and the transformation, Congrats to Melisha for wonderful report. And above all I pray God that her dear mother and her family be blessed abundantly.

  • VR Miyar,

    Tue, Oct 07 2008

    Nothing is impossible if we love the way what we are and the will power weith confidence will take you the high... Shallu Pinakola to you

  • praveen lobo, omzoor.israel., mangalore,israel

    Tue, Oct 07 2008

    shallu all the very best,keep this spirit up..

  • Calida, Mangalore

    Mon, Oct 06 2008

    A very inspiring aricle Melissa. Shallu is really a very good example to people who think they cannot achieve anything in their lives. This shows if aman is determined and has a can do mentality he/she can achieve the desired goal. God's bleesings and favor be upon Shallu.

  • Rajesh Sequeira, Kulshekar, Dubai

    Mon, Oct 06 2008

    Good Article malissa. Shallu is a true example that we can do anything in this world provided we have will power. Salsa is not a easy dance. God bless shallu in her future endevours. Best of luck

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