Come on, let's dance

Come on, let's dance

Come on, let's dance
A  complicated arabesque or a perfect pirouette can be mastered with practice, but the “art of movement should be a lifestyle choice,” says artiste Preeti Sunderajan. This skilled dancer-choreographer-educator-entrepreneur is on a mission to spread her message of ‘movement’ to youngsters with her educational programme, GAIT. According to her, our bodies are a representation of who we are. The combination of movement and creative expression is the key to feeling good and living well.

Education, therefore, should not be about academics alone; it should also be about ‘movement’ activities, body and spatial awareness, team work and critical thinking. In an exclusive interview with Sunday Herald, she explained that though dance is “her life”, she began to focus on creative movement early on in her career. Her research in the subject led to examining the framework of dance and theatre as tools to stimulate innovative thinking.

“Do you know the three things that affect us the most?” she asks. “It is the air we breathe, the physical activity we do, and what we put into our gut. Most people do not know their own bodies and do not know how to handle it. If we are not happy with our bodies, it also affects our minds. Most of the diseases in the world today are lifestyle diseases.”

Early start
The solution lies in learning to “move” and Sunderajan believes that this should be taught early to children as a part of the school curriculum. Two years ago, she joined FitKids with a vision to provide 360 degree learning for the physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of a child. She became the CEO of GAIT (Grooming Artistic Innovation and Talent), which is an education programme, aimed at teaching children the nuances of structured creative movement. GAIT is currently running in schools across the country for young children.

Sunderajan’s performing career spans over 30 years and she has performed at several prestigious festivals across India, USA, UK and Australia. She started learning dance when she was five years old and essayed her first maiden performance at the age of seven in a show where actor Vyjayanthimala Bali was the chief guest.

“Dancing came very naturally to me. During my growing up years, every evening was spent in dance classes. We were often called for shows in Doordarshan and we would travel around quite a bit as well. I also learnt other dance styles like odissi, kathak, kalari and contemporary dance. However, once I graduated, I realised I wanted to do something on my own. I loved experimenting and working with new ideas, and that was why I started my own dance company called Shiri,” she says.

Shiri was launched as a neo-traditional dance company whose roots were in bharatanatyam. “We used contemporary ideas and concepts to make the form more relevant and engaging,” she says.

“What we do with children from 1 to 10 years of age is very important,” she explains. “The exposure and stimulation they receive during this period of their life shapes their personality. The combination of movement and creative expression is a potent way to develop their personality.”

Sunderajan adds that just as babies first understand the world through their body, we are all essentially kinesthetic learners. “Sadly, however, we move away from this kind of learning as we grow older,” she says. “Being a dancer, choreographer and performer myself, I used to only focus on the performance aspect of dance. But it was only when I began to look at movement differently that I noticed how children moved naturally. I began to look at the skills that could be developed by learning a dance form. I wanted to create a piece of choreography that is centred on body awareness, teamwork and imagination.”

Focussed artiste
Sunderajan faced quite a few challenges while pursuing her dreams as an educator, but nothing deterred her from following her vision. “I did not want to teach dance to earn a living,” she says. “I wanted to create a sustainable environment around the concept of ‘movement’. This turned out to be the most challenging part of my career.”

Her passion for dance has not waned down the years, despite her new goals. “Dance is my life,” she says. “Dance helps me connect my mind and body. It has grown with me in so many ways and continues to intrigue me even today.”

The only advice she would give to an aspiring dancer is not to be self-indulgent. “In order to sustain your career, you need to create something unique. Get interested in related fields like theatre and music. Develop your business acumen and other arts management-related information that you need to have,” she says.

Can anyone learn to dance? Yes, says Sunderajan, emphatically. “Age is no bar if you want to learn to dance for a sense of enjoyment. When dance is only for movement and fun, it can be mastered at any stage of your life. But if you want to learn a particular form or technique of dance in a structured manner, it is better to start young.”

As for the future, she hopes that she will succeed in bringing performing arts and education together. “I want educators to know that dance can be a tool of self-expression and can fit seamlessly into school curriculum. Above all, I would love to see children move and learn all the time.”

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