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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 12pm

#BIGBALLET: How Asian dancer battled his Bollywood instincts and stereotypes to embrace ballet

A Bradford-based Bollywood dancer has spoken of the unique challenges he's faced on a unique social experiment on Channel 4 that comes to a pirouetting culmination on Thursday (20 January).

Raj Parmar, the well-known choreographer, make-up artist and presenter, is one of two males and the only Asian participating in 'Big Ballet', which sees a group of 'Plus Size' dancers  fulfil their ambition of taking the stage with a performance of Tchaikovsky's classic Swan Lake.

The 3-part documentary has thus far followed 33-year-old Parmar discard his Bollywood instincts and embrace his inner ballet god whilst taking on the role of the evil magician Baron Von Rothbart.

Parmar, who runs his own Bollywood dance academy in Bradford, spoke to Get West London about the unique challenges he faced: "I didn't know anything about ballet. Bollywood is all about shaking the hips and lip-synching but in ballet that's a no-no.

Trying to stop those hips moving when you've done that for 14 years is so hard.

I was in pain after rehearsals every day for two months. I have so much respect now for professional ballet dancers because the focus and dedication required to succeed is immense", he said.

Parmar beat out hundreds of hopefuls for a spot in the documentary hosted by Wayne Sleep, former principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, and which contends that anyone and everyone should have access to classical ballet as a means of enjoyment and exercise.

It was just as Parmar himself was battling a dramatic increase in his weight - having given up dancing full-time to take up choreography - that he chanced on Big Ballet.

"I'd always been interested in ballet but being a guy and being Asian it wasn't the done thing, which held me back," he told Get West London.

"I think there's still a certain stigma attached to men dancing, especially in the Asian community. Many parents want their sons to pursue more traditional professions like medicine or law.

"When this opportunity presented itself I leapt at the chance to try something I've always wanted to do.

My mum Usha's so supportive. She's always been adamant that as long as I'm happy doing what I'm doing she will be proud of me."

Thursday 20th February sees the culmination of months of preparation for Wayne, Raj and the rest of the amateur dance troupe. 

The show has won praise from critics and fans alike for shedding light on a sensitive issue, that of inclusivity in the gilded, often snobby, environs of the classical art form of Ballet.

"I love the show’s message", Parmar says.

"Dance is for everyone, not just the svelte and petite.  I am a big believer in the universality of dance and there is most definitely a dancer in everyone!"

- 'Big Ballet' is on Channel 4 Thursday's at 9 pm

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