Shobna Chanel was still a child barely in school when she started learning how to dance. Today that passion she had at such young age has taken her a long way. Chanel has never looked back and now successfully manages her own dance outfit – the Shobna Chanel Dance Group. “When I started learning dance I didn’t question it much at the time. It was my mother who joined me to the Indian Cultural Centre in the Indian High Commission when it initially opened in Fiji. My interest and love for dance developed as time went by.” Chanel said she had a humble upbringing, growing up in Toorak where she was raised by her mum, Josephine Satya Wati Singh. She was sheltered and protected, even though her single mum had to deal with many challenging situations, especially financial. Despite having a single parent, she had a normal upbringing that was sheltered and protected. Chanel was the middle child and has an older brother in Fiji and a younger one now living in Sydney. “Mum was a kindergarten teacher so introduced us to lots of things early in life, for example the library, reading, swimming, artwork, painting, holiday programs and dancing just to name a few.” “Though everything was not a bed of roses, she never let us feel underprivileged and provided for all our needs. For that I am forever grateful to her. “My mum was a fighter with very strong principles in life and she never deviated from instilling in us good ethics, integrity, hard work and the importance of education – those are what shaped my life,” she said. Chanel is married to Justin Chanel and they have two sons, Sheldon and Arnold. She works full time as a Technical Advisor with the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) branch in Suva. INZ is the immigration branch of the New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and is responsible for bringing the best people to NZ to augment NZ’s social and economic outcomes. She has held the post since 2009 and her job is to guide, train and develop the decision-making skills of Immigration Officers in line with the Immigration Act, Immigration Instructions, Service Promise and Values to achieve high quality customer outcomes. Chanel attended Annesly Infant School, Suva Methodist Primary School and Dudley High School and has a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of the South Pacific. Although she has a demanding job demanding a lot from her, Chanel has never lost her passion for dance, particularly classical Indian dance and music. “I am also fond of iTaukei culture, music and dance,” she said. “The unique fusion of iTaukei and Indian dance forms has become our signature over the years.” “Initially I was approached by the Government to prepare a small team for the World Expo and Arts Festival in Australia back in 1988.
“Later on, when the Indian High Commission closed due to political upheavals, I was asked by parents of many young girls to teach so that their daughters could continue learning dance.” Chanel said it was too difficult for her to refuse to impart to children the art for which she had harbored so much passion. “I’ve always made sure that anyone who wants to learn dance is welcome in my class and is not restricted by age, race, religion, disability or any other social or economic factors.” Her dance group was established around the end of 1987, starting out as a small, impromptu troupe. Reflecting on how far the dance group has come, Chanel said it has been a continuous and amazing journey fraught with challenges and hard work that had forged many friendships. “There have been many events at which we performed, but two main events which began the journey were the Pacific Arts Festival and World Expo in 1988. We were a four-member dance group as part of Fiji’s delegation to both. “It was a very proud moment because Fiji showed our cultural diversity, which left the crowd awed. I have always felt that Fiji’s strength lies in our cultural diversity and we should continue to promote this and use it as a means to build unity and become a stronger nation.” “Our goal was always to develop passion among the people of Fiji and to bring them together through dance. “We have always encouraged positive change in Fiji and around the region, especially when we introduced the unique fusion of iTaukei and Indian dance forms and performed at many events promoting both amazing cultures.” Chanel said at a time when Fiji was still trying to heal from the aftereffects of political upheavals, the fusion dance form was an important element in breaking down barriers among Fiji people. “It was what I call a drop in the ocean, but with powerful, positive effects.” She said Fiji is a country brimming with talented artists and she had seen many who could easily perform at the highest international levels, and many who already have. “Support for art and culture is growing and gaining recognition, perhaps not with the momentum that many artists would have liked. But the fact that the Government and many segments of the private sector are paying attention and recognising its importance is good enough reason to say that art and culture is being given significance and room to grow.” Chanel urges former, current and future artists in Fiji and all stakeholders to use their considerable talents to contribute to the nation’s development and promote togetherness, unity and peace.