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A career in Indian classical dance is not a bleak prospect. Well-meaning moms, dads, uncles or aunts may discourage you, but dancer Chinmayi Raju has a different POV.
What is life without people we love and things that are close to our heart? It is an absolute void, without any meaning to it. Many cross paths with our life, but few are so special that they become an integral part of it. They have such an impact that life might often take a different turn.
One such person in 23 years old Chinmayi Raju’s life is her dance teacher Roopashree Madhusudan. Chinmayi started learning Bharatanatyam about 15 years ago. Since then she is sharing this special bond, that of a guru-shishya (teacher-student) with her beloved ‘Roopa ma’am’. It was during this journey that Chinmayi’s passion for dance grew. She says, “Dance is life, life is dance. Everything that I am today is because of dance.”
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I interviewed this teacher-student duo to talk about their dancing, passion, dance as a career and a lot more.
Classical dance has been a part of Roopa’s life for more than 30 years. She was a performer and is now a guru to hundreds of Bharatanatyam enthusiasts. According to her, both the roles are very different because all dance performers can’t be very good teachers and vice-versa. She feels it’s a great fortune to be able to perform in both roles.
Dancers these days, for a career, are exploring various new arenas, without relying only on stage performances or teaching. If many are seen as performers on television shows, some become judges of the same. With the growing popularity of social media platforms, many dancers have their own YouTube channels where they upload their performances and also tutorial videos.
When I asked her about the same, Roopa says that unlike before, performing and teaching are not the only options now. As dance is a creative art, along with it dancers can also try their hand at other related fields like art critiquing, storytelling, or they can become lyricists, scholars, inspiring orators etc. Roopa also sings for live dance performances.
But how many actually take up dance as a career? It appears to be very rare. But Roopa doesn’t agree to this and tells me, “I am fortunate to share this, most of my students have been caught by the magic of classical dance and many of them are pursuing it for food, for the belly and brain. It is surely not rare.”
Undoubtedly, Chinmayi Raju is one of them. She recently completed her Msc in Psychology and never did she feel dance as a burden with all her academics. Instead, it was always her first priority. “Many of my performances have been during important exams. It never bothered me. I would just study what was required to pass the exam and focus more on my performance,” confesses Chinmayi. She feels dance rather complemented her studies.
Chinmayi must have given over 100 performances in many cities by now, yet she says the butterflies inside her stomach prior to every performance haven’t died. “I completely enjoy the anxiety and nervousness just before entering the stage. Like people getting addicted to intoxicants, I totally love and crave for that feeling. For me, that’s the best part of every performance.”
She also gave up the job that she did for a short while as a counselor in a school. Currently, she wants to totally focus on her own dance and improving it. Starting a dance class right away is not what she has in mind. “It’s a self construction period for me. Becoming a teacher is not easy, they should set an example and students should look up to them. Once I am there I’ll surely start teaching,” said Chinmayi.
Talking about the actual reality of taking up dance as a career she admits that it is indeed very scary. She feels, “With all the competition and lesser payments that artists get, it’s definitely not easy. It will be a roller coaster ride and one would definitely need a lot of guts to get in to it.”
The television industry with its various dance reality shows often needs performers, judges and most importantly, choreographers. Many artists turn towards such opportunities as financially they are reliable as well. Chinmayi, however, wants to remain a performer and a teacher in the future. “Television is too commercial. I am always a stage girl and will remain one,” says Chinmayi.
With the passing of years, Chinmayi’s love for dance hasn’t dwindled but increased, just like that of her guru, whom she drives her inspiration from. Dance is definitely a potential career option, but the path is not full of flowers. There are struggles, maybe more than in many other professions, especially for students who do not come from a financially comfortable family background, which needs to be acknowledged. But passion often motivates dancers to find their way through.
Chinmayi’s mantra to get over the hard days is to be determined and just never stop dancing. Such unhindered practice would definitely be followed by good opportunities, she feels. It’s one right person at one performance noticing you that can open the floodgate of chances to prove your talent! Here’s to more such classical dancers attempting to blend their art and passion with a livelihood too.
Image Credit – Chinmayi Raju
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