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  • The seven groups in the dance competition, including the the Northeast women’s team, have engaged and entertained the spectators.
    The seven groups in the dance competition, including the the Northeast women’s team, have engaged and entertained the spectators. Azam Lalani
  • Southeast men’s dance team, Nishani, is an example of the high calibre of competition at the North American Ismaili Games.
    Southeast men’s dance team, Nishani, is an example of the high calibre of competition at the North American Ismaili Games. Azam Lalani
Dancers dazzle at North American Ismaili Games in Chicago
Omar Rawji
31 August 2014

At the North American Ismaili Games in Chicago, the dance competition has been the biggest draw so far. Over 800 spectators showed up for Saturday's shows.

  • Chicago, 30 August 2014 – Two days into the North American Ismaili Games, the biggest draw so far has been the dance competition. Word spread quickly following an incredible set of performances on day one, and a crowd of over 800 spectators showed up for Saturday's shows.

    Shereen Ladha who has been dancing professionally for 11 years, is one of three judges for the event. The Toronto based Bollywood dancer has been in movies with Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, and Russell Peters, and has performed on massive stages, at the IIFA Film Awards. She knows good dancing.

    “I'm really amazed at the level,” Ladha says about the caliber of performances at the games. “It's evident that [the dancers are] trained.” If they were to compete in mainstream competitions, she adds, “they would be at the same level, if not better.”

    Ladha believes that adding dance to the list of sports offered at the Ismaili Games has brought in a whole new audience.

    “It allows so many more members of the community to be involved who otherwise wouldn't be,” she says. “If you don't play sports you're excluded unless you're a spectator.”

    Professional dancer Shereen Ladha is one of three judges for the Dance event at the Ismaili Games in Chicago.
    Professional dancer Shereen Ladha is one of three judges for the Dance event at the Ismaili Games in Chicago.
    Anwar Merchant

    Amir Keshwani has danced with the likes of Juggy D, Jay Sean, Raghav and Bipasha Basu. The Northeast team co-captain and choreographer says his team has been working on their routines for close to ten weeks.

    Thirty-year-old Keshwani says one of the pleasant surprises has been seeing so many male dancers – he had no idea there were male Ismaili dancers other than himself. “These kids are all in college, so I can't wait to see what they do in the next five years once they're out of college and they start dancing professionally.”

    While all seven groups in the competition have engaged and entertained the spectators, without a doubt the most popular has been Nishani – the all-men's team from Atlanta representing the Southeast region. The group started performing together nearly ten years ago.

    Their coach, Raheem Budhani, who performed before Mawlana Hazar Imam during the Golden Jubilee in 2008, says the team members are all on separate college dance teams now and they come together only once or twice a year for a show.

    Nishani's moves are clean, crisp and powerful – each performance is an experience for the senses. Both of their routines have featured a backflip, and have ended with a standing ovation from the crowd.

    Imran Merchant, dance competition lead for the Ismaili Games, says he and his team have been planning for months. All music, props, and costumes were pre-screened, and assembling three highly qualified judges and a high quality venue was a huge job.

    If there remains any doubt about whether future sports tournaments should include dance, Sasha Jiwani, the other captain of the Northeast team, says it's a no brainer: “Absolutely – look at the crowd!”

    Budhani is even more bullish on the future of the competition. “Dance is going to have to be at another auditorium, at another place and time,” he says. “Then everyone will come and watch.”