Updated: Jun 3, 2019
When I first went to my very first dance class, it was something fun to do. Like most kids as years passed I was distracted by the world outside. Modernism, films, fun, food, TV. This was back in the 80s in Madras, so even playing outside with my other friends was a distraction. My mother made me dance however, so I went, like I was doing my chores and that’s all it was. She even made me learn as much of a margam as I could possibly remember at the age of 8, just before left to Australia. I know how terrible I danced, but she went all out brought me clothes, jewellery and filmed the whole margam, so that I wouldn’t forget. My father shook his head when I danced. I still remember… but, my mother was proud of me. She had faith in me and her art.
Coming to Australia, one would think that she would leave me be. But no, every morning 6AM the woman woke me up, put the tapes on that she had recorded for me and made me dance. My cousin who was staying with us watched me and laughed and said, “Shantha anta you should give up you are wasting your time”. She didn’t give up.
She took me to dance class to my first guru in Perth Jayaluxmi Raman, then Bhavani Shivakumar. Dance became fun because that’s where I made my friends, these friends are still close to me and in my life. It wasn’t however until my uncle challenged me saying I can’t dance, that I actually took dance seriously. My mother utilised my anger and egged me on to show him that I could dance after all. She sparked a fire finally, I did my first performance, solo and tasted applause for the first time when I was 9 and loved it. Finally I thought I was good at something and I continued to dance out of the love of performing. I felt alive on stage. Like a part of me came to life that was never alive when I was off stage. I forgot everything, the lights hit my eyes and it was alive. Judging by the response, I thought I was a good dancer… It started to be part of my identity. My mother who organised Theatre shows made sure she kept that fire alive in me.
I practiced every day because it made me something. It became a part of me, slowly… without me realising.. I was beginning to fall in love with it. My mother kept taking me to India to learn more. When I was 17 I did my arangetram, I was blessed enough to learn under my gurus Chitra Muralidaran, Madurai R Muralidarn and Manimekalai and perform in Chidambaram. Again it was all my mother’s doing. I didn’t ask for this opportunity, It was given to me and perhaps I didn't value it until I danced in Chidambaram itself.
Arangetram was a battle for me, Waking up at 6 am, never being good enough for my teachers, having to do an aramandi when all I wanted to do was sleep and throughout practices I felt like I was dancing for someone else. That was the biggest moment of realisation for me, In order to dance with all my heart I had to promise myself that I will never let anyone come in-between my dance and me.. it was as if it were a person to me.. as if I were in a relationship with it.. it was my love. I had fallen in love. And I danced in chidambaram, not for the applause, not even for my guru not for anyone else, not even my mother, but for myself.. and i surrendered to it, and through it. I don’t think it was the greatest performance, I’m not sure what other people saw, yes there was appreciation and applause and to survive in chidambaram, I suppose that was good.. but more than anything else, it was the first moment between me and my love, where I felt like I completely in love and felt completely lost in my dance. It’s a moment i’ll never forget.
As with any relationship, my relationship matured with dance. It was after my arangetram that it started to become a spiritual experience. I practiced every night after i returned to Australia, just because I wanted to dance, to be one with it, soon I started to understand life through it. Then life itself took turns and bends and the one thing I started to hold on to was dance. I dreamt through it, I lived through it, loved through it, i forgot sadness through it, i forgot myself, understood life itself through it. The moments I danced were special, I awaited the next and that was the only world I cared about. No i wasn’t a piece of brilliance, i didn't need to be, i just needed to feel it in me, its movements, which made me feel like i was flying in another dimension, another world, my world… My mother who once tried so hard to make me dance called me aside and said “ I was once like you but there’s more to life than dance” What she was saying sounded absurd to me. It had become my way of life, my religion.. my way of connecting to the higher power.. my voice.. my expression.. there i was madly in love.. and there i knew i would never ever give this art form up. i was married to it for life. It was now an inseparable part of me and who i was. It will live in me, grow through me and grow me through it.
This journey many dancers who have become one with the art would’ve experienced. These dancers are the ones who will continue to practice this art form. My marriage with dance was arranged by my mother but i did fall in love head over heals.
For any dancer who wants to continue the art form, not just learn it perform it and leave it.. this is a crucial moment, that moment of falling in love with dance, that love affair with dance, it is what will keep the fire burning.
Of course it can not be forced on to anyone. But as far as I know the greatest teachers are not the ones who teach the art but inspire the student to love the art, the rest will fall into place, the student will learn in their own accord, go on their own journey in thirst of knowledge, to understand how to be one with the art form. The teacher who taught me to fall in love with this art through her constant encouragement and passion was my mother, for this I’m forever grateful.
Truth is once upon a time she fell in love as well, but unfortunately culture didn’t allow her to continue her art, but she passed the passion, the love, the light on to me..
Shastram.. Undying knowledge passed on purely for the love of dance.