A TikTok video like many other TikTok videos. Two children, a boy and a girl in a school uniform, can be seen running across what seems like the pathway outside their school and breaking into splendid aerial flips.
And while there may be many videos of people attempting acrobatics on TikTok, this video of 12-year old Mohd Eizazuddin Khan (aka Ali) and 11-year-old Jashika Khan (aka Lovely) went viral and was spotted by none other than gymnastics legend Nadia Comaneci, who tweeted and called it “awesome”.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Ali and Lovely, both residents of a slum in Kolkata’s Port area, were lauded by many on Twitter, including Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju.
But many praising the kids did not know that the two aren’t actually gymnasts but acrobatic dancers.
Both Ali and Lovely have been training for about two years at the Eternities Dance Academy run by Shekhar Rao. Shekhar started the academy in a dilapidated clubhouse building with the aim of teaching dance to the less privileged from the adjoining slums.
Ali and Lovely are two of the many talented dancers in his class. Their ‘sick’ moves were taught by Shekhar as a part of their b-boying routine.
"“I used to always tell them that their practice should always happen in a safety zone. And they had promised me the same. But they would still do their stunts on the road and in school to show off in front of their friends. Then, one day I saw them and I was like ‘No, now I have to make a video of them’.”" - Shekhar Rao to The Quint
The video went viral and Ali and Lovely soon became household names in India, known even to the rich and the famous who extended their support. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) reached out to them and they will now train under them to become professional gymnasts.
But, do the two want to leave dancing and become gymnasts instead?
“We will keep dancing. That will not stop, but now we will also learn and train to be gymnasts,” says Ali.
He adds that both of them did not know who Nadia Comaneci was till Shekhar told them, after which they started “liking her”.
When asked who their favourite dancers are, Lovely says, “Salman Khan!” with a shy smile while Ali says Michael Jackson.
Their parents, who were sitting through the multiple interviews that the kids were recording at Shekhar’s dance studio, could hardly believe their luck!
Lovely’s father is a taxi driver while Ali’s father is a daily-wage labourer. Both families faced a lot of criticism from those around them for letting their kids pursue dance.
"“It was fine till she was dancing. But then, when the acrobatics and somersaults started, I got a little scared. People around us also said that she’s a girl and hence, shouldn’t dance. She should be taught how to run the household instead. But now, after the video went viral, they tell me that they want their kids to become like Lovely.”" - Lovely’s Mother to The Quint
Ali’s father, faced with similar opposition, said that he always thought that his child should do what interests him.
“No one knew or cared about me earlier. Now they know me as ‘Ali ke Papa’. Now he has become my papa!”, said Ali’s father.
Finally, we asked the kids how their friends reacted to their newfound stardom. With a sheepish grin, they said in unison: “They said, bade aadmi ban gaye toh humein bhool mat jaana” (Translation: Now that you’ve become famous, don’t forget us).
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