Dancing with the seniors

Aishwarya Rajiv (left) with her students

Aishwarya Rajiv (left) with her students   | Photo Credit: M Periasamy

It was a dream come true for many older women when Aishwarya Rajiv agreed to teach them Bharatanatyam

Theyum taka theyum ta... the room on the ground floor of the BAPS Swaminarayan temple rings with the rhythmic stamp of feet and clapping of hands.

Aishwarya Rajiv stands amid her students watching them keenly. “Distribute your body weight equally,” she advises one student. “Else you will find it difficult to shift from one leg to another.” To another, she demonstrates how to bend only the third finger while keeping the palms and other fingers straight.

What's so special about this Bharatanatyam class, you may wonder. The answer is that the students are all older women, with the oldest being 63 and the youngest 27.

Aishwarya Rajiv shows a move

Aishwarya Rajiv shows a move   | Photo Credit: M Periasamy

“Athmanrittyam”, Aishwarya calls it, dance for the soul. “One of my neighbours, a yoga teacher, asked if I would teach dance but I didn’t want to tie up my evenings. So she suggested that I teach people like her in the mornings.” After thinking over it, Aishwarya took the plunge in October last year. “On Vijayadasami day I had four students, today I have 13,” she beams.

By this time, a few of her students have gathered. Archana Swamy and Nirmala Umakanthan — the oldest and youngest — had been hunting for someone to teach them dance for over a year. “So when they found me, they grabbed me,” says Aishwarya and they break into laughter. In fact this is the only class where the teacher is younger than her students, observes Deepa.

The desire to learn but no opportunity in childhood ... this is what Hempal Kaur, Vidya, Bhuvana W and Vinya Praveen have in common. Vinya, whose baby is just 10 months old, says the sessions help her relax. “For this hour and half, I am not thinking of work or about my baby.”

Dancing for themselves

Dancing for themselves   | Photo Credit: M Periasamy

For Hempal, this is a fulfilment of her childhood dream. “I never thought that I would learn at this age,” she says softly. “But I am doing this for myself.”

Something that Bhuvana and Vidya mention too. One student at Saravanampatti works in an IT firm and takes an hour or two off from work to come for class. “When they put so much value to what they are learning, I have to respect that,” says Aishwarya.

Apart from the convenience of the morning classes, what they particularly like is that they learn not just the adavus of Bharatanatyam but also the theory, history, personalities and other aspects of the art form. “We did all this as youngsters but didn’t understand it then,” says Nirmala. “Now it makes much more sense,” she says while Hempal finds the stories from mythology very interesting.

Most of them see this as a way to exercise body and mind. Hempal mentions feeling charged and light now that she has begun dancing while Nirmala says her body has become more flexible.

“The steps are very symmetrical,” explains Bhuvana. “And each has to repeated on the right and the left sides in a particular order. Keeping track of that and the order of the steps is a good workout for the brain as well.”

Info you can use
  • Athmanrittyam classes are held at twice a week: on Tuesdays and Wednesday at BAPS on Alagesan Road, Saibaba Colony, and on Monday and Friday at Sreevatsa Lunchbox, Athipalayam Road, Saravanampatti
  • The timing at both venues is 10.00 to 11.00 am, though Aishwarya mentions that there could be a spillover depending on the day’s programme
  • The fee is ₹800
  • per month
  • Contact 9003714067 and 7339266946 for more details

Self-confidence, joint flexibility, improved hand-eye coordination and better memory are some of the benefits listed while Vidya mentions pushing herself to do something new. Socialisation is another unstated benefit. Hempal and Deepa exchange notes on the Std XII boards while the others chat.

All of them mention practising what they learn at home, which brings me to reaction from family members. “What can they say?” asks Nirmala jauntily. “My daughter, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are all dancers.” Bhuvana’s son asks if she has learnt specific steps while her daughter and husband encourage her to practise. Archana says she’s teaching her mother what she learns in class.

“While I am particular about how they dance and ensure that the adavus are correct, I don’t push too hard,” says Aishwarya. “This is not about speed and jumps and looks.” Even as she finishes, Nirmala chips in coaxingly, “Let us all dress in the dance costume for the photo shoot.”

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 12:01:08 AM |

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