Growing Up

The hardest part about growing up, for me, has always been to be strong enough to face change and make changes to myself as part of my self-improvement. The main thing I have learnt is that change can be good. I have written this piece because I wanted to use to a space to think about my past, how much I have grown and changed in the last few years.

For those who knew me as a kid and/or teenager, I was a very quiet girl. Yes, I was nerd – a nerd who also danced. I was that girl who went to school and sixth form in two plaits with no make-up, just my oily acne-prone skin. I did not have a social life: these were my three habitats – home, school, dance class. I was constantly worried about what other people thought about me, whether it be colleagues at school, aunties and uncles, or my parents. For this reason alone, I was very quiet; I was definitely not very opinionated. I never felt like my opinion mattered therefore whatever people said to me, I hardly said anything back, even though it may have evoked a very strong kind of emotion – positive or negative. During school was when I felt most vulnerable; it was also the time period during which I made most mistakes. Not saying that I do not make mistakes now, of course I do!

Things did start changing when I started university. I was very dependent on my parents, so moving 100 miles away from them and living alone for the next five to six years was very daunting. But I had no choice and it had to be done. I had to stay strong. When my parents dropped me off at university and left me for the first time, I was so scared about what the next few years would bring. I knew one thing for sure; I wanted to make a new start in life. Throw away all the negative energy; cherish and harbour only the positive.

This is what I started doing. As a result, I knew I was becoming stronger and felt that much more positive about myself. My mind-set started to change. I was not being driven by values which were enforced upon me by those around me; I started to make my own decisions and believe in my gut instinct. I realised that I was feeling that much happier. Over the past five years at university, I have grown as a person. I started to break free from the barriers which were not only thrown upon me, but also those which I had forced upon myself. I surrounded myself with people who best reflected me.

The way I have changed is difficult for me to describe so definitively on paper but those who have known me and know me currently will see what I am talking about. This change I have undergone does not make me a different human being, but a grown up one. I am no longer that girl with two pigtails and gold-framed glasses, who will nod along to whatever people throw at me. I am a woman who follows her heart, gets things done and never wants to stop achieving. No one who knows about me fully will judge me; if someone judges or decides to bad-mouth about me, then they do not know me. It is that simple.

I like learning, reading, dancing and most importantly being alone. Yes, I do honestly value my ‘me-time’. This is me and has always been me. At school, I was scared to admit it in the fear of what people would think. Now I am not. If you gave me the option to sit in bed and read, or go on a holiday, I would without a doubt chose the former (unless the holiday involved me lying on a sub-bed and reading).

As part of growing up, I realised why I have always not been so bothered about giving as much importance to a social life; something which I was quite often bullied about when I was younger. The reason is frankly because I have chosen to balance my life as a student with that as a dancer, choreographer and blogger. However much I love doing what I do, leading these two lives can be very exhausting, especially when I want to give my 100% to both. For that reason, when I do get a moment I just want to be left alone, or with my family. I am not ashamed or embarrassed by it. This is me. This has always been me. This does not mean that I do not value my friendships. Yes I most certainly do because without them I would have not got to the place I am right now.

There are three people in particular whom I feel most comfortable with, and I know that if I told them that just wanted to be left alone for one day, week, month or year, they would completely understand and do exactly that; and I would do the same for them. The most quality time I have had with each of them is at our respective homes/flats in our pyjamas, with tea – this is my idea of a perfect social life, which is something I will not change for the world.

There are certain things that I feel I still need to explore and make decisions on, but I wanted to take this moment to look at how far I’ve come as a person and celebrate my strengths and reflect on my weaknesses. I’m not perfect. But my imperfections are what make me human. Onwards and upwards from here.

The Art of Critique

This blog post is a short one, but I believe it is a very important one.

In the past year, I came across at least two Facebook posts, by supposedly reputably individuals in the Tamil media/independent artist industry, which were seemingly targeted at certain individuals.

Such social media posts made me think very hard about the role of so-called reputable individuals in the Tamil society and the impact that they have. It goes without say that the Tamil artists’ industry is a very competitive one. That does not mean anyone is above anyone else. We are equal and in the race to victory together. We are all a team trying to work together to prove a point to everyone about what the arts can achieve. It is therefore very disheartening when I see social media posts by these ‘artists’ or ‘event organisers’ who talk about events, or indirectly about particular individuals. Even if their intentions may be positive, this does not come across in the tone and manner of their posts.

Why do I find all of this frustrating? Mainly because I find this very demeaning. It comes across very sarcastic and sounds as if these individuals are just using social media to mock others indirectly and quite frankly it comes across very stuck-up. Come on lads and lasses, there are better ways to critique. I believe that if you have genuine feedback to give, then contact the individual and do so in a way which does not bring their motivation down. Honestly, this is how I would like people to give me feedback – whether it be about my dance performance or an event I have organised. I would find it very unprofessional if someone plastered their feedback over social media and not once discuss it with me in a professional environment. This is especially important because no one aside from the individuals involved will know why certain things happened a certain way, whether it be regarding their performance or event. So who are we to post our so-called ‘constructive feedback’ without discussing the circumstances with them? We are all here to help each other, so with that mentality, we can all become that much stronger as a unit: this is regardless of whichever industry we are concerned with – performing arts, fashion or event organisation. The best critics are ones who celebrate best elements of something; identify the weaknesses and offer possible solutions; provide encouragement and motivation to ensure individuals are driven to push themselves even more. Why? Well we all want quality acts or events which come from nothing less than positive vibes, so let us all work together to create this environment.

You might be thinking that I am contradicting my own words with this post. Why cannot I just go up to these individuals and tell them what I feel? Well because, there are too many such individuals to whom I will have to approach. Furthermore, this being a very common issue these days, I wanted to write something which would hopefully make more people think before they start putting up or even encouraging such posts.

Before I published this blog, as with all my blogs, I sent it to my friend to proof read it. She summed it up in three sentences: ‘negative feedback is useless’, ‘positive criticism is not’ and ‘people are quick to judge and use social media to deliver hate.’ Let us learn and help each other out and build our professional stance in this society for all the right reasons, in the right ways, to ensure this industry is sustainable for the years to come.

#TDC2017

Just over 3 weeks ago, I was on the stage of the Eventim Apollo – I was awarded the Best Female Bhangra Dancer of the night, and then more importantly our team, the University of Birmingham (UoB), actually won TBSX.

As I was coming off that stage 3 weeks ago, an anxiety kicked in. All that time I was so focused on Showdown rehearsals that I did not have time to think about the fact that I was also competing at the Tamil Dance Championship in three weeks time, I had to get a team of 20 ready from scratch.

I was nervous at the thought of getting a performance ready which had to best represent the amazing dance talent at UoB. Furthermore, this was going to be my first time choreographing for a dance competition. This was stressful as it was, and then to be responsible for the fact that this was going to be UoB’s first time taking part in a Tamil dance competition, under my leadership.

Regardless of all these fears, with a lot of hard work over the past three weeks, and with commitment from my team, we pulled off a routine which wowed both the judges and the audience. Therefore, Team UoB walked off that stage with not one but two trophies: ‘Audience Favourite’ and the ultimate ‘TDC 2017 University Champions’.

My first time as a choreographer for a dance competition was definitely stressful. I did not have anyone to fall back on. I had to think of a concept, music, choreo, formations and costumes on my own, which was a struggle. Why was it such a struggle? It was because I was nervous that I had to create a piece which a wider audience, than just university students, had to enjoy. This was what was running through my mind. Over the past few years, I have witnessed several Tamil dance show performances but I felt like many of the performances were more suited to one type of audience – the university students. I did not want this to be the case with my choreography. I wanted my routine to be relatable to all age groups ranging from the children all the way to the grandmothers and grandfathers. Therefore I had to come out of the mindset of being merely a university student. From the concept to the music to the choreography, I had to think three times more than I usually would to ensure every single member of the audience enjoyed our performance. It was a challenge, but it was worth all the time and effort of background work that I had put in, when I had audience members from a range of age groups come up to me congratulating me on how much they enjoyed the performance.

I have been teaching dance for a few years now. I started off as a Bharathanatya dance teacher at the age of 16. Then after a short break, I got back into teaching a whole new style of dancing at university which I was not familiar with – Gaana. Teaching university students was scary because I never really knew how seriously they would take a small girl of their own age. However, as months went by, I got more and more comfortable with teaching.

I love teaching now. And I found out how much I love teaching dance during the three weeks of preparation we did for this competition. I get a kick out of teaching. The moment an individual understands and is able to execute a move exactly the way I want it to be, I feel over the moon. I want to keep teaching them more and more. This is exactly how I felt during TDC rehearsals. Many of the dancers I was working with had never done a stage show before let alone a serious dance competition, so to train them to an extent that they were able to believe in and channel that professional dancer within them and smash our performance last Saturday was the biggest victory to each and every one of them as well as to me as their choreographer. Most importantly, to see how far each and every one of them have come, not only as dancers but as individuals is what makes me feel that much more accomplished.

I was extremely militant with my team. Honestly, I have never been this brutally honest or strict with anyone before. I was worried that they were going to take it personally and would feel disheartened to dance. But the complete opposite happened. They became that much more motivated, and committed themselves 100 times more than I had ever expected.

I did not know what to make of a dance competition amongst Tamil people. I was very used to the Bhangra competition scenes and also earlier this academic year got some exposure to the Bollywood competition scene. For me taking part in a Tamil dance competition was a whole new venture. Extremely nervous as I was, I honestly couldn’t wait to show off what I had created with my team! I couldn’t wait to show everyone that however much I loved different dance styles, I was always very much Tamil in the way I conducted myself and my team.

I loved every moment of that stage. I realised that my ability to dance and act all came from my love for my culture – being Tamil! I believed in my Tamil-ness and tried my best to get my team to feel the same, which is what they did and I couldn’t have been more proud of how well they represented the Tamil culture (especially considering the fact that a good few of them were non-Tamils).

In the past month, my two dance teams taught me one thing: A winning team comprises of motivation, passion, hard work, love and importantly no ego. Let’s create pieces of art which inspire others to do even more!