“ DANCE ??!! “
“ Yes . “
“ You want to dance ??!! “
“ Yes . “
“That’s what will keep you happy ??!! “
“ Yes . “
“ Are you serious ??!! “
“ Yes . “
It felt like the build up of a tsunami . How a crest arises stealthily and then comes crashing down with all its might :
“But you’re not even trained ! “ , “But you’re a Science-Math student ! “ , “But you’re a high scorer ! “ , “ But we thought you wanted to be an engineer “ , “ But your Physics is so strong “ ……………………………………………
“BUT I WANT TO DANCE ! “
I don’t remember when exactly I started dancing . Amma used to tell me how as a toddler I used to groove to any sort of music with a glee brighter than the sun . Before I became absolutely shameless with age , I was a bashful little girl with short curly hair , the kind that made me look like a happening cauliflower . I used to lock the door and play music and freak out in front of the mirror . Time used to pass , days used to , months did , years even . My dancing was my world , my source of happiness , my secret high , all locked up inside a room .
In Std 7th , we had to take compulsory dance classes . I gladly took the back row because 12 years of age psychologically gave the to-be-hot girls in my school the urge to brag with their moves . After a week of classes , the dance teacher , I don’t remember his name though , he called me aside after the class . My heart was in my mouth .
“ You dance really well Pooja . I’ve been watching you . In fact you’re the best of the lot . Are you trained ?! “ . My heart went up my brain. “No Sir.” , I looked down . “That’s unbelievable .Do you want to learn more of dancing ?! “ . I looked up and smiled . “I’d like to Sir “ . “Speak to your parents and let me know . It would be after school hours . Looking forward to teaching you child.” , he smiled and left .
“Amma Acha , can I take up dance classes at school?! “ , a nervous me popped the question at the dinner table . “ You dance in school ?! Wow . Ofcourse you can !! “ . I was gleaming . “It’s after school hours. So my classes won’t get affected either “ , I informed them happily . “ Oh . But then Pooja , how will you get back from school then ? We only get back by 7 in the night . “ , Acha said . My face dropped . They were right . Dr. Pradeep Kumar and Dr. Seema Pradeep, being their hardworking and skillful best at engineering smiles , had a lot of patients to attend to everyday . They leave home at 7 am , return at 7 pm . I didn’t want to strain them in finding a driver or a caretaker to get me back home . “Oh ! It’s okay then “ ( “Act cool Act cool “, I told myself ) .My heart split into 561345 pieces .
My dance teacher however didn’t give up on me . It was the annual day and he shortlisted me into the finale dance with 11 other girls . (No . I ain’t a feminazzi . I did my schooling in St.Joseph’s Anglo Indian Girls Higher Secondary School , Calicut , upto my 8th grade ) . I was the newbie to enter the zone and infact because of me , a regular of their group had to be omitted . So my entry into the first practise session was filled with scorns and scowls and such loathe that I was choked . They bullied me and treated me with a lot of indifference . I wanted to cry back then . At that age , I don’t think they knew what they were doing . Girl gang is so much wicked fun . And being targeted by not one Queen Bee but a bunch of them was my luck . I don’t even think they would remember it now though . They’re all good friends of mine today . But I sure as heavens wanted to hi-five them on their faces with a metal chair embedded with scorching iron spikes that would spit fireballs on contact!! For the first couple of sessions , the teacher used to be around and then he let us practise it by ourselves , just as I had dreaded .
“Practise is in the dance classroom tomorrow at 9am sharp . Don’t be late !!” , she informed with the same disgusted face .
As a child I was used to such disgusted faces. It’s funny how I remember all those faces ,those names , those incidents so clearly.
I’ve always been a tomboy . There was profound joy in climbing trees and walls and eternal bliss in falling and scraping the concrete floor and owning bleeding knees with pus oozing out occasionally . The girls didn’t fancy that one bit . In Std II and Std III , nobody would sit next to me. And when the forceful allocation of seats used to happen , my partner was branded the cursed one . They were all allergic to my bruises and wounds . I was also told I’m too ugly to be a part of them once . I think it’s because I was anorexic with a pixie head and not very fashionable back then because who wears frocks and jeans when you’ve to chase that arrogant cat up the mango tree everyday ??!! I never told home though . Amma Acha barely had the time to listen . But those cuts , Acha would smear Betadine ointment and push me out to go fall off my favourite branch yet again . And as for the ugliness , Amma kept reminding me of the ugly duckling turning into a beautiful swan story . I believed them . It kept me happy . Though I remember a time when I pleaded to god with folded hands and baby cries , “ God , please make me beautiful?! Please ?! “ .
DO I FEEL STUPID TODAY OR WHAT !!
“Practise is in the dance classroom tomorrow at 9am sharp . Don’t be late !!” , she informed with the same disgusted face .
I was there by 08:45 am . Waiting outside the locked classroom . Time ticked to 09:30 am . Still no sign . Suddenly I see faces peeping out of the window on the opposite corridor , across the classroom . I called her name out . “She saw us !!” , she screamed and they started running . I ran after them not understanding what was happening , calling her name out . They ran into the auditorium and locked me outside . I was mentally and physically exhausted . “Please let me in . I just want to dance . Please let me in . Please !! “ , I kept banging the door and crying . I was fighting for my happiness . (Hey, don’t blame me . I was a child back then . All this muck hurts okay !)
They didn’t open the door . I went back home and slept it off . However they dropped their devious plan of telling the dance teacher that I didn’t show up for practise and hence , they want to omit me from the team . We just didn’t talk about it . The dance happened and Amma had come to watch it . And she said I am a star . That’s all that mattered !
I changed my school after that , it had hurt me too much . Also , I’d had enough of just girls . At least I was sure I’d never date one !
High school and higher secondary was good fun . I danced , danced and danced . Somehow found the right set of people who gave me the adequate boost . Favourite memory would be when a friend of mine came up to me after my performance on Aaja Nachle and said , “You dance just like Madhuri Dixit !” . Day was made for years to come . Though amidst all this I had a boyfriend who didn’t want me to dance anymore because of the limelight I used to hog , that never really did stop me . The #JustSchoolMemories I’d pickled !!
I watched “Step Up” in 2008 and boy was I blown away or what ?! I wanted to dance like that . It was called “break dance” then . Hip-Hop was all later . I didn’t know the technicalities but I wanted to dance like Channing Tatum and not Jenna . See ! I told you I hate the women lot !! I did what he did . Or at least I thought I did . And I was indeed happy with whatever I did . The idea of a graduation in dance intrigued me and I wanted to take it up .
PS : All this when I was busy being a scholar in school , running the race with the rest of them rats .
“ BUT I WANT TO DANCE ! “
Amma Acha have always given my sister, Soorya and I the liberty to choose our lives . But they needed to be assured that we are convinced of our own decisions . I wasn’t too sure back then . I’d no one to guide me or reinforce my ambition . I took up my Mechanical (Specialization in Energy) Engineering seat at VIT University , Tamil Nadu . Didn’t take up NIT , Calicut which was in fact hop-skip-jump away from home because a friend in VIT told me that the dance club there is very happening and there is this President who heads the club , he dances really good and he has a funky hairdo. IMPRESSED. VIT it is !!
I entered VIT as 10BEM0038 in 2010 .
A friend of mine and I decided to give our auditions , second month into college to a famous choreography by the Jabbawockeez crew to “Apologize” by One Republic and the then fad , “Temperature” by Sean Paul . For the first time I went up on a stage that catered to an audience of more than a thousand. I was ecstatic . I danced my heart out . In fact that one dance , changed my life altogether . Never did I know that it would shape my life entirely thereafter . Also , Had I known the man who I would grow up to fall in love with and eventually marry was seeing me for the very first time dancing atop this very stage on that very day , judging my performance sitting on the very first desk below that stage , Man !! I would have at least worn a better top !
My friend and I were the only two freshers selected out of all those who auditioned into the then Hip Hop team of VIT, FreeKstyleS . Multiple Personality Disorder thereby strikes .
Being a dancer teaches you so many things which you naturally imbibe. From fitness to discipline to perseverance to hard work , an array of qualities that strengthen your mind, body and soul . It replaces the ” I can’t !! ” to ” I can ! Just give me some time to practise .” And your crew , they become your family . There’s love , there are spats , there are difficult times , there’s frolic , all united with a common love and motive of dancing out loud .
Being a performer teaches you to love yourself . It assured me that I’m Aphrodite , that when you move , jaws drop , heads turn , eyes fix to a point that even when you’re not there , you know you’re on everyone’s mind . It fuels that essential ego you need for a strong survival . It taught me that I’m unique and beautiful , just like you ! It gives you such happiness that you want everybody in the world to feel the same euphoria . That’s the whole part where dance spreads happiness . Because you can’t help but radiate it . It sort of blooms from within and around . Ofcourse the incentives are your kicks , the roaring crescendos , the blinding lights and the bouquets and brickbats that follow .
Being a choreographer is more artistic I’d say . You learn to not just move with the music but also within it . You learn to assess the capacities of your fellow dancers , you learn to breathe life into a song where your own story comes alive , you learn to draw patterns in your head when you listen to music, you learn the need of a dance performance where there is no epicentre and you focus in the creation of just a massive quake without one . And ofcourse your computational fluid dynamics lab record would be filled with stick figures and positions and transitions .
Being a leader , Woah ! Now that’s the tough part . 23 noisy college kids aren’t an easy bunch . Especially because God didn’t give everybody equal brains . But work is what shall speak then and always . Respect is something you can’t demand or command . It’s something you earn . Being a leader gives you lovers and haters and what you want to do with those define you. One leads by example , you just got to be what you got to be !!
Being a Hip-Hop dancer . Well , It taught me how to be effusive with my sexuality to a public audience; It taught me that in being so , you’re not a slut but you are sexy ; It taught me to shamelessly hold my crotch and dance and maybe slap my boobs a couple of times too ; It taught me that floorwork and bone breaking isn’t just a guy’s forte ; It taught me that homosexuality gave birth to some of the most sensuous dance forms like Vogue , Punk and Waack ; It taught me co-existence is a virtue ; It taught me you needn’t tolerate differences but celebrate them ; It taught me a lineage of dancing where you can chronologically map its evolution along with its music ; It taught me how to vent my anger and frustration in a constructive way just like how the African -American youth did to escape gang-life through krumping ; It taught me to channelize all my energy into something so powerful , something which gave me an unadulterated high , that I never really found the fashionable need to down some whiskey, smoke a cigar or boom a joint , ever till date ( Sorry ! I’m exceptionally proud about that ) , It taught me to take care of my body and health , love it rather ; It taught me that being expressive is what being is , that being bold and beautiful isn’t a crime , that being a woman is a blessing , that being unconventional is stylish . Well folks , It’s about time we broke a few old school stereotypes , don’t you think ?!
Let’s speak about Guardian Angels now . Mr. Rushil Nori , remember him ?!
I recently read how “ The most important career decision one takes is choosing who your life partner is ! “ . TRUE . Absolutely . To the bird who was worried about the society indoctrinating her to not fly and to her own morale that was too scared to take the plunge, know what the gigantic angel did ?! Well , he just threw her up in the air and said “ I believe in you. Fly ! “
I discovered myself at that very moment . Family and a life partner who love me for the fact I’m a passionate rebel is what I’m blessed with . Rest was all conviction .
My brief stint in Mumbai , being mentored (miraculously) under Prosenjith Guy Kundu and Abhishek Das ( the greats I know personally ) inspired me to aspire to be better than the dancer I am already . Amma and Acha never understood the genre . Which is what left them distressed when I told them I’m not sitting for placements because I’m a better dancer than an engineer . They nevertheless understood it better when they saw mails from Broadway Dance Academy and National Hip Hop Conservatory of New York insisting that I join them at the earliest for my course !! The joy was like a nebula in my heart , like I could really vomit stars and sparkles . I remember an abysmally cute Acha calling me up one day to say , “ Pooja , I think I know what Hip-Hop is now . I googled it and read it in Wikipedia !! “ . Much adorbs , yeah ?!
NO NO NO !!! It wasn’t all like unicorns and rainbows . Did I mention I went into some major stress bouts where I lost a lot of weight, went through sleepless nights , cried almost every day and in fact cut my hair to naught when the whole career talks and placements scene cropped up just to relieve myself of the stress and stubbornness where I wouldn’t give up neither give in !! Yeah , I’m a tad weird like that !! But it’s just long curly hair , calm down guys !!
But however , for me personally with exposure and experience I realized that if you mix your passion with the money factor involved in career, it becomes way less inspiring . Unless ofcourse your passion gave you the guts to leave everything behind , all your commitments , your infinite cravings , other life goals , all of it . Mine didn’t !! ( No regrets there . I figured why it didn’t only later on in life though ) .Besides , I couldn’t think of dancing for money . I just wanted everybody to have as much fun I would every time I moved like a retarded seal . And I just was not ready to give up on all that science I so very earnestly learnt all my years .
And one day , I was asked to take a dance workshop for the children of the NGO, Make A Difference (MAD) , as part of their Dream Camp held at VIT University . Life took a drastic turn then too . A meaningful one . You never believe in what they term as “your calling” until you receive yours. I instantaneously fell in love with those blossoming young ones . I had a two set workshop with them , four hours in duration . And that was the best and the most qualitative time I’ve spent all my life until then . Dancing with them , talking to them , just being around them , being their best friend , being questioned , being a mentor … everything suddenly made so much sense !!
I told Rushil about how much I changed as a person in less than a day . In course of time, we sorted out a plan . Him being an ardent sportsperson and me a dancer , believed that carving a lifestyle around your passion is the key to nirvana !! I remember the key words – dance , social service , children , physics , teach . We gave a realistic shape to my dream . Ru says that’s important if you want to not just follow them , but chase your dreams down !!
I graduated from VIT as Er.Miss.Pooja Pradeep in 2014 .
Acha however still heartily says that I did my B.Tech in Dance . I would nod profusely with a smile . I didn’t know how it would all turn out to be . But I was sure I would change the world . I know right , such fiction !! But I had the most practical man alive trust my guts to infinity . That determined child in me woke up from slumber once more, yet again after all these years . “ I’m going to do my bit !!” , I promised myself .
“Can you do it Pooja ??!! “
“ I CAN DO IT LIKE A BROTHER ,
DO IT LIKE A DUDE ,
GRAB MY CROTCH , WEAR MY HAT LOW LIKE YOU !! “
~ Jessie J
N.B : So what did Ms.Pooja Pradeep finally do with all her heart, dance and science ??!!
Stay tuned fellas !! We’ve just warmed up !!