By Pooja Chimata
Dhalanku thaka thiku thaka tha dhing gi na thom… Thakadhimi thaka tha ki ta… “Dude, did you hear what I said?” my lab partner gently asks, waking me up, bringing me to my biology lab.
I don’t like to admit it, but I daydream frequently. And it’s usually during important classes (oops) and it’s almost always about dance. Repeating the counts of each song is something that my brain has become programmed to do. I could spend hours a day thinking about each hand and foot movement, the energy, and the way I need to portray each expression to represent the Indian mythological characters, Rama, Shiva, or Devi, or even just replaying someone’s choreography that I saw on Bollyshake.
Dance has been the one thing in my life that I’ve never really had to think much about; it’s a habit that’s become my passion. I started dancing, though Bollywood, at the age of four. After watching dozens of colorful and entertaining Bollywood movies, replicating the same steps, and wearing similar outfits, dance was not only a way to reconnect with my Indian culture, but it helped build my self-confidence. Being a painfully shy kid, I never smiled or talked to anyone, because I was so nervous and insecure about the way I looked and acted. But, as soon as I got on stage with a full face of makeup, a gorgeous embroidered dress, and my jewelry, I felt like a different person. Not to sound cheesy, but I truly felt like I was a Bollywood star when I danced. I was Madhuri Dixit. I was Aishwarya Rai. I was Deepika Padukone. It was a thrilling experience to break out of my shell, forget about my worries, and shake my hips like there was no tomorrow.
Going to Bollywood dance competitions and performances became a part of my routine over the next seven years and Bollywood dance was the only thing that was ever on my mind. However, a plot twist came my way when I was almost ten years old. Well, I was pushed into it by my mother. She was convinced that I would become a more serious and technique-driven dancer if I studied Bharatanatyam, a South Indian classical dance, and took dance seriously instead of dance just as a fun activity. Bharatanatyam was so much more complicated, physically demanding, and intense compared to Bollywood; spending hours in aramandi (a diamond-shaped squat) while simultaneously doing intricate hand and feet movements and portraying various expressions made my entire body ache from soreness, and it didn’t seem like it was worth it. It also didn’t help that I was a 5’ 2’’ sixth-grader in a room full of five-year-olds, and I felt like I was starting at square one even though I had already been dancing for seven years at that point. It took me years to understand the complexity of this dance form, but something finally clicked when I reached more advanced levels of dance. The mythology of each dance and the meaning behind every smile, pleading glance, angry stare, and graceful embodiment was something that I could connect to Bollywood. Instead of pretending to be a Madhuri or Aishwarya, I was now portraying gods like Rama and Shiva. By depicting the various emotions of a Bharatanatyam dancer, I was subconsciously becoming a better communicator; my facial expressions were translating into verbal expressions outside of dance and it allowed me to better articulate my thoughts and opinions and become a more confident individual. It’s been almost a decade and a half since I first started dancing, but the lessons I’ve learned along the way have truly been life-changing. I’ve learned so much about friendship and dedication by learning these art forms and the relationships that have been fostered through dance are lifelong. Dance encouraged me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and take big risks like joining the speech team in high school and even going to Minnesota for college, even when many people doubted me. The kind of self-confidence I’ve been able to gain through dance and choreography has made me realized that while dancing for a trophy and the glory is thrilling and exciting, the only person that I have to prove my worth and talent to is myself.
The impact dance has had on my life is truly indescribable and I’m fortunate enough to have danced under selfless and committed gurus and make some of my best friends through it. Even though I may day-dream about dancing too often, the shy, insecure girl that was scared to be herself, probably wouldn’t have grown up to become the person I am today if it weren’t for dance. And you definitely will be hearing more about dance from me in the weeks coming 🙂
My name is Pooja Chimata and I’m from the Bay Area and I’m currently studying Political Science and Economics at the University of Minnesota. I’m passionate about government and politics and being involved in local government efforts. I’m also passionate about dance, art, and food!