Life lessons through an art form

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - People - Wong Li Za

BHARATANATYAM ex­po­nent Kamini Manikam shares with Star2 her thoughts on teach­ing the dance form:

Star2: What does it mean for you to carry on your mother’s tra­di­tion of teach­ing dance? (Her mother, Indira Manikam, is the prin­ci­pal of the Tan­jai Ka­malaa Indira Dance School in Kuala Lumpur.)

Kamini: Teach­ing dance can be dif­fer­ent from teach­ing an aca­demic sub­ject. And es­pe­cially with bharatanatyam, it is be­yond a mere “teach-the-body-to-move” process. Stu­dents are taught to go deeper into their hearts, tap­ping into their emo­tions to ex­press them­selves.

It takes time and ded­i­cated ef­fort for body con­di­tion­ing and fa­cial ex­pres­sions, more so when get­ting a stu­dent to fall in love with dance and mak­ing them prac­tise will­ingly. That in­cludes shar­ing sto­ries with moral val­ues, and pep talks, to make them re­alise that beauty is in­side-out and one needs to dance for love and not for fame.

Teach­ing dance is a beau­ti­ful jour­ney, in which you ame­lio­rate stu­dents by guid­ing them on a jour­ney of metanoia.

How dif­fer­ent is teach­ing from danc­ing?

Teach­ing can be an ex­haust­ing process be­cause you are work­ing with an­other in­di­vid­ual. And not all stu­dents have the same grasp­ing power and abil­ity. It re­quires heaps of pa­tience and tol­er­ance. It is ac­tu­ally much eas­ier to dance than to teach. Ini­tially, when I started teach­ing, I was a “Gu­ruzilla” who ex­pected noth­ing but per­fec­tion. There were mo­ments when I broke down emo­tion­ally be­cause I could not get a child do an Adavu (step) right, and was con­soled by my mum to take it lightly.

How­ever, over the years, I’ve re­alised that im­prove­ment – re­gard­less of whether it’s big or small – mat­ters more than be­ing per­fect. It is a two-way process of con­tin­u­ous learn­ing and grow­ing. And in that jour­ney, you would see your stu­dents as your own chil­dren and a re­flec­tion of your­self. A dance stu­dent is like a seed that re­quires nour­ish­ment by the gar­dener (teacher) with love, pa­tience and the right ways. But to flour­ish into a tree, it de­pends on the qual­ity of the seed and cir­cum­stances.

Hav­ing seen the school’s jour­ney and chal­lenges over the decades, what are some of your hopes for your­self and the school?

The per­form­ing arts or­gan­i­sa­tions face both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal chal­lenges, just like ev­ery other in­dus­try. Sus­tain­ing (the school) the last 52 years in Malaysia has not been an easy task. I have seen the pain and suf­fer­ing my mother went through over the years. Malaysian artistes have lim­ited re­sources, and we are forced to push our bound­aries.

Some­times I won­der whether run­ning pro­duc­tions is merely for ROEI (Re­turn on Emo­tional In­vest­ment) when the mon­e­tary re­turns are not jus­ti­fi­able for the blood and sweat in­vested. When it comes to leisure, most Malaysians choose the cinema, restau­rants, parks, malls, clubs, and so on, to un­wind. But why not choose per­form­ing arts events? Mov­ing for­ward, as Malaysians, to­gether we need to change the Malaysian per­form­ing arts scene by chang­ing our mind­set.

What’s your ad­vice for young bud­ding artistes?

Per­form­ing arts in Malaysia is not as glitzy as it seems. To per­form in that “light”, you have to go through “dark­ness”. You must work hard with per­se­ver­ance, de­ter­mi­na­tion and sin­cer­ity. In or­der to achieve (some­thing), don’t do any­thing and ev­ery­thing by com­pro­mis­ing your self-re­spect, dig­nity and hon­our. If there is a need to com­pete, choose to do it with your three tough­est com­peti­tors – “I”, “me” and “my­self”. Do not get car­ried away with peo­ple’s val­i­da­tion, both praises and crit­i­cisms. You are your best critic; so al­ways re­flect and ra­ti­o­ci­nate. Fo­cus on the process of learn­ing and grow­ing, but not the fruits of ac­tion. You will be re­warded with what you de­serve, not what you de­sire!

A scene from the Sri Valli Thiru­manam dance drama with Kamini as the lead ac­tor and dancer.

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