This is Amir Shah, the 15-year-old ballet prodigy who’s been called India’s “Billy Elliot.” Much like the titular character in the 2000 film, Shah — who was born to a working-class family in a Mumbai suburb — has been described as an unlikely ballet star.
Like the film’s protagonist, Shah is now on his way to attend one of America’s most prestigious ballet schools. Unlike the fictional Billy Elliot, however, Shah’s story is real life.
After just two years of learning ballet, he’s been accepted to attend the pre-professional school of the American Ballet Theatre in New York. The teen has called the opportunity a “dream come true.”
A stroke of serendipity first sparked Shah’s foray into ballet. A lover of dance since he was a child, Shah, whose father is a welder, had been attending a hip-hop class at a local dance studio when he caught the eye of Israeli ballet teacher Yehudi Maor.
“I saw a little boy with what we’d call the right instrument. He moved very easy but [he had] no training. So I asked him if he would come to my ballet class,” Moar told the BBC in a recent interview.
After just one lesson Maor said he “knew I had won the lottery.” Shah was an absolute natural.
“He immediately learned the language of ballet,” Maor recalled.
Over the past two years, Maor has taken the teen under his wing, teaching him all he knows of ballet. Without the best studio facilities to dance in, Maor said he’s had to improvise, bringing Shah to warehouses and school gyms to practice on better flooring.
All the hard work ultimately paid off.
Maor said in May that Shah had been invited to attend the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in Manhattan. A spokesperson for the theatre confirmed to the Independent that Shah is expected to start at the school in the fall.
Shah had initially been concerned that he wouldn’t be able to attend the school because of financial limitations. In May, Maor started a GoFundMe page on the teen’s behalf in an effort to raise money for his tuition and board. As of Tuesday, the fundraiser had raised almost $16,000.
But, as the Independent reported last month, Shah has received a financial boost from an Indian billionaire who was moved to donate money to the teen after watching a video of the ballet dancer online. Yusuf Hamied, an 80-year-old businessman, has agreed to fully cover Shah’s tuition and board.
“Have you seen that video. It’s amazing,” Hamied told the paper. “I saw it and thought, ‘he’s got talent’. I decided to donate. It’s no big deal.”
Hamied, the chairman of Cipla, one of India’s largest pharmaceutical companies, added that the teen had called him to thank him “profusely.”
“I hope he does well. I wished him good luck,” he said.
Shah’s GoFundMe page said in an update that it will continue its fundraising efforts to support the teen’s living expenses in New York, as well as to raise funds so Maor can travel to the U.S. to help the teen settle in. It’ll be the first time Shah has ever left India.
In a video shared on the GoFundMe page, Maor said he believes Shah could become one of India’s first male professional ballet dancers, putting the country “on the ballet map.”
Shah said his life has been turned “upside down” by ballet.
“I never expected that something like this would happen to me. But everything’s turned upside down. Everything has changed for the better,” he told the BBC.