Indiana Pooja Mehta – dancer, actress, choreographer, dance company director, teacher, former student and guest teacher of TLFCB, is making waves across India and the world. Having just featured in the Netflix movie Work It, Indiana wastes no time in preparing for her next work opportunities. Find out about her journey at TLFCB and beyond, and how her initial years of training shaped her work ethic and fuelled her passion for pushing beyond her limits.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Competitive (hopefully in a good way!), ambitious, tenacious
Tell us a bit about your background. What did you do before training at TLFCB? And after?
Before meeting Yana and starting ballet at TLFCB, I was very confused. I wanted to be the best at skating and in athletics, and dance was never really in the picture for me. I hated studying, so I was just hanging out with friends, while still training a lot in skating. Then I happened to meet Yana, and I began my training journey with her. My goal became attending performing arts school, and hard work and dedication lead me to London where I auditioned and was accepted at Laine Theatre Arts – one of the foremost performing arts schools in the UK. Having finished my training there, I was forced to move back to Bombay. I was not able to extend my visa to stay in the UK. It felt like there was no scope, no hope, and no potential of me finding any work that I had trained for in Bombay. I taught, did a few odd jobs, but was always looking for a way to leave. I got the opportunity to move to Canada, and after a lot of paper work and waiting, I left India again in 2018.
What are you working on right now?
I’m going for a lot of auditions at the moment. I’ve auditioned for few voiceover gigs, and a couple of TV shows – one of which is based in Vancouver. I just heard that I am shortlisted for that one! Besides that I am taking a lot of acting classes, and creating content for BollyHeelsTO, a Bollywood fusion in heels dance company which I am co-director of. I’m also training in voice-overing.
What does your regular day look like at the moment?
My regular day right now looks crazy – but a good crazy. I start my day with working out. During the summer months, because there were a lot of summer camps, I was teaching 6-7 hours a day at different summer schools. I would come home, cook, choreograph for classes, prep for classes, choreograph for videos, prepare content for BollyHeelsTO, take random webinars to expand my own repertoire, listen to casting directors, choreographers, and preparing social media content. I’m learning a lot about social media right now!
Has the lockdown changed how/when/how much you work?
I feel like I’m more busy now than I was before lockdown. It was so busy before, and things are even crazier now – do I even have a life outside of my work? (laughs) Only joking. The lockdown gave me a lot of time to figure out what other businesses I could get myself employed in, where I would not have to rely on the industry – something I could do online or launch myself, where I would not have to rely on other people hiring me. This is when I really started taking voiceover acting seriously. I have a mic and a small recording setup at home, so if I were to book any work or even send auditions, I can do it all from home.
What has been your biggest challenge in your journey so far?
The biggest challenge was finishing college in London and then not getting a visa to work there. It was a shock. That’s where my network and my agent were, and I knew more about the UK industry than about India or anywhere else in the world. Not getting the chance to audition there just because of the work visa was a huge challenge for me, since I had trained so hard for so many years, and then had to return to India where the industry is still limited for dancers trained in the west.
What has been your largest success?
Getting a visa to Canada was a success in itself! It opened so many doors for me. I have a Bachelor in Economics and Commerce degree that I had begun but wasn’t very keen on finishing. My dad encouraged me to finish since I had started it, and it made all the difference. This qualification degree helped me get the visa for Canada, which is quite funny, since my work in Canada has nothing to do with economics or commerce. Besides that, the Netflix movie ‘Work It’ has been a huge success and stepping stone for me.
Who has been your most significant support through the years? How have they helped you?
Yana has been a huge support. My parents, and now my fiancee Suraj, and all the people who have supported my journey so far. I could go on and on about how Yana has supported me, how she has groomed me to face challenges, to go for it, and to develop a “get a grip attitude” – the best tool in a business with so many letdowns. My parents have been a huge pillar of support for me, too – they never once said no to anything I wanted to do, even when the cost of going to train in the UK was laid out in front of them. All my friends who continuously support me, and are keen on knowing what I’m up to, and are always supportive and pushing and wishing for the best – it’s just so good to have a strong support system.
Who is your greatest inspiration? Why?
There are a lot of people that inspire me, but the two biggest ones are my dad and Yana. They kind of go without saying for me. Just the fact that Yana is a full time mother, a full time business woman, a teacher, and a great mentor to each and every one of her students is incredibly inspiring. That knowledge just keeps you going right? At least I feel like if she’s doing all this at 58, why am I crying about being tired or having a lot on my plate at 29.
My dad, who’s 56, always talks about how he wants to work til his last breath, that there is still so much that he wants to do for society, or how many movies and projects that he still wants to write and direct. He has so many ideas – his passion is still alive. This keeps me going; it knowing them inspires me to keep pushing for more.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully, on a TV show! Something which has 10 seasons with 20 episodes in each one.
What has been the greatest lesson you have learned so far?
The biggest lesson is: what is meant to be will be, and when it’s meant to happen, it will. It took me 11 years to realise that
How did your time at TLFCB shape you as a person and as a performer?
TLFCB was life changing for me, especially the way Yana worked with me to recover from some health issues that I had. It was incredibly inspiring to work with her. At this time, I knew that I didn’t want to let anybody down – her, my parents, or myself. I had never known how much I could push myself beyond my limits. I was always an athlete, but I never knew I could push myself the way I learned to at TLFCB.
While I was training with Yana, I didn’t have a set goal of “this is what I want to achieve or be in 10 years time” – it was just about being in that moment, training and achieving as much as I could. I wanted to be the best I could, without having any set plans for the future. The “always wanting to be the best I could be” attitude worked in my favour; it has certainly helped me as a performer. I’m so glad that I’m so picky about technique, and that is a direct product of Yana being very particular about it. As Yana says: once you have your technique solid, it’s easy to put other layers on top.
When you are not dancing, what do you do?
When not dancing, I’m either working out, talking to my parents, planning what I’l do next, or cooking, doing laundry, or just going for a walk. On some days I feel like I don’t want to get out of bed, and on those rare occasions I’ll pull a whole day of Netflix and just chill. Just I, me and myself, nobody else.
Who’s your favourite choreographer?
I have too may favourites in terms of choreographers! Two absolute favourites are definitely Brian Freedman and Mia Michaels. These names will never change, they are so iconic. From Bollywood I would say the late Saroj Khan, and from the music video industry, Beyoncé’s choreographer, JaQuel Knight.
What is your favourite food?
What is your favourite style of music?
It depends on my mood – some days old Bollywood hits, on other days old school hiphop, and at times I just want to listen to Beyoncé all day.
If you were not a dancer, what would you be?
This is a complicated question, because like I mentioned I hated going to school. I really wanted to compete for India in roller skating, so maybe I would have pursued that. I also went through times when I wanted to join the military. That was serious for me. Every time I watched movies when I was younger, whatever the lead character was playing, whether it was a pilot or army sergeant, I just wanted to be that when I grew up. A lot of my friends would go out and train at an army camp in Bombay during my school days. I wanted to go, too, but I couldn’t get in because I was too short.
If you could perform together with anyone, who would it be?
Queen B! Beyoncé of course.
If you could go back in time and meet anyone from history, who would it be?
Whitney Houston. If it was someone who’s still alive, Tom Cruise!
What is your advice to dancers who want to become professionals in the industry?
- Consistency is key.
- Versatility. The more versatile you are the more opportunities you will have. I keep telling all my students here in Canada and everyone I meet who wants to make it in the industry – do not box yourself into a one-style dancer, especially when you start auditioning. There are not going to be that many ballet auditions, or that many hiphop auditions, but if you’re able to do both styles then hey, you have more chances.
- Dancers need to learn to say no if something is not worth their time or worth their skills.
- Know your worth. Don’t be ready to work for a choreographer just because it’s good exposure. You may have to once or twice to get out there, but you need to understand when that choreographer or director is going to start taking advantage of you and your talent.
- Look at yourself as a business, not just as a dancer. You are your own business. You need to learn about taxes, you need to learn about accounting, learn about how to save money, how to make money, and figure out a way how you can thrive in this industry.
- Never stop training, because the day you say you know it all and can do it all is the day you should just quit.