When Keshav Thapa was growing up, he liked dancing. But there was no one to teach him how to. The only option was to observe dancers and film stars and to come up with his own moves.
“No one taught me how to dance, I learned it on my own,” says Thapa, Today, founder of Iris Dance Studio and lead choreographer for Miss Nepal pageants. “I wasn’t trying to copy anyone, I was simply doing what I loved, dancing to the tunes on reels and music cassettes,” Thapa remembers.
“I grew up with little to no access to things that could help me improve my skills,” Thapa tells ApEx. “There was no internet back then. And we’d rarely get movies or music videos.”
Little did he know that his hobby would soon become his career. It was only when he received a full-ride scholarship to attend a dancing school in Kolkata—for which he was selected after auditioning dozens of applicants—that he understood that he had it in him to become a dancer. After graduation, Thapa planned to head to Mumbai like the rest of his colleagues, but he understood that competition in a big industry such as Bollywood would be extremely tough. “I had no yearning to fight for scraps,” says Thapa.
Instead, he came home to Kathmandu, where he established his studio, started conducting workshops and choreographing for the Miss Nepal titleholders who go abroad for international pageants. As he continued working in the capital, he soon realized that Kathmandu was full of talented dancers, and it was areas outside the city that needed his skills.
His resolve was further bolstered after he participated in the reality television show Dancing with the Stars Nepal to dance alongside Sristi KC, a blind social activist advocating for equal rights for the visually impaired and the founder of Blind Rocks Nepal. Thapa did the choreography for most of their performances throughout the show.
“I was extremely hesitant to participate in the show,” he says. “When you’re a dancer and choreographer by profession, people expect you to win the title no matter what.” He felt the pressure from the audience from the very beginning. But his feelings changed after being paired with KC. “After being introduced to her, my goal to win morphed into a determination to enjoy the journey of the program. Teaching Sristi dance was a completely new experience for me.” He feels that, even though he taught Sristi to dance, he learned far more from her.
After the show, he headed to Surkhet and opened his dancing program there. What was even more surprising was the enthusiastic feedback he received during the process. Just during the first four months before the second lockdown, Thapa trained around 140 students.
Among them, more than 70 were children. Since it would be difficult to start with the technicalities of dancing, he first started with cardio, Zumba, and simple dance movements. For the kids, he added more skills to his programs such as public speaking and personality development activities.
“That’s one thing I was never prepared for,” Thapa says. “I had always viewed celebrity life from the media’s lens. But once people started knowing me, it was never as glamorous. The trick is to be able to handle yourself in tough situations. You need to learn to compromise and have the work ethic that can pull you outside the bubble of constant pressure.”
Since the lockdown, pressure has eased a bit. Thapa hasn’t been unable to continue dance lessons in Surkhet. He conducted a few online classes for members of Blind Rocks Nepal. But the online classes proved to be difficult since he was only limited to verbal communication with blind participants.
But he has plans to continue the classes after the lockdown ends. Thapa will return to Kathmandu to prepare Namrata Shrestha, Miss Nepal 2021 for the international Miss World pageant and will also continue teaching at his Iris Dance Studio.
But his heart will still remain in Surkhet. .“I remember what I had to go through. As a dancer, I had no one to look up to,” Thapa says. “And I don’t want the next generation, no matter where they’re from, to not get to do something just because they didn’t have someone to teach them.”