Friday, May 22, 2015

my story, my words

i have wanted to write this post for many, many years but when so much emotion is involved i found it best to write when i felt calmer and it took some time. i did not want to sound ungrateful, i did not want to sound like i was better than anyone, i did not want to sound like i was envious.

i started in sutra dance theatre at the age of eight after doing ballet for 3 years. my father, who grew up watching umesh's parents dance in a temple near his home, had always wanted his daughter to learn indian classical dance. i always joked that he was an indian man trapped in a chinese body. i have never seen a man eat mutton curry and rasam with such appetite. so i started with bharatanatyam, the southern indian classical dance form, because artistic director, ramli ibrahim, felt that it was better for children to pick up the angular geometrical dance form first and then later on the eastern classical form of odissi. i learned that it is easier for the body to deconstruct when such a strong foundation of brilliant technique has been built because as ramli used to say you can only break the rules once you know them.

i distinctly remember many vijayadasmis in ramli's home in sungei penchala. i found it a magical place, surrounded by nature and a very strong artistic energy. a beautiful environment to grow up in. the little stage used to be so so slippery because it was exposed to malaysia's torrential rain and moss grew abundantly in the little penchala jungle. i also remember being constantly in awe of my senior dancers, rathimalar, sooraj, asha, gayathri, chaandini and thenmalar. they used to bend me in weird awkward shapes because i used to be very flexible and after a while ramli invited me to join their company ballet classes. i also remember having to stay back after the class to have one on one sessions with ramli, where he used to make me practice on my double pirouettes. i still can't do them for fear of falling. the sutra studio's floor used to be so so slippery. i think it still is.

i also vividly remember watching almost every single sutra production. i was blown away every single time. they used to break all the rules. they would enter from the audience, down the stairs, through the seats and i loved it all. i remember fatamorgana with the late ramli hassan as oberon and my childhood crush, lena ang as titania. fatamorgana was sutra's version of the midsummer's night dream. i remember ann lee with dotty the chicken on stage, i remember chandrabanu's meenakshi, the goddess with three breasts and i remember in spirit. i remember how sensual all the girls were with their knee length hair and i remember the music. oh how it gave me goosebumps. i remember seeing chinnamasta for the first time, the three jets of blood spurting through ramli or gunane's headless stance.

i remember all these things because i was there. i remember because this was my childhood. i grew up in sutra, i grew up with sutra. i used to spend all my time there. school holidays, public holidays and i used to spend a lot of time with my senior dancers. who i now realise were kids themselves. they used to laugh so so much and ramli used to scold them all the time because he was reminded once again that these talented artistes were in fact children. we all were. but we were expected to behave as adults.

ramli saw what i think was potential and asked me to perform a solo at 13 years old. it was the first of the alarippu to moksha series and i got a slot amongst the same senior dancers i looked up to for so many years. i also got to go to kulim and danced alongside them, it was a dream come true. then i realised that the dance i did and the dance rathi and the other girls did was different. i wondered how come their jewellery was silver and not gold. i wondered how come their hair was in a bun and they had something that resembled a halo around their head and my hair was in a long braid up to my bum. i wondered how come they had white dots that followed their eyebrows and ended in a circle on their cheeks. i wondered how come their music sounded so good compared to the music i had to dance to. i wondered how come they looked so sensual dancing their dance and my movements were so stiff and sharp. this was my introduction to odissi.

it was during this time that i fell in love with odissi. i used to go home after performances and try to emulate the dance steps that i saw on stage. i would walk the 'S' walk towards the kitchen, i would 'jarra' while waiting for my toast and i would try and try and but it just never felt right. then ramli told me that it was time for me to start odissi and i could not contain my excitement. everything that i saw on stage and tried to emulate at home just fell into place. i remember picking it up so fast and ramli told me that my graph had become exponential. i got to perform in my first odissi production as a gopi and the music was live. i cannot even put into words how all this made me feel. dancing to live odissi music was heaven on earth to me. the strains of lakshmi kanta palit, the man with a golden voice. it was goosebump central. i did not know it then but i would never dance to music like that again.

i have seen sutra change guru bhais and the evolution of the style and items. things started to change, senior dancers left and we became the senior dancers. i first partnered ramli at the artist space in concorde shah alam and toured orissa with him at the age of 15. i played the lead alongside umesh shetty in the garden of earthly desires and was the face of sutra's festival gerak angin.

there was a shift in the way the other girls looked at me. i could feel it and it wasn't the best but it's only human to be envious. it became worse when mothers of the girls started hating me too. as a fifteen year old girl, i did not deserve to be treated the way i was treated. but i stuck to my dance because that was the only thing i wanted to do. i would watch performances and try to analyse why this performer stood out from the others on stage. why would my eyes only search for rathimalar? what did she do that made her exceptional? was it the extra millisecond she took to reach that pose? was it the way she articulated her fingers? was it because her toes were always flexed in tribhangi? what was it that i loved so much about lena ang? she used to move so so slowly but i would sit in my seat transfixed. she never blinked. she was in the moment and every single muscle in her body was engaged. she was present and i was there with her.

as i type this i know that i was constantly working to perfect my craft, which i am no where near. but by now you can see how special dancing is to me. i look at it in a way not everyone does. it is my little ball of clay that i am constantly working into something that i want it to be not really knowing the end result.

so when i see how some dancers treat my dance i get very angry. yes, i am boldly calling it my dance because i grew up with it in my life. it is me and i am it. there is no respect for it anymore. not enough time is being spent on it. there is no love, there is no honing, there is no cooking it until it gets under your skin and into your bloodstream. just like food, everything is becoming so processed and so instant. just add water and you have mashed potatoes. little do you know that no potatoes were found in there.

i am sick and tired of the egos. there was no yearning to be on that tour, there was no working towards something. the silver spoon was there and shoved into your mouth before anything was ready. the humility is lost. there is nothing sacred about it anymore and it makes me so so sad.

there is still time though. take a moment and reflect. just because we are not there anymore doesn't mean that you have become senior. i took the time i need away from dance to mourn my loss of sutra. it was my home you know? it was my playground. i knew how many have hurt ramli and i'd be damned if i ever hurt that man. that man who has given me this gift. that man who showed me heaven with odissi.

it hurt every single time i went back. it stung like a bitch. how could my home feel so alien. how could i feel so unwelcome? but i let it be. it hurt every time someone asked me if i was still dancing. how could i start dancing when i did not have anything to call my own. i have artistic integrity. i did not want to look like i was stealing. what i learnt from there would stay there, that is what i told myself. if i wanted to dance i would have to start from scratch. how could i do that? who do i know? all this took time, to simmer and cook.

it took 6 years. 6 years is a very long time. but 6 years of thinking meant that everything i have done till today has been deliberate and longed for. i needed to want it, to work towards it so that i can stand here, 6 years later and be proud of myself. fucking proud of myself.

this year i would have been dancing for 25 years. and i can finally say that i am a professional dancer. i am more confident than i have ever been, i make decisions and have the artistic freedom to do and say whatever i want. i have finally come into my own person and i love her.

many say that i am arrogant. many say that i am narcissistic. but i think arrogance is mistaken for confidence. i'm sure i was arrogant when i was in my late teens and early 20s, i admit i was bloody arrogant and pretty narcissistic. but as someone who is about to turn 30, i know that i am more confident and love myself in a healthier, more positive way. because i worked towards this on my own.

i am grateful for the incredible childhood i have had. no one can ever take that away from me. no one.

i am grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way. but i'll be damned if people think that i didn't do anything to get to where i am today.

i am grateful for the loving support of my husband and family and my children. without whom i know none of this would be even possible.

and i think it's about time you show some gratitude too.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

body image battles

current weight: 58 kg
prenatal weight: 65kg
just before delivery weight: 80 kg

weight lost: 22 kg

God, I hate this inner battle within myself to be thin. I try my best to stay positive and optimistic but the truth is that it really sucks. Every time I eat rice or noodles or bread I feel so guilty for eating carbs. I automatically feel fat and start wondering how much I weigh. Is this normal? How did my eating habits become so destructive and unhealthy?

Whenever I read people talk about how fat they are and compare their weights on their blogs or photographs I get so mad and irritated. These girls are skinny and are still complaining about their body. Why are we never satisfied? Why do we associate beauty with skinny?

As a dancer growing up, I was always told to watch my weight. I was never one of the feather weight light ones and there was always a complaint whenever I had to be lifted. This did not help my self esteem in any way.

As a daughter, I was also always reminded about my weight. I was always told whenever I put on but never told when I have lost. So I am always thinking when will what I have lost be enough?

As a friend of many beautiful ladies in my life, I am also always the biggest one. I have ample hips, my waist is far from cinched and I have strong thighs. Why is my body so difficult to love then?

I need to practice a healthier body image for myself because I do not want my little girl to have such a love/hate relationship to food. I don't want my insecurities to pass on to her. I want to promote a healthier image where you basically burn off what you eat by exercise. I try to project an active lifestyle so that my kids will hopefully emulate one day.

It's tough, being positive. My journey towards fitness was not during my dancing days because that was an era ago and I was not conscious as I am today. It was last year, a year after the birth of my twins where I started to watch what I eat and exercise consistently. It has given me more energy and strength to take care of my twins single handedly. But I have slacked a lot over the past two months and that is why I am probably so self loathing.

I have had my second bodytone session this week and I feel good. I am starting to love myself again and embrace everything I am right now. You know how it is right? You feel awful but when you look at the same photos ten years down the line you wonder why you thought you were fat to begin with.

Love yourself ladies. Live a little, eat a little. I'm trying my utmost best.

Eat like no one will see you naked.

Monday, March 23, 2015

a mother's love

It's the second time that I have travelled away from the children for over 10 days. This trip was in fact slightly longer than the last.

The first trip I was still trying to figure out who I was. I was trying to understand myself as a married woman, wife and mother to not one but two. I survived the trip and immediately started dancing. Because I felt renewed and the distance helped me bring back my old self and gave me enough confidence to know that I will be able to handle it all. The distance helped me with being a little selfish and knowing that it is ok to be.

So this trip was the second year of being a mum, wife, married woman and also dancer who has managed to tuck a few performances and interviews under her belt. I felt good, confident and strong. I enjoyed my trip but I missed my kids immensely. I felt that the trip was too long and that they would forget me.

I came home and rushed to their room and watched them sleep. I stroked my baby's head who is now a little girl. They grew so much over the last two weeks.

I wake up half an hour before they did and brushed my teeth, made a cup of coffee and readied their 7am feed. I rushed into their room the second I head a stirring and I saw them. We all screamed with delight and hugged and kissed. It was magical. My babies were as happy as I was to see them and we all felt complete again.

This is what every single mother feels for her child.

My mother always told me that you will never know love until you have your own and she said it was unexplainable. This feeling that I just described to you is my feeling.

Some of us are but all of us have one. And to know that love is to know heaven.