Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dance and me

Recently I was fortunate enough to witness one of the best dance ballets in Kuchipudi that I have ever seen. I am not saying this because I am biased toward the director who by the way is my very own dance teacher Padma Sonti but I am saying this because the entire composition was brilliant. The music, costumes, dancers and of course the choreography was excellent.

Padma had worked really hard on getting the ballet written up, designing the costumes and jewellery, props etc. She had a lot of help from her new found partners in dance, the brothers Raghava and Venkat from Kuchipudi, India but here I will be biased and say that she worked very hard and pushed everybody to get things in order and on time for the ballet. To top it all, she kept a cool head the entire time. She really was the driving force who brought everything together and I admire that quality in her.

I was disappointed that I had to be in the sidelines this time but the energy of the entire thing still caught up with me and I had fun just watching and helping out with the peripheral things. I didn’t dance but went to rehearsals to help with lighting for the show. Even being in the sidelines energized me. In my 6th month of pregnancy, I get tired very easily but it was the sheer magic of the music and the energy of dance that I didn’t feel tired even after being there for 5 hours two days in a row. I did get a little stressed on the actual day of the show because the lighting didn’t go as planned but the program was so good that it was all worth it. It made me start to think about what it is about dance and music that energizes me so much.

Me and dance go back a long way. The first time I danced on stage was when I was in the first grade. I don’t really remember what the song was but it was about stars and the moon and even though I say so myself, I was the prettiest star on the stage J The next thing I remember is being on a play in the enactment of the story of the lion and the rabbit from Aesop’s fables also in the first grade at the same school. Here I really was the center of attention, you see I played the part of the Rabbit J I don’t know if I liked carrots before that day but ever since then I have loved carrots.

As a child I learnt Kathak and performed with my teacher’s troupe at a variety of venues in Delhi like the India international center, AP Bhavan, school functions etc. Me and my sisters enjoyed dancing so much, we went out of our way to attend classes and go for programs. Even after I discontinued taking formal lessons in kathak, I continued to do folk and ‘filmy’ dances at community functions and in school. We had a lot of fun choreographing and presenting dance numbers at all of those places.

When I was dancing as part of my teacher’s troupe in Delhi, I enjoyed the practices, the extra classes, giggling at the back of he room with friends, getting mad about the teacher getting mad at us for giggling and then the final day when we would have our hair done at home by mom and go to a common place to get dressed and get our make up for the stage. I never remember feeling scared to get on stage or even being worried that I would forget (until recently at least). The entire experience gave me a high that no intoxicants in the world can match J

When doing our own little ‘programs’ with friends, I loved the anticipation, practicing, getting together with friends and ‘choreographing’ dances, the chaos on the day of the program and finally the relief that it was all over (until next time). The tempers running high during practice, the wounded and mended egos, and promises to self never to get involved again (only to forget everything the moment the program was over). It all makes for a heady mix which I for one enjoyed immensely.

When I left college, I thought I had done my last dance on stage but boy was I wrong. When Kishen met me 6 months later, he mentioned that one of things I could do in the US was go to dance classes. I was excited at the prospect but in my ‘box’ of post marriage life, learning to dance just didn’t fit. Well, I came here in 2000 march and less than a year later, I was learning Kuchipudi with Padma.

I never thought I would ever learn or dance on stage again but thanks to Kishen and a dear friend who has more enthusiasm in life than anybody I have seen so far, I started learning dance. And here I am 9 years later, still learning. I took a break for a year when Vivek was born and it was a little difficult to get back to the routine after that but I stuck with it and today I can’t imagine life without Kuchipudi. Now I am waiting for my second kid to get here so I can get back into the fray. I was so used to dance being part of my routine that even though I couldn’t dance this time around, I helped out with the preparations and some stage management.

It was with Padma that I got involved with charities related to promotion of art. The first one being Padma’s own MUDRA. The second one is Venkat’s (who incidentally I met through Padma) Kuchipudi Bhagavatha Melam. I believe if there is anything I can do to help promote the art, it is more than I could have hoped to do in a lifetime.

People have asked me how I expect to be able to dance after the second kid and I just say that I am crazy enough to figure out a way. I am surrounded by my crazy group of friends at dance class who also have kids and are still mental enough to come to class every week and even do programs. They are my inspiration and motivation so I hope to go on. There have also been people who have indicated that I am neglecting my duties as a mother and wife by spending time for my classes but I don’t really care about these people. In fact I have something special to say to them that I cannot post on my blog but you get the picture. It is my life and if dancing makes me happy, I will do it regardless of what people think (good or bad).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Growing Old(er?)

Age should not be measured by how much time you have been here; it should be measured by how much you have lived.

I read this somewhere and I thought it was pretty cool.

2008 saw me turning 30. It also saw me freaking out about turning 30J. Age had never been a point of distress for me so I didn’t see the breakdown coming. I always thought that physical age does not limit how you feel about yourself. It is your attitude that decides how you enjoy life at every stage and age J

Well, all that was thrown out the window the moment I turned 30. I enjoyed my birthday, because I was very happy with life at the time. I had a great job, a beautiful family, luxurious lifestyle, what else could I ask for? It actually took a couple of weeks before I was hit with the realization that I had turned 30. I had heard friends talk about the big 30 but it never seemed to bother me. In my naïveté I assumed that I was immune to the affects of age on myself.

About 3-4 weeks after my 30th birthday, I suddenly realized that life had changed a lot. I started thinking about how I ‘celebrated’ my birthday and just the thought was enough to give me depression. The ‘grand’ celebration included a take-out dinner (from a favorite restaurant) and a movie. I enjoyed all of that at the moment but I was depressed by the fact that I had to wait for a birthday to do something so simple as a dinner and a movie. Having a child and friends who have children has changed the social scene of life and it suddenly hit me.

I was at a point where I started thinking that life didn’t have meaning anymore. Up until now it had always been about the next thing I needed to achieve. Good grades at school, college education, career, marriage, job, higher education, children and finally settling down (or something like that) in life by buying a house, having a stable job etc. I had enjoyed the ride so far, and even had a few adventures and my little unconventional indulgences like a sports car as my first car. But finally I realized that I had come to a stop. I didn’t know where to go from here. So far there had always been some goal in life that needed to be achieved. Something out there still incomplete but finally I had achieved all that conventional wisdom advocates.

So I found myself thinking about it a lot. The constant question in my mind was ‘what next’. I mean I still had small goals so to speak: promotion at work, another child etc. but nothing seemed big enough or exciting enough to look forward to. I started setting small goals for myself and in the process, I finally finished small projects around the house, got a lot of things from the family ‘TO DO’ list taken care of and actually started an exercise regimen. It still wasn’t enough. At the end of every goal achieved, I came back to the bigger question of what next?

I may be experiencing a classic mid-life crisis but I couldn’t toss the vacant unfulfilled sense of emptiness. Yeah I know big words coming from me but you get the idea. I guess everybody goes though this in life where you come to a point beyond which life hadn’t been defined yet!!!

I moped around, threw tantrums, fought with my husband and was miserable in general. In the end, I decided to try doing something I hadn’t really done so far, at least not to the extent that I wanted to anyway. I had been thinking about social work and working for an NGO or for charity etc. So basically I wanted to do something selfless. The answer came to me through Dance.

My dance teacher in Dallas has an NGO and I started helping her with the annual festival organized by the NGO. Believe it or not, I had found my jive. I enjoyed doing something selfless. A task that gave me nothing more than the satisfaction of being able to help. There was nothing to be gained, no goals, no agenda, just plain help. I enjoyed it immensely even though I had to spend a lot of time doing things I didn’t quite know how to do but I learnt them along the way and the end result was actually good. Another person I started helping was a dance teacher from India who needed some help with outing his NGO online. Well, 6 months down the line, they now have a blog which is updated regularly. I am getting more and more involved with this NGO and I am having fun doing this.

Maybe this is my way of dealing with my mid-life crisis ( I am wondering if you have a mid-life crisis at 30, will you die at 60?) I have found a purpose in life again (at least for nowJ). I will see how ling this continues. Meanwhile, I am my happy cheery self again and I am having fun. I am once again trying out new things and have formulated new goals for the rest of my life. I realized life isn’t over yet so why mope around thinking about the time when it will be.

Have fun and take life one crisis at a time…