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Strictly Ballroom- Conrad Coelho

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“Dance is an art, paint your dream and follow it.”

One such person who has beautifully illustrated his dream into his life is Mr Conrad Coelho.

Mr Conrad Coelho is a professional dancer who has established his own dance school- The Conrad Coelho Dance Company. This institute specialises in partner dancing, also popularly called as couple dancing. Partner dancing is also called as dancesport, which is because this is a very competitive type of dance. It can represent your dance class, your city, or your country in competitions. Terms like Latin dancing, ballroom dancing et cetera, which are all sub-genres of dancesport. 

Dancesport actually has three categories, Latin, ballroom and club. Latin has five types, rumba, cha-cha, samba, paso doble, and jive. Ballroom dance, too, has five categories, English waltz, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, etc. Club also has many types like salsa, bachata. We teach courses right from the beginner level to advanced. 

Usually, most people are very apprehensive of coming to a dance class, especially adults. First, the trainers at Coelho’s institute help them become comfortable in the class, then introduce some music and help them understand and enjoy music first. Then they start with some fundamentals and once they start off with some basics they automatically start to enjoy it, when they see the other dancers do intermediate steps they get quite impressed. They are motivated to learn more. Then once they are comfortable we take things further. 

Mr Coelho says, “When I was learning, I noticed that dance schools were teaching these dance forms differently. So I didn’t know which was the right way of learning. So I searched, which was the best institute in the world, and I saw with ISTD- Imperial School of Teachers of Dance, based in London.” 

He travelled to the UK and studied each of these dance forms, and has appeared for those exams. He also has a license to teach all these dance forms. He further adds, “So that is where our dance school is different from the others because we are certified to teach. Everyone who learns knows that they are learning as per international standards, and their learning is authentic.”

As said by Conrad, “A lot of people come to the dance class to socialise because we have partner dances- you get to meet a lot of people. Generally, for people to walk up to another gender and talk may not be possible. So in class, they directly start dancing with them, which is a great boost to their confidence. It also motivates them to step out of their comfort zone.” “It is not the dance per se, it is the experience of learning something new, and socialising.”

At the Conrad Coelho Dance Company, they have different approaches to teaching partners. Very few people actually join with a partner, around 80 per join single. So first they teach them singly. They train the gentlemen and the ladies differently, they teach them their individual part, their footwork et cetera. And in the second half of the class, the trainers let them dance together. So that way nobody is dependent on a partner to learn, they can very well learn by themselves. What they normally try to encourage is that everybody dances with everybody. That way students can practice with different people and would know their mistakes and what they can build on. Conrad said, “It’s a very friendly environment where everyone dances, so it doesn’t matter if you’re single or with a partner.”

On overcoming shyness, Mr Coelho conducts some activities in class generally- like he plays some music, for example, and tells the girls to make a party environment, and then he asks the guys to ask the girls for a dance. He also gives them lines to say. So when students do these exercises, automatically everyone gets into the flow and they become comfortable. 

At this institute, a healthy learning environment is encouraged. They believe that there are no good or bad students- only teachers. Anyone who is willing to learn is welcome at this dance school- there are no restrictions on age, gender or any technical knowledge. 

“It doesn’t matter how long you take to learn, as long as you enjoy the process.”

There are many misconceptions that people have nowadays pertaining to dance and performing arts. Coelho comments, “There is one misconception that you need a partner. In salsa, many people assume that there will be a lot of lifts, drops and other stunts which is not true.” 

“Some people think ballroom dancing is very technical, but there is a reason for everything. Once you understand the technicalities of dance, you will be able to do it better. There is a misconception that it is difficult, but that isn’t true either.”

Mr Conrad comes from a Catholic family. He says, “Dancing is in our blood, all our celebrations have dancing. But the irony was that I didn’t know how to dance. When I would see all the older people in my family dancing, I would be puzzled. So I would ask someone how to go about it, and they would say, ‘Turn the girl this way, turn the girl that way’, and I would still be confused. So I decided I need professional help. In college, I joined this dance class, and I quite liked it!”

Coelho was a quick learner- within a few months he was learning a lot of things and his dance teacher gave me assignments to teach as well. In fact, many times he allowed young Conrad to conduct his classes too. That is when he realised that this is what he liked- he liked teaching, and people are enjoying his class. He got the satisfaction that people come to this class not knowing something, and they go back with something. He never expected to start a dance class of his own, but he started getting more and more assignments from the class, and one thing let to another- soon he had his own class. It was running smoothly. He started off with one batch, and soon he had more and more, and it was a full-fledged dance class.  

The greatest advantage of these dance forms would be that, people learn to appreciate and understand music a lot better. Many people ask Mr Coelho, how do you dance to salsa when you don’t know Spanish? He replies, “It is not the language, it is the music that is important.” Secondly, dancing with the opposite gender gives you a lot of confidence. You can walk into any party and dance confidently. Dance etiquette also improves posture. Dancing also helps in right and left brain coordination.

Some challenges that Conrad challenges you faced in his journey included people coming from different, diverse backgrounds- some have dance experience, some do not. So ensuring everyone is comfortable is one of the major challenges for him. Keeping everyone on the same page, making sure the slow learners, as well as the quick learners, also motivated is a challenge, he said. Forming a curriculum that makes sure everyone is challenged and comfortable is a difficult task. The third and most difficult challenge is that these dances are not Indian. So he needs to keep travelling abroad to keep learning, which calls for a lot of cost, time and work as well. 

Some things that this expert dancer is proud of, is the certification from the ISTD, which is governed by the British Dance Council. They recently launched the Salsa Lincensiere Qualification, which was launched in January, and Conrad was in the UK in May. He was there to appear and train for this exam and he is the first in the world to gain this qualification!

He is also proud of being able to bring in 15 different dance forms in Mumbai- everyone is able to learn all of this in one place. He says, “All of it is authentic, and they are all learning as per international standards, so that would be another thing that I’m proud about.” Coelho is also an engineer, with an MBA qualification. He teaches business management in a top commerce college in Mumbai. He is also pursuing my PhD in digital marketing. He is conducting research on social media ads and their impact on the buying behaviour of youngsters. He hopes that he will be able to complete that in a few years as well. 

He says that he wants to keep promoting, and start conducting professional dance classes for children in India, which is not common yet. “So ballroom dancing and other training start at a young age. In India, we haven’t reached that stage yet. We want to try and get in children, so by the time they’re 17 or 18, they already have 7-8 years of training. We are also trying to get into international competitions.”  

He also added, “We also want our dances to travel abroad and take part in competitions.” 

Professionally, he admires and idolises his teacher, in the UK- Mr Simon Krewis who is an examiner himself. He comes to India for examinations and he has been teaching people all around the world. Mr Coelho described him as, “Very humble, very down-to-earth.” 

Finally, Conrad Coelho aspires to be an examiner someday, following the footsteps of his teacher, his guru. He says that he has a lot more to learn, but being an examiner would be his ultimate goal. 

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