Shoba Krishnan’s bharathanatyam journey, which started at the age of nine, culminates in her arangetram tomorrow. We speak to her about the motivation behind her artistic endeavour post-marriage.
It may be the year 2017, but let’s face it – Indian society in particular still hosts certain cringe-worthy (for some of us) expectations of its women after marriage. For starters – you guessed it – planning for motherhood. But one gutsy lady has decided that family planning will take a backseat while she focuses on her passion – dance. 30-year-old Shoba Krishnan has been learning bharathanatyam since she was nine and is all set to bask in the limelight tomorrow, 17 June 2017, as the fruits of her labour take the form of an arangetram.
Naturally, we were itching to find out more about Shoba’s path to the coveted arangetram – the ultimate goal of any fiercely passionate bharathanatyam learner. Given that many Indian women stop pursuing the art form altogether, let alone consider an arangetram following marriage, how has she managed to keep it all together? We caught up with the disciple of the Kesavan sisters for a chat on the road to her arangetram and how her family has supported her throughout.
What made you decide to take up bharathanatyam and how old were you then?
Bharathanatyam was initially only my mother’s interest and not mine. She was the one who made me attend classes. Hougang Community Centre was nearby where we lived and my mother was aware that bharathanatyam classes were offered there, so she enrolled me. At first, I did not have any interest at all in the dance form. I was only nine years old then and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was learning under Vasantha Kasinath then and continued till I was twelve. During the PSLE period, I took a break from bharathanatyam and it lasted for about two years. When I was in Secondary Two, I found myself actually missing dance classes and realised that I wanted to go back to learning it. Hence I resumed classes under the Kesavan sisters.
Many Indian women give up dance altogether after marriage. What’s your take on this?
Yes, I have seen several dance classmates who were really fantastic dancers stop attending classes after they got married. I am not sure what the exact reason is, but I suppose it could also be a matter of finances for some. A wedding doesn’t come cheap. Planning for an arangetram is equally draining where money is concerned. So that could be one possible factor. These women may have had the passion for bharathanatyam initially but it becomes so easy to give up on it after marriage due to family commitments. Their biological clock is also ticking afterall.
In my opinion, if they don’t get around to their arangetram before starting a family of their own, they probably never will.
You were a flight stewardess for some time. Did dance take a backseat then?
Yes, I was a flight stewardess for about two and a half years; somewhere between the ages of 21 and 24. I was completely away from bharathanatyam during this period of time. The nature of my job then made it nearly impossible for me to attend classes on a regular basis. I had no way of knowing my flight roster much beforehand, so I could not decide when to attend dance lessons. I also saw no point in paying the class fees upfront and then later missing out on all the lessons. I informed my teachers that I was going to be taking a break due to my career; thankfully, they were very understanding about it and assured me that I was always welcome to return when I could and wanted to. I went back to regular Sunday classes after quitting my flight stewardess job.
How did the idea of staging an arangetram come about in the first place?
I have had this dream of staging my arangetram since I was a child. So I had this simple deal with my father – if I successfully completed my degree, he would finance my arangetram. So that is why it is finally happening actually. I completed my part-time degree last year. In a way, it was also a form of motivation for me to finish my degree. We started planning for my arangetram sometime last year. Without a doubt, my dad has been my main pillar of support. If not for him, I would not be doing this today.
Has anyone, especially older folks, asked you why you’re planning an arangetram instead of a family?
They have never outrightly asked me, but they have given me that look. *laughs* But I just can’t be bothered, really. You just have to cast aside these negative vibes because they aren’t going to help you at the end of the day. When you finally accomplish what you set out to do and these people witness it, they will realise on their own how wrong they were.
How have your extended family members reacted to your upcoming arangetram?
They have been extremely supportive! On both sides of the family, no one has done an arangetram before. So everyone’s pretty excited about mine! They have been asking me if they should bring down banners and what not to show their support. *laughs* I have told them not to and their presence is all that is required on that day. I also had to let them know that it is a very traditional event and that it will be a solo performance – for some reason, they thought that it would be a dance production with me dancing alongside ten others or so. *more laughter* Both sides of the family are equally excited and have assured me that they will be there on the big day.
How has dance helped to shape you as an individual?
When I started learning bharathanatyam, I also learnt that discipline is very important. Our teacher instilled in us that punctuality was also crucial. If class was starting at 9am, you had to be present at 9am sharp. If you turned up even a minute later, a good dressing down would follow. I suppose these little things have helped me with my daily life as well – I am usually punctual for any kind of appointments. Learning dance while juggling education and a full-time job has also honed my multitasking skills.
How supportive of your arangetram endeavour have your husband and in-laws been?
They have been supportive. My in-laws usually see me on Sundays just before I am rushing off for dance practice and they always ask me how my progress has been once I am back. Sometimes, they also ask me if I need any form of help at all. My husband, Naren, is always there to drop me off at and pick me up from dance practice. He’s also always asking me if I need anything at all and is trying his best to help me along.
I had told Naren about my arangetram plan way before we got married. I had sort of “warned” him that I would want to finish my arangetram first before starting a family. I think he was rather hesitant about it at first since he wasn’t involved in any classical Indian art form and did not realise its importance. But he warmed up to the idea later on. I have seen dance classmates who completely gave up the idea of executing an arangetram after they got pregnant, so I knew that I had to finish mine before starting a family.
How has the support been like from your mother and elder brother?
My mother is a housewife so she’s always around at home. She’s always pushing me to practice: “Why are you just sitting down there – practice!” *laughs* Mum has also been researching online on what natural foods can help to boost stamina. She has been feeding me raw eggs every morning for that purpose. And then there’s also green apples and peanut butter to increase my stamina. Mum is always there for me.
My brother, Vinod, is currently a flight steward so I don’t see him on a daily basis. But he’s always reassuring me that he is there for me if I need any help with anything. My entire family has been extremely supportive of my arangetram endeavour, I must say.
Full-time job, part-time degree, marriage and dance. What was the experience of juggling all four like?
It was initially tough. At one point of time, I was lost as to how I was going to keep it all together. Thankfully, my teachers were there for me to provide valuable advice. They advised me to manage my time well and focus on completing my degree first. They had also preempted me about putting family planning on hold after my wedding. The key was to be patient and complete one thing at a time.
What word of advice would you give budding dancers who are passionate about bharathanatyam?
If you have a dream of staging an arangetram one day, then you just have to go for it. Don’t let anything hold you back. It doesn’t matter whether you are engaged, married or already a mother even. Just go for it and don’t let the opinion of anyone else affect you!