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.”
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.”