A queer addition to the traditional Bharatanatyam dancer’s costume, Lakshmy’s shoes set her apart as Tiruchi’s only professional dancer on roller skates
Minutes before a photo shoot, tears seemed to threaten the carefully constructed makeup on her face. It looked like dancer R.Lakshmy had lost the most important piece of her costume, her roller skates. “It’s the shoe on which I won my silver at the nationals!” she said. However, the drama ended happily and her father returned with the shoes.
Lakshmy began learning Kathak as a three-year-old at the Prayag Sangit Samiti in Allahabad, from guru Vidhisha Sengupta. Having earned her Junior Diploma in Kathak over the next two years, she joined Kalai Kaviri School of Fine Arts at Tiruchi as its youngest student at age six when her father was transferred to this city. “I was refused admission initially as the school admits students only above seven years of age. But my junior diploma in Kathak and the fact that I had started learning to dance very early convinced the management here,” she says.
At 16, she has completed courses in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam and Kuchipudi, but it was her parallel fascination with the roller skates that earned her the distinction she enjoys today.
Strapping on skates
“I was in class II when I began experimenting with my brother’s skates and when we found a skating coach in Tiruchi, I immediately enrolled for the classes,” she says. The coach was M. Manohar from the Tiruchi Regional Roller Skating Association, a trained dancer himself. Having spotted the girl’s flair for both Bharatanatyam and skating, Manohar introduced her to the national-level event Indian Classical Dance (ICD) on roller skates, organised by the Roller Skating Federation of India. “It was Manohar master who ordered these special skating shoes for me and taught me the nuances of dancing Bharatanatyam on them.”
Nine years after she took up skating, Lakshmy began participating regularly in the ICD event at the annual skating national championships. She also is part of the Tamil Nadu Skating Cricket team and has captained the state skating hockey team.
Silver and beyond
Despite having the skill and the coaching she needed, Lakshmy suffered from the lack of practice space in the city. “A neighbour got me permission to practise every morning at rice mills in Manachanallur in the run-up to the 2006 nationals,” she says. The ICD event was scrapped after 2008, when Lakshmy won the silver at the Artistics-ICD event at the Skating Nationals in Vizag. “I never got the chance to win my gold medal in ICD,” she says.
Lakshmy kept her talent alive by performing for audiences in Trivandrum, Rajkot, Coimbatore, Madurai and Tiruchi. The Tamil Nadu Government gave her the title Kalai Ilamani in 2010-11 and Madurai’s Bharathi Yuva Kendra recognised her as Yuvasree Kala Bharathi.
The skating format modifies generic Bharatanatyam steps and is full of minute detailing, says Lakshmy. She feels balance is the key to mastering fast movements and striking a pose while in motion. “If you are conscious of the skates, that will affect your balance,” she says.
The shoes weigh around two and a half kilos each, which calls for higher stamina levels. “Skating and Bharatanatyam complement each other because they give you both body flexibility and the stamina,” she says. According to Lakshmy, attempting more than one or two pieces per performance would tire the body out and “that isn’t something the audience wants to watch.”
Her shoes are beginning to pinch. “The people who made these shoes for me are no longer making them and we have been trying in vain for over a year to find a new maker,” she says ruefully. They need to be rugged to take her entire weight while she does her jumps and spins and cost around Rs. 8000 a pair.
The present and future
Lakshmy’s mother and grandmother both learnt dance, and all her family members have been supportive, she says. “When I went for the Vizag nationals, my brother was writing his class XII board exams and we left him here all alone.” Not only did he do well in his boards, he never complained. Lakshmy is now in the eleventh standard at Kendriya Vidyalaya, and she feels her busy schedule has only helped her concentrate better on her studies.
Her ambitions go beyond dancing. “I am going to become a doctor like my grandfather,” she says, though she knows her mentors hope she will pursue dance professionally.
She plans to incorporate skating into her Tharangam, which is Kuchipudi performed with a sombu on the head. “Kuchipudi might look very similar in form to Bharatanatyam , but there are a lot of differences in terms of space and energy in the way it is performed,” she says.
Lakshmy finds most audiences are curious and fascinated by her format of dance. And for those who have objections to the use of shoes on stage, she quips, “I’m not dancing on shoes. I’m dancing on wheels!”