Sunday, September 25, 2016

if you knew me...

when i left sutra dance theatre in 2009 it left me empty. i had been there for most of my life, sixteen years to be exact. i was only 24 years old in 2009, young and completely clueless with what to do with my life. i got a job and realised almost immediately that getting a job meant nothing unless you were really good at it and how can you be good at it if you don't love it. so i thought, perhaps i should apply for a masters in performing arts. that's what people do right? when in doubt, study. but i got married instead. i was 26 years old.

some say that 26 is a young age to get married, some say that if you miss your window you'd have to wait till your late 30s, someone will always have something to say. marriage is really all about luck. you can spend 8 years dating and still not know who your husband is because marriage changes people or sometimes it doesn't but marriage is hard, sometimes harder for some but never easy.

about five months after i got married, Ramli and i did an odissi tour of cuttack, antwerp, hague, amsterdam and utrecht. we were accompanied by live musicians and had a wonderful time. i danced better than i did before (i was told). i felt great but i still did not know what to do next. i did not want to go back to the dance company and i did not know how to move forward. i was still very much stuck.

many people will tell you to open a dance school, they'd promise to send their children to your school and they will tell you all sorts of wonderful things and sometimes even make you believe that you should. but i knew better and i knew that i couldn't commit to a dance school because at this age i still wanted to perform, i wanted to dance, that much i knew.

i wanted to evolve, grow and dance new things but i did not know where to start. that's the thing about being in a dance company from such a young age, you think that this is all there is to know. you get comfortable, you perform so much, you dance so much that after a while you dread and complain about the next show, you take it for granted, you become somewhat disillusioned because all you hear almost everyday is how great you are. when i was there every second of every day was filled with dance, be it teaching, rehearsing, planning, touring, travelling, ironing a saree, it was almost an addiction. being so busy that you could barely think. i missed out on family holidays, friend's birthday parties, weddings, even watching other performances. when you are busy like that and suddenly you are left with nothing to do, it can kill you. you can't help but feel useless. i mean all those 16 years that you spent dancing and you leave with nothing.

i did not know what to do but i was certain about things i did not want to do. i did not want to perform items that i had learnt before, i did not want to teach items that i had learnt before, i wanted to own my own items, i wanted to be my own dancer, i wanted to dance on my own.

i continued going for performances, watching, wanting, wishing that it was me on stage, thinking that if it were me i could have done it better, wallowing in self pity and allowing myself to make excuses for myself. i told myself that i would dance after i got pregnant, i told myself that i would dance when the time was right, i would dance when i was ready because emotionally i wasn't ready. i was still caught up in all the wrong things, why i wanted to dance, where i wanted to dance, what i wanted to dance. i also knew that i didn't have anything to dance and until i had my own items i would just have to sit tight and wait.

two years after i got married, we were blessed with a set of twins. wow, you're so lucky, two at one go, i always wanted twins, do twins run in your family, are they natural, wow you're so big, wow you're so small, and the list went on and on. i always wondered why everyone had to have something to say. if you don't know me, heck even if you did, you don't need to say anything. just a simple hi and wish me well and move on but as always i smile and nod.

just before the twins turned 1 my husband said that it was time for me to start dancing again. i must add that this wasn't the first time he has said this. he used to relentlessly irritate me by telling me not to live in my past glories and used to bug me with why i wasn't dancing. now i look back and i am so glad for his constant nagging. funnily enough, he met me when dance wasn't a part of my life and the first time he saw me dance was after we got married.

so this time, instead of focusing on why i wasn't or couldn't dance and also just to prove him wrong, i moved out the sofa from the tv room, got some full length mirrors installed and transformed his man-cave into my studio. i sat down and wrote down what items i wanted commissioned, who to commission them from, wrote down some ideas of what i could do with my new basement space and started recording 15 second videos on instagram of me sitting down and dancing, it wasn't much but it was a start.

one of the ideas i penned down was to have weekly or fortnight movement classes with rathi. i knew that i needed to get the body moving again and who better to teach me. after i sent that message to her i received a phone call and it changed the both of our lives. she told me that she had just left sutra dance theatre and that we should meet. she said that uncle joseph gonzales had asked her to choreograph a piece for their Tari festival in 2014 and that we should work together and come up with something.

how do you plan for something like that? the timing was right and it was fate. we created rehab through lots of talking, crying, sharing and we performed it not once, but again and again and again. in 2015 we heard of another dance festival organised by sutra foundation and bilqis hijjas asked rathi to contribute and once again rathi pulled me in and we created return. to come back as individuals with our own piece, our own message was a huge feat for the both of us. we all know how bridges tend to get burned once you leave the academy but when you do things right and have the best intentions, nothing will get in your way. i truly believe that.

it was also such a blessing to have collaborated with gerard mosterd  and parterned Raziman Sarbini of ASWARA. i was thrown once again into a completely different ocean but i took it on and managed to swim. it also wasn't easy for me to come to terms with the roles of wife, mother and dancer. my life as a dancer was when i was single and time was my own. now i had to really make sure that my rehearsals were efficient, food was prepared beforehand and everyone's needs were met so that i could guiltlessly attend my sessions.

we performed return again for temple of fine arts' Shantanand Festival combined with rehab and then i left for jakarta. i remember people used to ask me whether i would continue my dance once i moved to jakarta with a smirk on their face. as if expecting me to say no, but i would always reply, why not? if i get the opportunity i would most definitely love to dance wherever i am. knowing fully well that i needed to ensure that my family would be settled before i started looking for opportunities.

last year, my dearest friend sean ghazi wanted me to present a solo odissi performance at his space, Bobo KL, to which i agreed but early on this year i turned him down. however, my friends who knew me knew that i would be capable of performing pregnant. not having limiting thoughts i agreed to the proposal and am now preparing for a performance that is a mere 4 weeks away.

'bloom' has been a long time coming and if you have come this far reading this post you will understand how far i've come since leaving my dance school seven years ago. i've spent years constantly thinking and picturing how i will perform my first performance independently. performing pregnant was not how i imagined it at all, but life happens, and i so happen to be pregnant.

women all over the world continue their lives during their entire pregnancy. they work their 8 to 9 hour shifts, they continue with their household chores, the very same way i continue with my life.

should i have given up this opportunity to dance because i am pregnant? i sure don't think so. i have been dancing for as long as i've been alive and i know what i can and cannot handle. my doctors have given me the green light, i've been careful with my diet, i've started pilates to help correct my posture and strengthen my muscles, i've seen my chiropractor everytime i feel unaligned.

but you don't know any of this because you don't know me and yet you talk as if you do...

if you knew me, you'd know that from a young age i have always wanted a family. even ramli knew how much i wanted children. they have and will always be my utmost priority. which mother knowingly puts her children in danger? i know my body more than anyone and the last thing i would do is do something that i'm not strong enough to do. i am already a mother. you know how protective mothers are. mothers know best.

if you knew me, you wouldn't be saying what you're saying. if you knew me, you wouldn't doubt me.
if you knew me, you would wish me well. if you knew me, you'd be happy for me because if you knew me i'd be happy for you too.

but you don't. you don't know me at all and to be honest i'm glad i don't know you either.

Friday, September 16, 2016

conversation: bloom

it's been five months since my last blog post and i look back on that post and am glad i wrote it while the pan was still hot. i'm glad i was honest with my feelings because that was exactly how i felt for most of the months after the twins were born. it could have been postnatal depression but i will never be sure what exactly it was. hormones are a funny thing, they can make you feel all sorts of things without much reason or control.

we've now been in jakarta for about eight months and we're pretty settled. happier, more relaxed. life has been good to us and i've managed to come to a good routine with the children and then a week after that last blogpost i took 3 pregnancy tests and found out that we were expecting our third child. i stress on the word 'child'. yes, just one baby. phew!

i went through the same first trimester of nausea, which i wouldn't wish upon my greatest enemy. fast forward to today, at 25 weeks i'm blooming and healthy.

some time last year, my dearest abang Sean Ghazi invited me to perform a solo repertoire at Bobo KL in conjunction with Deepavali but with the upcoming baby i decided against it however, my crazy dance sister, rathi, did not hear any of it and well, we're now performing an odissi duet in 5 weeks.

i remember before i got pregnant with leo and jade i always told myself that i would perform during my pregnancy but with multiples, many dreams go out the window so i thought that that was that. with this pregnancy it didn't even occur to me to perform. i mean i've got two toddlers, i live all the way over here now and i guess i was just plain lazy. but i agreed to do it, not really giving it much thought. all that mattered was that baby and i were healthy, i'm pretty fit or was pretty fit pre-pregnancy and the opportunity was right there in front of me. so no need to ask so many questions la...buat dulu!

we kept this under wraps for the longest time because who knew what the future had in store for us. we knew we'd be performing but we didn't know which items, what we'd wear, what would the concept be, nothing. as usual we left things to stew on its own and when the time was right everything would fall into place (we hoped).

i flew back two weeks ago to KL to get some photographs taken for 'bloom' publicity and i'm so pleased that the pictures turned out well but once the photographs were uploaded onto social media, well, 'bloom' took on a life of its own.

based on the reaction from the public, it wasn't just another odissi performance anymore. it was so much more than that because our images spoke to all women at different stages of their lives. it went beyond our expectations let alone intentions. it wasn't about us anymore. it was a message and if i may boldly say, a movement, and a phase of my life that will be immortalised for all time. which brought me in front of my laptop, penning these thoughts down. why are we doing this? what is so important about this particular show? what does this show mean? how does this show differ from the rest? why now? why odissi?


what is it about a revealed swollen belly that gets people so uncomfortable? when discussing about the costume, i initially said that i wanted to stitch a kurta set with jersey material so that it could not only cover but accommodate the growing belly. i would look neat and no too 'exposed'. but rathi (thank god for her), said that i would look completely fine in our full odissi gear. i was afraid that it would look gaudy, or that i would look too round and come to think of it, i was just afraid of the unknown. i did not know what i was afraid of most, but i would not have known had i not tried and tried i did and thank the heavens, it worked.

keeping it traditional and classical

rathi suggested that we tweak the repertoire slightly to make it more odissi inspired rather than completely odissi but i disagreed and said that we needed to keep this completely classical as there were already so many 'other' elements going into this program and that if i were to dance i wanted to dance properly or not at all.

we laughed and joked about me sitting on a stool in the middle of the stage just swaying my body to the music and using hand gestures but the reality is that pregnancy is not an illness nor a disability and shouldn't be treated as one. as long as my doctor tells me that baby and i are healthy nothing has to change or be compromised.

to quote a friend, 'Are we only able to challenge this perception (pregnancy) through 'modern' art? Are we saying something classical cannot say current and relevant things?'

odissi has also been our first love and this performance will be our first one as independent artistes, which is a big thing to us. rathi and i created 'rehab' and 'return' to ease (and heal) our way back into the dance community but always felt that we weren't ready to present ourselves in an odissi performance as we wanted to build our individual personalities first. we wanted to come into our own and present something that was not derivative but something that was solely and completely us and let me tell you that moving out of any shadow is hard, hard work. but as long as your intentions and integrity are strong and intact it will happen in due time.

embracing femininity and all that comes with it

now this is the most special of all. our dance tradition is quite patriarchal, from our gurus, to the musicians, right to the tailors who stitch our dance costumes. so as a woman i've always felt that we've had to let our femininity take a back seat. as a child, dance was my only responsibility, which was easy. i had to juggle my academic life with my dance life and that was about it. i danced through puberty without giving it much thought and was constantly reminded that your artistic life ends the moment you get married.

i grew up, got married and naturally i was treated as if i couldn't dance because being married meant that i couldn't commit 100% and you may as well not commit at all. terms like 'faceless housewife' were thrown around hitting me in the gut every time.  this was only the beginning of the struggle and this struggle continued after birthing children. i had to not only rediscover myself, physically and mentally, i had to balance husband, children and the household. i had to prove to everyone that i was serious this time and i had to do it alone, with no one behind me to tell me whether what i was doing was right or wrong.

as part of the rediscovery, i had to commission a new repertoire, which meant flying someone over, housing them, learning the repertoire while juggling babies.

now, i'm pregnant and have decided to stop hiding behind my femininity. for a change i've decided to embrace all roles because they make up my identity. there may be a few people who don't see the importance of this decision but that is ok. it is far from a shallow, 'i want to dance because i am pregnant'. it is more of a 'i am performing and i so happen to be pregnant'.

some have said, why can't you just have the baby first and then continue with your dance like everyone else? well...what's the fun in doing that? isn't that still hiding?

i don't want to hide anymore. i want to do. i want to live. i want to dance. i want my children to know that nothing should ever stand in the way of what they feel is right.

there is nothing ugly about a swollen belly. there is nothing ugly about the miracle of life. nothing ugly or weak about being a woman.

so...that's about it for now. i'm sure things will further evolve as we gear towards the performance but as usual, i feel heaps lighter and i hope that this clears up any questions that may be running through your minds about the why's and how's we're doing this performance. i sincerely hope to see you in the audience, cheering us on and showering us with your love and blessings. it's been a long time coming...

photo by S. Magen

Bobo KL, Jalan Bangkung
Oct 21, 22, 23 2016
For reservations please contact +60 3-2092 5002

Sunday, September 11, 2016


photo by S. Magen

'bloom' will be January Low and Rathimalar Govindarajoo's first full Odissi duet together in Malaysia as independent artistes. ‘bloom’ reunites this dynamic duo in their classical core and highlights their blossoming as creative independent artistes.

This performance will also mark a personal milestone for January as she fulfills a long-awaited wish and chooses to embrace femininity, positivity and many blessings to dance while 7 months pregnant.

'bloom' will be Rathi and January's third production together, and the first in 2016, following'rehab' and 'return'.

Dancers: January Low & Rathimalar Govindarajoo
Music composition: Pandit Ragunath Panigrahi, Shri Lakshmi Kanta Palit, Shri Abhiram Nanda
Music rearrangement: Edwin Anand
Costume Design: Roova Lijuan

Date: 21, 22, 23 October 2016
Venue: Bobo KL, Jalan Bangkung
For reservations please call 03 2092 5002