‘I thought it was all going to be over’: But this dancer won’t let a degenerative disorder beat him

Ahneesh Valodia refuses to give up his passion of dancing because of his muscular dystrophy diagnosis.

Ahneesh Valodia refuses to give up his passion of dancing because of his muscular dystrophy diagnosis. Ahneesh Valodia, Supplied

  • A degenerative muscular disorder diagnosis could not keep Ahneesh Valodia from living his passion for the performing arts.
  • Giving up on a life-long dream was not an option for him.
  • He now moves vicariously through the dancers of his performance ensemble.

A little boy fell deeply in love with dance at the tender age of eight – and throughout his youth, in joy and pain, dance was his companion and confidant.

When he received the life-changing diagnosis that he had a degenerative muscular disorder, he thought it was the end, but he managed to find another exciting path.

Ahneesh Valodia, 32, is the founder and artistic director of Taare, a dance performance ensemble that aims to promote and preserve the Indian arts through the creative use of Bollywood music and dance.

Increased disability

He trained in Indian classical dance and started a promising career as a performer, but then things started to go awry. In his late teens, Valodia was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

Muscular dystrophy is brought on by mutations that cause the muscles to weaken over time, leading to increased disability.

“Dancing, for me, has always been an escape, an opportunity to portray a character, and an opportunity to feel free as the body, the movement and the music become one.

“There was a time I thought it was going to be over, where, without physically moving, I wouldn’t be able to dance at all,” said Valodia.

Dancing Ahneesh Valodia

Ahneesh Valodia won’t give up on his passion of performing.

For Valodia, giving up on his dreams was not an option. He needed to find a way to keep dancing in his life, and he wanted to share his passion with others. Out of this desire, Taare was established.

Several creative outlets

“Cape Town, with a small Indian population, did not have as many dance opportunities as Western art forms, and I thought perhaps, through creating a platform where I could express my passion, others could find a space to follow their on-stage calling too.

“This created the dance family we call Taare, going strong for 10 years this year,” said Valodia.

Even though he may not dance as he did before, Valodia still has several creative outlets, of which he has taken full advantage over the last decade.

He has been the artistic director and resident choreographer for seven Bollywood dance productions, of which six were staged at the Artscape Theatre Centre in Cape Town. An eighth production is on the way.

Ahneesh Valodia directing one of his productions.

Ahneesh Valodia found other creative outlets after his muscles deteriorated.

Valodia said: “While still dancing, I was fortunate to gain experience in choreography and teaching. These experiences opened my eyes to a new kind of passion that allowed me to dance vicariously through others, giving me the space to create ideas and concepts I wouldn’t have been able to perform myself.

“But I have found more passions such as costume, props, sound and lighting design, directing, and staging productions where I can take audiences on a different journey each time.

“I also quench my thirst for dance knowledge through collaborating with other dancers and choreographers.”

Valodia recalls how blissfully chaotic his journey has been over the last decade – from the creative side of his directorship to learning leadership, management, and the logistics of the position.

Ahneesh Valodia takes to the stage.

Ahneesh Valodia sits in his wheelchair on the stage of a theatre where he once danced.

He gushed about his support system and the magnitude of their contributions when he decided to take on the behemoth task of running a production.

“It has become an ever-changing, continuous learning experience that still has me dancing, maybe not in the conventional sense, but still dancing.

An exciting creative space

“I would not be able to pursue my passions and live with such pride, fulfilment, and resilience if it weren’t for so many people’s physical, mental, and emotional support.

“My parents, family, the dancers, my assistant director, and associated companies truly fuel our mission,” Valodia added.

He may not know what the future holds for his condition. Still, Valodia says he will endeavour to use dance to bring diverse people together through collaboration and create a safe home, and an exciting creative space for dancers to explore different opportunities to express themselves.

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