By Maya Haridas from En Avant Magazine July-August 2023
In Conversation with three of our students who came into the TLFCB family through the outreach collaboration with the Parikrma Foundation. They speak about their love for ballet and how TLFCB’s program has enabled them to dance in the face of adversity.
What was your reaction when you got to know that you would be learning ballet at school? Had you heard of ballet before?
Tejas: I had no idea what ballet was when I was young. Since we came from not so privileged families, we didn’t get exposed to the arts much. It was a new experience for us, we had to come out of a box.
Shalini: I hadn’t heard of ballet before, but I was super excited to try something new!
Monica: As a child, I loved dancing but I never knew that a dance form called ballet existed. I did ballet class for the first time when I was 10 years old along with all my friends. When we met Miss Elina and Miss Yana for the first time we were stunned by their beauty! It was unusual for us to see people with fair skin and blonde hair and we were fascinated; I remember talking about them with my friends for the entire day.
What was the first class like?
Tejas: The first class was hard, but we had a lot of fun trying new things. And then as we progressed we got to know what ballet really is. That it is danced internationally. That’s when we started working hard. We started out at pre-primary level and it took us a long time to get to primary as it was such an alien way of moving. Then eight children out of the 64 in our class got selected as scholarship students to attend more classes during the week at TLFCB and I was one of them. Slowly we moved through the grades and some of them discontinued along the way. Finally there were four of us left and we auditioned for the Junior Dance Company (JDC) (Now the National Youth Ballet (NYB))
The only thing I remember from the audition was everyone sitting in a circle warming up! That’s all I actually remember. But we got in and that gave us a lot of opportunities to perform on many different stages.
During that time I also got to go to Delhi to perform with senior students like Peter and the teachers. That was the first time I went outside Karnataka.
The whole of the Parikrma class would perform in all the annual shows and that was always so much fun. It was like a festival for us! I was quite nervous about performing in the beginning but as I did more and more of it, my stage fright melted away and I began happily volunteering to perform at school events and functions.
Shalini: We were around 60 students, all so eager to learn. It was like a pre-primary class. With stories and mime and a few ballet steps. There were three teachers and they had to learn all the 60 names! It was a very big task for them. That’s probably the biggest class that any of them had to teach.
Monica: The first class was super fun, we played games and generally enjoyed ourselves. And later we started having regular ballet classes at school, every Thursday morning for almost 2 hours. We were a class of 50+ students and we were a bit mischievous and talkative at first but as we attended more classes we started to be disciplined. Mime and changements were my favourite parts of the classes. It was always like a competition between all my classmates to see who could keep on jumping the longest. And of course, the Christmas classes were wonderful. We used to get a lot of gifts as prizes for dancing well! But what I loved the most was that Miss Yana would always make sure that every student got at least one gift and no one left with empty hands.
The first show I watched was Cinderella. Before watching the show I thought ballet was only about gallops and changements and running around because that’s what I did in my classes. But afterwards my perspective about ballet changed completely! I still remember Miss Sushmitha who played the role of the stepmother; as soon as she started dancing on her toes in her pointe shoes, our eyes popped out and our jaw dropped. It was all like a magic show for us, we were out of our seats screaming and cheering and later Miss Elina completely stole the show as she danced with the Prince as Cinderella.
At the end of it all, I was like every other ballet student: dreaming about dancing on my toes.
What have you performed on stage?
Tejas: I did Spectacular Circus, Beauty and the Beast and in Sleeping Beauty I got my first solo – The Bluebird.
One nice thing that happened was that one time, the show fell on my birthday. After the show was over and the bows were happening, one classmate went up to the anchor and told her ‘It’s Tejas’s birthday today’. So they called me on stage and everyone wished me, I was so surprised and happy.
Then in 2018, I took my first ISTD exam. I still remember the date – November 16th, 2018.
I was really enjoying my ballet that year as I was in the Friday, Koramangala class. My favourite, because I would finish a week of school and would be fully stressed out but once I entered the ballet class, all the stress would just disappear.
So I took my exam and I really had no idea that I would get 99. I expected around 90. Then one day Miss Yana came up to me in class and tapped me on the head and said ‘This guy here got 99 out of a 100 in his exam!’ Obviously the first thing she asked was, where did you lose the last mark? It must have been in the grand battements, right? And of course, she was right.
Shalini: We’ve done quite a few TLFCB shows over the years. One of the first one’s I remember was where we were the dressmakers in The Emperor’s New Clothes. That was fun. In Beauty and the Beast I was part of the West Wing. And this year in Alice in Wonderland, Monica and I are part of the Rocking Horse Flies!
We first got to know about JDC from Miss Sushmitha. She told us ‘Why don’t you give the audition a try? It will be very fun and challenging if you get in, but even if you don’t, the audition will be a good experience’. So we came for the audition. Most of the dancers there were senior to us and we felt very nervous. But we got in!
It was a little difficult for us to keep up with them at first, but we tried our best. And we learnt some more complicated dances with JDC. My favourites among those were the Flower Arch Dance and the Tarantella.It was a great experience.
Monica: My first performance was the Spectacular Circus with all my school friends. It was the very first time I went on stage and after the show we were praised by our teachers and friends. Then some of my friends and I were asked to come to other regular classes at TLFCB as well.
In one of the Saturday classes Miss Yana came to me and told us that there was going to be a small performance in Delhi and Tejas and I were chosen to perform in it. We were so proud and motivated. At first, though, I was completely blank because I couldn’t believe what was happening. I went home and told my parents and they were really proud of me. The day before leaving Bangalore I couldn’t sleep because it was my first time traveling on a flight! I wasn’t nervous about it, just super excited. After the performance I saw how much the audience had enjoyed it and were coming to take pictures with us. When I was back in class in Bangalore, this memory made sure I always gave my 100% in class, no matter what.
I also love assisting in children’s classes. They always have a bright smile and are eager about everything which gives a very positive vibe! This motivates me to go there for every class, however busy I may be otherwise.
How has ballet changed and helped you as a person?
Tejas: It has helped with academic stress and it has built my teamwork skills. Also when I first got selected as a child to do more ballet, a lot of my classmates used to bully me. Saying ‘Oh! It’s a girly thing you’re doing.’ It got so bad that at one point of time I was like, ‘No I’m done with this. Enough ballet for me.’ But luckily I shared my feelings with my grandmom, whom I stay with. She told me ‘ This is a dance form which you’d never get to learn in India otherwise. If you give up this opportunity, you are making a big mistake.’ I also spoke with Miss Yana. She said the same thing. ‘Don’t listen to other people who are out to hurt you, just follow your heart’. That is when I decided ‘This is my thing. I need to do it. Boys in India certainly don’t prefer ballet, so let me try and do something new and unique. Everybody does contemporary and hip hop. But boys doing ballet here, that’s pretty rare.’
Physically it has helped me a lot with agility and strength when I play football and in athletics as well.
Since dance has helped me so much I love sharing it with others. I’ve started helping to prepare young children at my old school for their annual day performances. Teaching them how to overcome stage fright from my own experiences, teaching them how to act with facial expressions, all of which I learned through ballet. I recently choreographed a dance for the annual day too. It only took a few weeks to teach them and it came out really well. All the other teachers liked the choreography a lot. And it was a great, new experience for me. I really got to know how it feels to be a teacher. I am friends with all the small kids and that is why I was able to finish the dance really quickly. Because I knew how they would react when I said something. So if you just tell them to do this, or do that, they won’t be interested. But when you do it and show it to them or explain in a creative way, that is when they learn. And I used to let them play for 15 to 20 minutes after class. I was allotted one hour, but I used to teach for 40 minutes and then I used to leave them to play for 20 minutes because I understood that they needed some free time and learnt better if they were happy.
Shalini: I’ve learned how to focus and concentrate. It’s been helpful for me in other fields also. I am able to concentrate more and focus more on my studies too.
So it has helped me a lot.
Monica: Learning ballet has made me stronger both mentally and physically. I can concentrate easily. In my studies it helps a lot. And physically I don’t do any other exercise, so this is what keeps me fit and strong. I am learning to control each muscle individually, something I didn’t even know was possible earlier!
What do you plan to do in the future? Does dance figure in your plans? If not, do you feel your training in dance will still help you in all that is to come?
Tejas: I always wanted to learn ballet abroad. But the mindset of Indian parents is that they usually think dance and the arts is a hobby and there’s nothing more to it. They think you cannot earn your living as a dancer.
That’s what my parents felt as well. So what I thought was, I can still continue ballet at TLFCB. While I pursue the academic course which I have in mind. Which is physiotherapy.
I plan to do physiotherapy for sports and dance so I can help and heal in two of the fields I love most. During that course, I can easily come to classes. There will be no obstacles. There’s no way I can stop ballet because if I do, my body’s going to become lazy, there won’t be any other motivation to work out. I stopped doing sports also when I got into college. When I had my exams, I took a break from ballet for 3 months and I was like ‘Oh my God! Only when you stop, do you truly realize how much you love it.’
Shalini: I don’t know if I want to become a dancer, but all this training will definitely have an impact. It’ll always give me a positive outlook on life. It’ll give me confidence. It’ll help me to speak about myself, be open to learning completely new things, and explore.
Right now I am studying for a degree in data analytics. After I finish my degree, I want to do my MBA in the same specialization.
Monica: Currently I am studying electronics engineering. But I do want to balance between my career and my passion. I often think I would like to be a ballet teacher, but I need to think about that. Every time I look at Miss Elina I see that she is teaching and dancing and having a whole lot of fun. I want to have that kind of fun too. But let’s see how it goes…
In the future would you wish to create/be a part of more such outreach programs to bring dance to everyone?
Tejas: Of course. Because for people coming from an underprivileged background, getting into an international dance form is a really, really big thing. So I would really love to help students to achieve that.
Shalini: Definitely. I want to be able to give opportunities to others like me in any field possible, it doesn’t matter whether it is dance or something else but I want to help.
Monica: Of course, I would love to be a part of anything like that.
A vote of thanks from all three of us to Miss Yana and everyone at TLFCB.
Monica: I want to thank Miss Yana for giving me this opportunity. I’ve been learning ballet for 7 years now and I’ve not paid a single rupee. Not only me, there are so many other kids that Miss Yana helps like this. Without expecting anything in return, except of course, 100% hard work!
Shalini: I want to thank Miss Sushmitha, Miss Elina and Miss Yana. I never knew I would come this far in my dance. And wherever I am today, it’s all because of you. You gave me confidence, and helped me believe in myself. I am so grateful to you for everything.
Tejas: Your passion and dedication to dance has inspired me to become a better dancer, and I can’t thank you enough for the guidance, support, and encouragement you have given me over the years. Thank you for the countless hours you’ve spent working with me. I’m thankful for providing me with all the tough love I could ever ask for. Thank you for inspiring, helping, and motivating me to achieve things I never thought possible. Your belief in me gave me the confidence to push myself to be better, and I am so grateful for that.