Music has no language

Those who know me will be aware that I am a massive fan of Indian music, whether it be Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam, or Punjabi, to name a few. Those who know me very well will know that AR Rahman is my favourite music director to date.

I was born in a decade when AR Rahman’s music was (and still is to be honest) reigning the Indian music charts – I was born in 1993, if anyone was curious.

Growing up as a toddler listening to songs from Duet, Jeans, Love Birds and Muthu for example, had a massive influence on shaping my taste in music. Growing up being exposed to multiple cultures and languages at school, and appreciating AR Rahman’s top notch work regardless of which state or country he produced for, made me appreciate music from different cultures that much more.

I am saying all of this because the AR Rahman concert which happened in July, in London, caused a lot of tension amongst the audience, and especially the non-Tamil audience, because apparently not enough Hindi songs were played. I was not present at the concert in July because of other commitments, so I am just stating what I heard and saw across social media.

What I wanted to discuss in this blog, however, was the fact that recently AR Rahman announced the dates for his concert in Canada in October. What I found shocking was that he will be hosting two separate concerts, one for Hindi music and another for Hindi music.

We can take this positively. AR Rahman has created so much music in both languages and it can be difficult to cover the best of both in one concert; so this separation might be good. However I see more issues than positives here.
Before you start thinking why I am writing about this, I realised there being an issue when I saw the responses on social media in response to this announcement of two concerts.

The one quality about AR Rahman is that he has been able to create music and touch the hearts of several cultural groups. To have all those cultural groups under one roof in the name of music is what music should be about. Creating a divide between Tamil and Hindi music puts several people in limbo: what about Tamils who enjoy his Hindi music and want to hear that, or vice versa? What about people from other cultural groups who love AR Rahman for both his Tamil and Hindi music and wanted to hear both (and seriously what are the chances that such individuals will buy tickets for both days)? Basically, by getting such individuals to choose between Tamil and Hindi, more of a rift is being created. Is this something that real music-lovers would want?

No one knows the reasons behind why such a decision was taken. If in the slightest, however, AR Rahman’s Netru Indru Naalai concert in London had a role to play in this separation, then we all should be worried. Why? Because we should be working towards breaking down cultural boundaries and inter-cultural barriers. Just when I thought we were taking a step in the right direction, we are taking two steps backwards.

Life as a Wedding Choreographer

My life as an official Wedding Choreographer started very recently.

I made the announcement on the 14th of June 2017, so today marks my new venture’s 3 month anniversary – what a journey it has been so far.

This blog is about what brought me into the realm of wedding choreography. I have then described my experiences, since June 2017, as an official Wedding Choreographer.

Life before Wedding Choreography

Before I got into Wedding Choreography, I danced for pre-wedding celebrations, weddings and wedding receptions of family and friends. I had several opportunities over the past 3 years to also choreograph for bridal fashion-shows in and outside of university. Both these opportunities made me fall in love with the wedding environment and mood that much more.

Life as a Wedding Choreographer

Since the official announcement, I have been involved with 3 weddings. Three weddings might not seem like a lot, but with the amount of time put into each with pre-planning and rehearsals means that each wedding dance can take weeks to prepare for. For this reason, I am going to discuss my experiences of each from start to finish, and how the final outcome shaped up.

Client 1 – Vanathy and Pratheepan – June 2017

DISCLAIMER – I am calling Vanathy a client for professional reasons, but let me explain that she is one my closest friends. She will literally kill me after reading this so I am attempting to protect myself now. (See below)

Vanathy has been one of my good friends since I was a teenager. She is a dancer herself and I met her through Bharathanatyam lessons. I do not want to start on the number of duos we have performed together on stage. She is definitely one of my most fun dance partners and what is more is that I literally have always seen her as my older sister.

Therefore when she decided that she wanted to dance for both her bridal entrances of her Hindu ceremony I was not surprised. My cousin and I, with Vanathy’s input of course, did the choreography together. It is definitely something very new for me and something which I have not often seen being done.

Vanathy decided on both her bridal entrances songs. The Manavarei saree entrance was to Ore Or Ooril, from Baahubali 2; the koorai saree entrance was to a religious stuthi (chant) about Lord Shiva – Suvarnamaalastuthi.

The fact that all three of us have known each other dance styles for years now meant that the choreography process was actually very straight forward. We sat down a week before the wedding, listened to songs and started the choreography process. It was a team effort for sure and that is what made it that much more fun. We all chipped in ideas and came up with the final product.

The main challenges faced was that Vanathy wanted to dance for her Manavarai Saree entrance. Why this was a challenge was because people should not think it is cheesy/cringey when the Bride dances down the aisle. Therefore, we had to ensure the choreography was simple, cultured and elegant, to reflect the atmosphere of the wedding which was very classy indeed. And of course, her Manavarei saree entrance was to a very royal song, so the choreography had to reflect this royalty.

Vanathy chose the second song, in praise of Lord Shiva. Her mum and Vanathy decided that the Koorai entrance should be to a religious song rather than to a movie-based song. Everyone loved this entrance and enjoyed the mood of the song in line with the entrance.

I loved being one of the choreographers for Vanathy’s bridal entrances. It was unique and my first experience of choreographing for Bridal entrances. I think it is fair to say that overall the bridal entrances were a massive hit and created waves across social media, which we were all very surprised yet grateful about.

Bridal entrances are a very special and exciting moment for the Bride, Groom and the rest of the family and friends attending the wedding. I hope more Brides will be brave enough to experiment with their Bridal entrances, because I believe it is something they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

Client 2 – Annaniya and Sai – August 2017

I was approached by Sai’s sister in June enquiring about wedding choreography. At the time I did know that it was for her brother and sister-in-law that she was enquiring about. Then she told me that she wanted to get first dance lessons from me, as a gift for them, which I found incredibly adorable.

After the booking was confirmed with the sister, Annaniya got in touch with me. When I asked her about what their vision was for their first dance, they knew that they wanted a traditional slow first dance to begin with and then a transition into a more funky segment with elements of Tamil music.

My initial role was to create a playlist of possible songs. The list was not set in stone. It was more a starting point for them. They could obviously have chosen from those songs, but my idea was that it would give them some inspiration as to what songs to choose, so below are the songs they finalised:

Perfect by Ed Sheeran
Drake – Controlla (90’s Tamil Medley) – Mashup cover by Inno Genga

They had chosen two very different styles of songs which obviously made it that much more of a unique experience for me as a choreographer. They were extremely focused and really wanted to make this first dance a special one. I gave them a lot of leeway to make the dance their own. They wanted lifts, spins and slow dance elements which were all incorporated, but ultimately I told them, what I teach them is a guidance and if they want to add or take anything away, that is entirely their choice and I will help them master the changes. They enjoyed the original choreography I taught them and stuck by and their dedication shone through: within 2 hours of rehearsals, they had mastered the routine.

Client 2 – Deanusa’s Brother’s reception family dance – September 2017

Deanusa is actually my first official client because she contacted me about choreographing a family dance for her and her friends, for her brother’s wedding reception, even before I made my official announcement as a Wedding Choreographer. However, I ranked my clients in order of the event dates hence she is ranked as my most recent one.

I found working with Deanusa and her friends a very interesting and fun experience. They knew exactly what they wanted and gave me a list of songs with the timings and the order in which they wanted it to feature in the final mix.

My initial responsibility was actually to listen to all the songs and gage an understanding of the whole mood of what they wanted for their performance. I then made a few suggestions about other songs they could consider as well which they gladly took into consideration.

When the final set of songs were confirmed, I started working on the mix – yes I can make basic mixes on my own, and am gradually improving my ability to do so. After the mix was confirmed, we commenced on rehearsals. Below are the songs they danced to:

Desingu Raja from Thavasi
Jallakku Jallakku from Endrendrum Kadhal
Chottu Chottu from Taj Mahal
Rasika from Star
Pinga from Bajirao Mastani
Radhai Manathil from Snehithiye
Chinna Nam Veetukku from Poovellam Un Vaasam

I had to spend the first rehearsal teaching them a simple choreography from their routine. I used this time to gage their dancing skill level. Based on this I then shaped the rest of the choreography. I ultimately wanted the girls to feel comfortable and enjoy the dance piece they were going to perform, which they did feel very much.

Even though I did all the choreography, the girls had their own input. If they wanted certain things in the choreography for example using props, they let me know and I would change it up to suit their needs accordingly. Ultimately, client satisfaction is key. It is their event, it is their dance, so the choreography needs to reflect them.

As a business venture so far…

Unlike many other wedding businesses, I am the product of my business. I do not have materials to sell; I am selling my services as a dancer and choreographer to couples who will require it for their big day. My business model is me. I do not have products to put faith into. I have to put faith into myself and my skills as a dancer and choreographer.

Yes this can put pressure on me to utilise my skill set maximally yet efficiently. However, it gives me that much more control of the whole situation and stretches me to an extent that I can learn that much more.

The past three weddings I have worked on have been very different learning experiences which I have enjoyed so much for various reasons. I love what I do and I realised how much I actually love connecting with people through dance. Working with individuals who have little to no prior dance experience is where the challenge yet fun lies for me, because it pushes me to go beyond just teaching dance. It is predominantly about building a rapport which will make my clients feel comfortable to dance. The choreography does not have to be complex at all; the real success lies in giving individuals, who have never danced before, the courage to do it confidently in front of an audience which comprises of their family and friends, which I find to be the hardest audience to perform for.

What I have found most rewarding is that as a Wedding Choreographer you get to know the clients on a more personal level than just seeing them on the day. When I work with individuals who have never danced, I am bringing out something which they may not be too comfortable with – their ability to dance. It is through this process that you get to connect to a client on a personal level and build a rapport which I do not think can be brought out with several of the other wedding businesses.

Being a Wedding Choreographer is not just about choreographing and teaching. It is about guiding, motivating and of course doing a lot of pre-preparation so the couple are given a wide range of options to choose from with regards to songs, final mixes and of course choreography. Well this is how I have structured my business model because I work to give all the freedom to my clients. It is their wedding at the end of the day. I am merely there for professional guidance and support.

Three months into the business, I am proud of the opportunities which have come my way. I am happy about my clients and the responses I have got from them, and of course I am grateful about the support I have got from my friends and family.

Let’s continue this journey onwards and upwards from here.

Time To Tie The Knot

Please do not get shocked. I am not getting married and will not be getting married anytime soon! However I am a Tamil girl, which means that in the future I am bound to get married.

Over the past three to four years I have been involved in the wedding industry. Initially I started off helping out with wedding exhibitions and fashion shows but now, as most of you know, I have started my own venture into establishing Wedding Choreography as an entity of its own, combining my passion for dance with that of my love for weddings!

As I have been working with couples and families with regards to their weddings’ or their relatives’ weddings, I have become deeply involved and more interested in the traditions which lie embedded in these weddings. One which is key for all Tamil weddings is the tying of the sacred Thali (described below).

I wanted to find out more about the Thali and its importance. I think knowledge is vital; it may not be useful for the here and now, but one day it will prove to be our biggest weapon and for that reason I let my inquisitive mind wonder. This led to me contacting one of the most popular and one of my favourite Tamil jewellers in London, Western Jewellers – I say favourite because ever since I became aware of the world, they have been the go-to place for my family. Additionally, what inspired me to write this and contact Western Jewellers in particular was the fact that I saw their work online and was stunned by the creative and stunning work in the realm of Thalis. With over 20 years of experience in the field of gold jewellery and Thalis, who else could I have asked to educate me about it. What I revered greatly was how cultural and traditional ideals were always core to their unique pieces.

Therefore, I decided to pose a series of questions to Western Jewellers about the Thali and their experiences of making them. I have learnt so much and I hope you will find this just as educational as I have done.

(For your information, I was not paid by anyone to write this piece. I have done it of my own accord because I love my Tamil culture and tradition; I wanted to know more about it and wanted to be involved in writing something which would educate and inform others as well).

What is a Thali and what is its significance?

“A Thali is a spiritual ornament for marriage that marks love, respect and dignity. It is a bridal pendent presented to the wife by her husband during an auspicious time on their wedding day. Every Thali needs a Kodi, which is woven gold thread that holds the Thali. Together, the ‘Thali Kodi’ makes an auspicious gold thread which holds religious symbolism in Hindu and Christian culture.”

What are the different types of Thali? What do each of these types represent?

“There are numerous types of Thalis available for various communities however the most common Thalis we make are the Kombu, Amman and Christian Thalis.

“The Kombu Thali is made when the Bride and Groom’s astrological charts match. If you notice carefully the Kombu Thali is in the shape of the groom himself. For this reason, during the Ponurukkal (an occasion when the gold used to make the Thali is melted), the groom will be present to sign to the gods that he will love, look after and cherish his bride till the end. Then during the Wedding ceremony, the Bride and Groom unite when the Thali is tied across her neck by the Groom showcasing that he will guard her for the rest of her life.

“The Amman Thali is used by Tamil Hindus in the instance that the Bride and Groom’s astrological charts do not match or have not been looked into. This is particularly seen in, what Tamils call, ‘love marriages. Amman is the symbol which is seen on the Thali.

“The Christian Thali has the same quality as the Kombu and Amman Thali, but differentiate its shape and symbols. Most of the Christian Thalis will have the three precious symbols which are: The Bible, the Holy Dove, the Holy Cross.”

Can you tell me a bit about the ‘Ponnurukkal’ ceremony?

“An auspicious day and time is selected by a family astrologer or priest for a gold melting ceremony otherwise known as the ‘Ponnurukkal’ ceremony or ‘Ponnurukku’. This takes place before the main wedding day. The ‘Ponnurukku’ is conducted by the groom’s family and is witnessed by family and friends at home. The bride-to-be is not present. According to Tamil traditions, the Thali is handcrafted by a gold smith that is happily married with a united family.

“The ‘Ponnurukku’ begins with the breaking of a coconut, followed by a embedding a gold coin in milk. The symbolic moment is when the gold coin is melted. It is thought that the rounder the coin is shaped, the better it is for the couple. The guests are then asked to bless the melted gold. A tree is then planted in the garden of the groom’s home to symbolise the couple’s life together. Vegetarian food is then served to the guests to mark the start of wedding celebrations. From this day, the couple are traditionally not meant to see each other until their wedding day.”

What is the most creative/interesting Thali you have made and why?

“The most creative Thali made at Western Jewellers was a white gold Thali. We were the first to design a white gold Thali in the world. It goes without say that it was challenging to make but was definitely worth it. We had to train Italian gold smiths – the masters of white gold – to make the Thali Kodi to perfection.

“This year at Western Jewellers, we decided to bring ancient traditions of the gold melting ceremony and Thali making from start to finish in the comfort of your own home. This took approximately 6-7 hours of hand craftsmanship but also allowed family and friends to witness the making from start to finish.”

I just wanted to add here that if you have been up-to-date with their recent work, they have created the world’s first rose gold thali a few weeks ago!

How much do the younger generation know about Thalis, if anything? Why is this the case?

“Here at Western Jewellers, we have been handcrafting Thali Kodis for over 20 years therefore have seen the Sri Lankan Tamil community still observing many ancient traditions during their matrimonial ceremonies which are to be followed by the Bride and Groom. The younger generations continually show an active interest to understand the symbolism behind the Thali. We have also found mixed religion marriages are more open to keeping the sacred Thali as a symbolic bridal Gold thread.

“As we live in a westernised society, we have seen many customers modifying their Thali Kodis with diamonds or gems to keep up with current trends. We thoroughly enjoy welcoming the younger generation to explain the ancient traditions followed thousands of years ago by their ancestors but also are intrigued to making more creative Thalis in the years to come.”

What are your thoughts about the ‘Manjal Kayiru’ (a yellow thread) instead of the Thali Kodi (gold chain)?

“The ‘Manjal kayiru’ is more for the south India Community. At Western Jewellers, we have created a similar Thali chain called the South Style.

“The ‘Manjal Kayiru’ was mainly used in the olden days to tie the three knots, whereas in the past 100 years there has been a rise in the screw-based Kodis. The South Indian Community uses the ‘Manjal Kayiru’ for the first year of their marriage after which they will change it into a gold chain.”

So…how interesting was that?! I have learnt so much and I hope you all feel that much more thrilled and informed after having read this.

I personally did some reading before and after reading these responses from Western Jewellers, and also had a chat with mum about what she knew about the Thali. In addition to everything mentioned above, one point which she told me about was how the Thali, when worn, should be tucked inside and should not meet another Thali. There are two reasons for this. The first is the belief that when the gold from the Thali touches the woman’s skin, it is meant to be very beneficial for her health. Secondly, there is a common belief that when one Thali meets another, apparently one has the possibility to cast an evil eye on the other; at the end of the day we are talking about religious jewellery and religious beliefs. To what extent this is correct, I do not know, and I will take more time to find out. For the time being, however, the main learning point for me is that the Thali has to be taken care of all year round and thought has to be put into why and how it is worn.

I believe in making the Thali significant to oneself, but one should never lose sight of the traditions and values which are behind it. It is not a fashion statement; it is a symbol of religion, culture, tradition and love.

Of course, if you want more information about Thalis and are looking for people to make your Thalis, do not hesitate to contact Western Jewellers. I would like obviously like to thank the team for agreeing to be a part of my infinite journey blog and for working with me to get this write up done.

#HustleHard

This piece is a short one.

I am back at University and I have officially started my final year as a medical student.

Just as much as I am excited, I am nervous. I need to get through this last leg before I start an infinite journey into the real world of medicine, being a doctor, and continuing as a dancer.

I am even more excited, yet nervous about my responsibility to balance my profession and passion, which reside in both medicine and dance.

So here’s to a new year of excitement, challenges and learning opportunities!

Gratitude

Hello all,

I’m sat in my car, early for wedding dance rehearsals, and thought to write something.

I am grateful for life. I am grateful about every single human being who is in my life right now. I have emotional ups and downs but the people who keep me grounded and sane are the reasons why I always bounce back stronger.

Yes my mind goes astray always, but the fact that I am able to think straight at all times is because of the love and support people around me give.

I am happy about the life I am building. It is no where near complete and it will never be complete, but I am working towards something always.

I have had a recent revelation. I have started to appreciate myself so much more because if you strip away all my material possessions, I have several things that still define me. That in itself shows how hard I’ve worked ever since I remember.

I still have a long way to go, and I am going to keep pushing. The day I realised that I am more than just defined by the people I am with, or the possessions I hold, was the day I really started to appreciate how valuable I am as a human.

Always grateful for all those who have helped me get to where I am now. I pray that they always stick by me no matter what.

Lots of Love,
Praveena