Friday, August 21, 2015

two become two

My kids turned two today and I do not know where that time went. I go through photos of them as one year olds and I don't even remember them even looking like that, don't get me started on their full moon pictures. Time has flown so fast and it has been an incredible journey. The most difficult thing I have ever/ will ever do in my life but the most rewarding.

My babies run to me and shower me with hugs and kisses. My little girl looks for me when she is uncomfortable and seeks a familiar lap to sit on. My little boy screams bloody murder everytime I drop him off at pre-school and as much as it makes me feel like shit, it reminds me that he does in fact enjoy my company.

I am not the warmest person you will come across. I try my best not to give in to my kids. And I let them cry it out about everything. I feel bad sometimes because when my friend's kids fall they immediately run to them and scoop them into their arms and soothe them. When my kids climb on a chair I say nothing, I let them fall, make their mistake and learn not to do it again. This means that my days are full of bloody lips and tears but today I know that when they cry after they fall, they really do hurt.

Today, when I baked their little carrot birthday cake, I kept thinking about the day that they will be embarassed about the 'not-so-pretty' cake mummy baked and will insist on ordering the damn 'Elsa' cake and it made me so sad. A silly little thought of course but very true.

Just yesterday I thought of packing snack packs for my children's classmates and actually took the kids grocery shopping with me and did it. Nothing fancy, a zip locked bag which said, "we are two today" (handwritten by a sharpie by me), then I stuck a sticker on it and filled it with pre-packed oat biscuits, pre-packed cake and a box of raisins. When I got home today my mother showed me two party packs my children received. Firstly, this senior child prepared packs for the entire school. Secondly, the pack consisted of a ceramic mug, a pack of kit kat and a seriously fancy flashcard. By fancy I mean it was printed on both sides and you could pull it apart and it described the animal it showed. Sorry la for sounding Jakun but I seriously felt embarrassed.

But the more and more I thought about it, I told myself to shut the eff up and get my self together. I woke up at 6am this morning just to make sure I personally baked this cake myself. It may not have looked the best but I knew what went in it and was absolutely sure that it tasted good. I also came to the fact that these little bubs will grow out of me. And I hope that I will have the strength to just let go (confident with whatever life lessons I have given them) and wait for them to flitter back to me when they are ready.

Happy birthday little ones. Mummy and daddy love you with all of our hearts and even more. There is absolutely nothing that we won't do for you and we believe that you will achieve nothing but greatness with the gifts bestowed upon you from the heavens.

two become two and i thirty

i know my instagram feed looks like an incredibly effortless dream. smiles, cute children, handsome husband and red-lipped me always captured in a perfect moment. but my entire day is not made up of perfect smiley moments. i choose those photographs, i choose those filters, i choose to post those moments of my day. why? because when i scroll back i want to remember those wonderful moments of when we were all laughing till our sides ached and when my little babies were so so happy i could cry.

now that i am dancing 'properly' meaning i attend workshops, facilitate workshops, perform, attend performances, etc it all makes my so-called perfect life even more 'perfect' doesn't it? i feel the envy, i hear the jealousy and i know what you are thinking because i was in fact you.

i used to feel a tight knot in my tummy everytime i came across a magazine article about someone i knew. the knot was jealousy of course and the only way to react was to make an excuse. people used to say...but you just had twins how will you be able to do it? heck, i used to say...i just had twins, how will i be able to do it? then one day i decided to just shut up and just do.

my husband was a strong factor in this because he kept telling me to stop living in my past glories, which to be honest i really was. but there was also this fear of not living up to those so-called past glories. what if what people remembered was magnified in their heads? what if they saw me again and thought, hmmm...i thought she was better? what if people thought, oh dear i think she's lost it. so many what i flushed those what ifs down the toilet and started. i started exercising, i started dancing again.

a year has passed and i would never have imagined this year to have turned out the way it has. i am beyond grateful.

i am grateful to my husband who has taught me adaptability. that nothing is ever set in stone and compromise is what marriage is all about. thank you for respecting my dance, my decisions and my dreams.

i am grateful to my mother, who has flown countless times to kl to let me dance. she always tells me to 'just do' things and we have somehow managed to make everything work out. she has made our date nights possible, she has given me the second wind of being able to dance again. in fact it was she who cultivated my love for the arts by bringing me to every single performance kuala lumpur offered and it was she that cultivated  my artistic tastebuds.

i am grateful to ramli ibrahim, joseph gonzales, marion d cruz, diana lui, sheila singam, rathi, fairul, faridah merican, raziman, sean ghazi, ida mariana, reza salleh, pete teo, anna chong, gerard and so so many of you who has inspired me in the past couple of months. your artistic  energy has been what i have craved for a long time and it is what i need to hone my craft and keep me going.

it's lonely you know dancing on your own. without a company, without master classes, rehearsals, etc. but i have been blessed with and by all of you that have carved a little space in my heart. thank you for making my 30th year of existence such a memorable one. to thirty more years to come!

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.