CHENNAI: Two bodies move on the wooden floor in unison. Their eyes communicate their next step, which is executed with perfect accuracy, and they move on to the next. The dance that unfurls is fluid and flashy, with the dancers overlapping and embracing each other smoothly.
This is what S Manigandan lives for — the wordless connection between dancers. The 39-year-old, better known as Salsa Mani, is a professional Latin and partner dancer, skilled in genres such as cha-cha, rumba, samba, and of course, salsa.
As a coach with the Tamil Nadu Dance Sport Association, he led his team of dancers from The Dance Port to a big win at the 10th National All India Dance Sports Championships held by All India DanceSport Federation this month. They bagged 11 gold, three silver and four bronze medals.
In the 90s, he was exposed to Latin dance and partner dancing when he was working as a freelance dancer. The connection between the two performers and the flamboyance of the dance stuck to his memory. When he moved to the United Kingdom in 2004, he studied in JJ Dance Studios, and learned all there is in the dance form. He received a certification in Latin and performance dance soon after.
“When you dance with a partner, there is an understanding between the lead and the follow that brings magic on stage — you can see it in our lifts and drops,” he says. He went on to get placed sixth in the Champions of Tomorrow competition, in Latin-American dance form, held in Blackpool, United Kingdom — an internationally acclaimed competition for dancers — in 2008, which Mani calls ‘the Mecca of competitive dance’.
When Mani returned to Chennai in 2009, he wanted to bring his knowledge of dance and dancesport to the city. He approached various leading television channels and was eventually featured in Vijay TV’s Boys VS Girls. “Back then, there was little awareness of dance with a partner. All dance involving another person was called salsa, which is where I got the name ‘Salsa Mani’. It was easy to promote as well,” he says.
Mani wants to use his platform to teach more dancers. “I hope more people can recognise dance as a sport — breaking is already a part of the Youth Olympics — and take part in more national and international meets,” says Mani.
Dancesport is an art form that combines the aestheticism of dance and the athletics behind sport on a competitive scale. Mani explains that it requires a balance between the creativity of dance and the skill and rigid training of sport. It focuses on precision — even a wrongly-placed heel could cost one a competition.