How a rickshaw driver’s son beat the odds to join a famed UK ballet school

Kamal Singh was 17-years-old when he first became transfixed by ballet dancers in a Bollywood film. At that moment, the son of a rickshaw driver in Delhi knew that he wanted to become a ballet dancer himself. Now, four years since that moment, Singh has become one of the first Indian students to be admitted into the famous English National Ballet school.

The road to admittance to the school wasn’t easy. To start with, Singh couldn’t afford the 3,500 rupees ($47) per month he needed to attend his first ballet school in Delhi. However, thanks to his teacher Fernando Aguilera, who was astonished by the boy’s natural talents, Singh was allowed to continue taking classes for free. Later, Singh received a scholarship, even paying for his lunch and transport to the school, a two and a half-hour journey from the boy’s home.

Apparently, Singh had never heard classical music or even a piano before his first lesson, but under Aguilera’s private instruction he learned not only ballet but the basics of reading music, the stories of famous ballet dancers, and all the storylines of the great ballets such as Swan Lake. “He made me watch videos of professional ballet dancers and taught me that it can be a career, just like a doctor or an engineer, and he also met my father to explain,” says Singh. “After that my father allowed me to study full-time.”

Singh had the honor to take part in a prestigious summer ballet course in Russia during the summer of 2019, but couldn’t return this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But just as it seemed like his opportunities were drying up, Singh saw an advertisement from the English National Ballet, which said they were looking for male dancers. Singh applied, and eventually received an acceptance email in Aguilera’s inbox.

“I read this email seven times, I could not believe it,” said Aguilera. “I even translated it into Spanish just to make sure I was reading it right. And then I started crying.”

Joy, however, turned into worry quickly after it became clear that the fees to attend the school and live in London would be around £20,000 ($26,000), which was much more than the Singh family could afford. Aguilera, determined for money not to get in the way, was about to take out a loan to fund his student when they had an idea to start a crowdfunding page. Within a week they had raised 1.5m rupees ($20,450). Then, when Bollywood stars such as Kunal Kapoor caught wind of the campaign and shared it on social media, a further 1.9m rupee was netted for Singh.

One week later, the dancing son of the rickshaw driver boarded a flight to London to chase his dream.

At the Optimist Daily, we loved this story because it helps restore faith in the natural goodness of people and shows that, despite challenging circumstances, anyone can achieve their goals if they truly want to. The story also speaks volumes about the beautiful things that can happen when people lend a helping hand to one another.

Image source: Arnaud Stephenson

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