“I like variety,” says dancer Aparna Vinod. Indeed. Here’s an artiste, a management graduate, who started off as a Mohiniyattam dancer growing up in her native Kozhikode. Then, post-marriage, she stepped into the world of Bharatanatyam, and is now an accomplished dancer in the art form. Nowadays, in addition to teaching and performing Bharatanyam, she also finds the time to learn the intricacies of Hindustani vocal. If that wasn’t enough, Aparna is also a gifted writer with several poems and songs and even the dialogues for two screenplays in Malayalam – Kalyani and Manjadikkuru (both directed by Anjali Menon) – to her credit. The Bangalore-based dancer, director of Tharang Academy of Arts, performs on stages across the country, quite often in Kerala, and is also a keen promoter of classical art. Excerpts from an interview…

Taking to dance

I’ve been learning dance since I was five or so, training in Mohiniyattam with Kalamandalam Saraswathy and a couple of other gurus. I have performed on several prestigious stages such as the Natyanjali festival, Chidambaram. In fact, I was so involved in Mohiniyattam that I wrote the dance drama ‘Palazhi Madhanam’ and also wrote and composed another piece, ‘Deviparvam’. I enjoy Mohiniyattam for its grace, the tempo and the lasya. But once I moved to Bangalore, I found it difficult to find good Mohiniyattam gurus and found myself gravitating towards Bharatanatyam, its energy, spirituality, its vibrancy, its totality. Although I started learning Bharatanatyam a bit later on in life, it was relatively easy because I already knew the basics thanks to those initial childhood dance classes where we were taught both Mohiniyattam and Bharatanatyam. There also came a crunch point when I faced the dilemma of taking up a corporate job or continuing my dance. I figured out that I couldn’t dream of a life without dance.

Life lessons from her gurus

My Bharatanatyam gurus are B. Bhanumathi and her sister-in-law Sheela Chandrashekar, both veteran teachers and dancers, who run Nritya Kalamandiram dance academy. My gurus have ingrained in me several concepts that I follow diligently to this day, which I have come to think of as life lessons. First and foremost, they always encouraged us to be as natural as possible; to stick to our individualities as dancers because individuality is what is reflected in our art, what makes us different from others. Another is the importance of practice, which is essentially the key to a good performance. As the adage goes practice makes perfect. Yet another is learning from others. From watching other artistes perform you can learn what you can do and, sometimes, what you should not do too! Also, another thing they encouraged us was to read literature on dance to understand our characters better.

As a teacher

I try and make my classes as engaging, comfortable, interesting and fun as possible, especially for the smaller children, with an aim to retaining their interest in dance. After all, ultimately, dance is about enjoying yourself. For example, while teaching adavaus, such as the aramandi, which is a difficult posture for children to get right, I always celebrate when one of them gets it right. This motivates others in the class to perform well. Once the children taste the flavour of success, the adrenalin of performing on stage, they always come back for more. I tell my students that Indian classical arts can never give quick results as, say, other transient forms such as cinematic dance. It needs to gradually mature to beauty.

Teacher vs. performer

It’s my mission in life to balance both teaching and performing. I’m equally passionate about both. Yes, more involvement in teaching does eat into the time for performance. But I do make it a point to keep to my practice schedule. Besides as a teacher, you are also constantly learning.

Into the movies

It was unexpected, really. I used to write a lot for the college magazine and so on. Anjali is my friend and bench-mate at Providence College for Women, Kozhikode. When she came back to India after film studies in London she asked me whether I was still into writing and whether I could write the dialogue for her children’s film Kalyani. That then led to Manjadikkuru. I’m game for more writing. All I want to do is dance, sing, write!