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New generation of dance students:
Busy working mothers becoming classical dancers
by Padma Chebrolu, Cincinnati, OH

February 11, 2004
In many dance studios across the globe it is very common to see dance students who are in their teens and pre teens working hard to reach their and their parents' dreams. For some of them it is their passion, for some of them it is a tradition and for some of them they are trying make their parents' dreams come true. Now there is a new trend taking place slowly, which is going to be significant and important to the dance teachers every where.

Working mothers are making strives to learn classical dances of India. They are full of enthusiasm and dedication. They are ever working hard to make time in their very busy lives to find time to attend the dance studio regularly, practice at home and even perform Arangetrams. Given many social and cultural restrictions on women you can still find inspirational stories, which go above and beyond the norm.

Meet the following exceptional women, who are attending classes at Cultural Centre of India's dance studio.

Rasila Parikh:

Rasila is married and has one daughter, Priya. She graduated from Bombay University with a degree in Economics and Statistics. She came to Cincinnati at the age of 23. She has been working at Union Central Life Insurance Company as an IT Team Leader and Project Manager. She is the first woman in US to obtain Charted Financial Consultant (ChFC) diploma in 1986. While she was growing up, Rasila actively participated in the school dance and drama Programs every year. She choreographed Garba and other dances during college years. She won three dance competitions out of fours years in college.

1. What inspired you to become a classical dance student?
When I was 10 year old, I saw Vyjayantimala's Bharata Natyam dance program at Birla Theater in Bombay.
Since then it became my childhood dream to learn classical dance. Just did not get opportunity at that time and it remained as a dream. After my marriage, I tried to go to several places to learn dance and most teachers refused to teach a grown up woman at the beginning level. So finally, when my daughter, Priya started dance training when she was 9, her teacher (Padma) asked me to join with Priya. That was a wonderful opportunity and I grabbed it right away. I have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. Luckily, Priya also did not mind when I was learning dance with her.

2. How do you manage learning dance when you have many other priorities and demands in your life?
When there is desire and heart, there is a will and there is a time to manage.

3. On March 27th, you'll be having your Arangetram. How is your preparation for Arangetram coming along? How is your health doing?
Difficult but not impossible. Not enough time with full time job, being a wife and a mother, managing social life and managing my daughter's busy schedule. However, whenever I find time, I practice. Practicing two hours a day, 5 to 7 days a week is very difficult. Sometimes, I start practicing at 10:00 pm at night. Other days are simply good and manageable. Besides, sometimes I have breathing problems with my low level asthma. However, with proper medications and practicing dance I am doing much better. Dance to me is perfect exercise.

Dance trains me to concentrate my mind, expressions, feelings, hands and footwork, which in turn, in-fact helps me to breathe better. Obviously at my age, I get tired much faster than any young student but daily practice schedule helps me to build my stamina. It is the attitude and like Frank Lloyd Wright once said, "The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen."

4. What kind of support do your family and friends give?
My family is just wonderful. First of all, Priya always helps and encourages me to practice. My husband, Tushar, always supports my activities. My younger brother and his wife are just so excited about me learning dance and staying with my active life style. My friends, they are just wonderful. My daughter, friends and family give me encouragement to practice for my Arangetram. My friends are looking forward for the day and are ready to take care of the whole event. Sometimes it seems, my friends and family are more excited than I am for March 27th.

5. What would you say to other women who would love to be dance students and reach the Arangetram level?
Again, where there is a Will there is a Way. It is never too late to start anything in life, especially, learning new things. Age has no limit. I know there are days I can practice perfectly and not get tired and there are days I cannot practice well due to my asthma. Who knows how I would perform on the day of my Arangetram! All I can say is I will do my best. If nothing else, I know I have tried my best. After all the audience are going to be my close friends and family.

6. What are you future aspirations as a dancer?
My wish is to make every one dance. I am not telling this in a superficial manner. Dance is so primary to a human being. Every one should learn a little bit of dance in whatever form - folk, social or classical. To me, dance is basic part of life. During dancing, one needs to concentrate on every nerve system and every part of body. To me, this is a perfect form of Yoga. After my Arangetram, surely I am planning to learn more, learn Carnatic music and teach dance to all the new comers.

7. Any other comments or thoughts?
Nothing related to dance but I like to promote vegetarianism. To me, non-violence is the most supreme religion of all. I am very grateful to my teacher, who gave me this wonderful opportunity to learn and gave me encouragement to prepare for my Arangetram. I wish many more Gurus and Teachers keep the same open mind to make no bearing based on age. I am also very grateful to my daughter Priya and all other young girls in the class with me who gave me support and encouragement to be with them in their class.

Kanthi Murali:

Kanthi works in the Nuclear Medicine department at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati. She has a daughter who is doing residency to become a radiologist and a son in high school. She is a proud grandmother of a four-month-old baby girl, Avani. Kanthi loves to interact with her patients and spend time with her friends and family.

1. What inspired you to become classical dancer?
Endurance, elegance, beauty and the details.

2. How do you manage to learn with other priorities and demands?
It is mere motivation and desire for me to learn classical dance. I want to achieve some special talents.

3. Five years from now where do you see yourself as dancer?
In my case, I have had a lot of emotional and health problems. I want to be a role model to motivate and to prove to others that no matter what happens in life, you still can achieve anything if you have the mind, desire and will power.

4. What would you say to other women who want to take up dance?
Please do not let anything come in your way as long as you have the passion, love and desire for dance. Remember age is only a number.

5. Any other comments?
I feel nothing should stop anybody from learning dance if they have the desire to do so. Do not wait any longer then you already have. Dance is very relaxing, good exercise for the mind and body. It is also very refreshing. I can bring my true emotions and feelings in dance, which I had bottled up all my life. I love it. Give it a chance then you will know what you have missed in life. A teacher can be a true friend too.

Virginia Behrens:

Virginia grew up in Petaluma, California and went to college in San Francisco bay area. She has a Masters of Science in Environmental Health Sciences from School of Public Health at U Calif., Berkeley. She was a Commissioned Officer in the United States Public Health Service for 20 years - worked at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Virginia married Stephen in 1986 and gave birth to twin boys in 1988. She retired from government service with pension in 1996. Stayed home with children until recently when she went back to college at UC Clermont in computer science.

She learned ballet as a child and took classes sporadically through her early 20's. She has always loved to dance including the latest popular dances. After retiring, she tried to learn belly dance and some African dance but never found a good teacher. In 2001, a yoga friend (she has done and taken yoga for over twenty years) took her to a tribal belly dance class. From a teacher in tribal belly dance class she found out about the Cultural Centre of India dance studio.

1. What inspired you to become a classical dance student?
Probably the strongest influence has been my extensive background in Indian culture that I got through my studies of yoga and Indian spiritual philosophy. I have a love of dance but what holds me to this form is my inner ties to Indian cultural expression.

2. How do you manage learning dance when you have many other priorities and demands in your life?
I don't fret about my progress but I try to always show up for class. I know that learning anything using the body is an accumulation over time. With enough years of effort it will all kick in and start to show - then speeding up effort can produce more dramatic results. I expect with this form of dance and my age it will take a few years at least.

3. Five years from now, where do you see your self as a dancer?
At my age (54) I don't have any definite plans because I know from how the aging process has gone so far for me, that I can't plan and be certain I will be able to do it. But I do plan to continue to dance as long as I'm physically able. I hope to be able to perform well in five years.

4. What would you say to other women who would love to be dance students?
I say don't think, worry, or be overly concerned with how you look and how well you are doing - just get on the dance floor and have fun with it. But be disciplined about coming to class - that's the only pressure in the beginning anyone needs. The other achievements can come later - it's enough to make the time to come to class every week - only assess yourself once or twice a year.

Sowmya Patnaik:

Sowmya is a polymer scientist specializing in the modeling of proteins and synthetic polymers. She has a Ph.D. in Materials Science, and lives with her husband and two daughters.

1. What inspired you to become a classical dance student?
I grew up in a family that had great appreciation for classical music and dance. My paternal grandparents were passionate advocates of the arts, and one of my aunts ran an Odissi dance school for many years. As a child, therefore, it was quite natural for me to learn classical dance. However, after learning Odissi for nine years I gave up dancing, primarily because I realized that I did not want dancing as a career. I wanted to stay focused on my studies and was not willing to spend the time and effort required for learning classical dance.

Now, after many years, my old interest was rekindled when my seven-year-old daughter started taking Bharata Natyam dance lessons. I drove her to her lessons and, instead of just sitting around waiting for her class to end, I decided to join the class. Once I joined, I realized that I enjoyed it and I now look forward to my lessons. I am a goal-oriented person but I am trying not to set any goals here. It is enough for me that I get pleasure from this and that, unlike most of the other things I do, my learning to dance at this stage in my life is really not designed to achieving something specific. The progress is very slow, but in just one year, I have seen a lot of improvement, and that is a great motivation factor.

2. How do you manage learning dance when you have many other priorities and demands in your life?
It is hard to find time for practice. It would not be possible for me to do this now if my daughter was not learning to dance. I feel that, as parents, we devote a lot of time and energy to various activities for our kids but do not give any importance to our own interests. Learning dance alongside my daughter allows me to follow one of my own interests without taking time away from her activities. This makes the choice much easier.

3. Five years from now, where do you see your self as a dancer?
I am taking this one day at a time. Right now I am not a serious student, but I would like to become one. Whether, that will happen in the next five years, I do not know yet. There are many demands on my time, and if I set too many goals now, I will not be able to meet them. For the time being, I am just having fun.

4. What would you say to other women who would love to be dance students?
Just do it! Don't wait for the perfect time. The perfect time is now! But once you start it, be prepared for the hard work. Like everything else, what you get out of it will depend on how much you put into the process. So be realistic and have fun!

Padma is the artistic director of Cultural Centre of India. Along with operating a dance studio, she conducts lectures, demonstrations, workshops and performances at many universities, museums, corporations, and performing art schools. Padma extensively writes articles about dance and dance education. Padma Chebrolu's background in education includes Masters in Business Administration and Masters in Education in Information Technology from US. She also has a degree in Bharata Natyam from India. She works as a software engineer at a major corporation. She lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati.

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