Deepa Mani is the Founder and Artistic Director of Chandralaya School of Dance in Melbourne Australia. She was born in Chennai, India and have been pursuing her art form since she was five and a half years old. Deepa moved to the States for her higher education while continuing to grow in her art and diversified into contemporary arts as part of a Dance Company. She then met her partner and moved to Australia about 15 years ago.
Now, Deepa is the founder and artistic director of the Chandralaya School of Dance- a classical Indian and modern contemporary dance school. The school’s primary interest is to engage students both young and wise in pursuing Indian classical dance, particularly Bharathanatyam.
The school offers other genres like Bridging, which is between Bharathanatyam and Contemporary, and Contemporary. Apart from teaching these classes, Deepa and her team also run workshops and sessions for educational institutions to impart cultural diversity in that environment.
The Chandralaya School of Dance also does artistic projects/ commissions with other artists and other genres, and with organisations such as Regional Arts Victoria, The Song Room, Multicultural Arts Victoria etc. to engage the audiences and help them to get a broader perspective of the culturally diverse land we are in.
When did you discover your love for dancing?
At 6 months into my training, I realised there was something more to this, and I wanted to explore it further. Since then, my curious brain has never looked back. The excitement of learning such an elegant and powerful art form intrigued me and I spent hours in the studio with my teacher and fellow students.
What was the tipping point for you quitting your full-time career in business strategies and transformation for IT organisations to pursue your passion for dancing?
My journey to dance has always been a continuous one since I was 5 years old. There were several reasons for the tipping point. Throughout my life, I have longed for a creative outlet and have always sought a sense of personal fulfilment.
As someone with around 30+ years of knowledge and experience in this art form, I knew that the long hours of corporate life would not be a sustaining factor for me. I wanted to give people of all ages an opportunity to experience the magic of this art form.
I made a plan once I realised I wanted to do it, and my IT career gave me the skills and techniques to get things started, the rest is history. My goal was not to regret not embarking on this journey. Because I was prepared to fail, the process was less stressful for me.
Was your family supportive of your choice to quit your job?
Yes, absolutely. They were surprised I didn’t start this much earlier since they knew it was coming. I guess they knew I had to do it at my own pace. They were very supportive, and I even remember my husband telling me, “It’s about time you explored that option?”
What is it about performance dance that lights you up?
Bharathanatyam involves a high level of physical skill, athleticism, and creativity as well as the ability to convey emotion and movement through meaning.
What lights me up about performance dance is the beauty and grace of this beautiful art form, the synchronisation of the body, mind and soul, and the way in which this form conveys a range of emotions and tells a story without the need for words.
Bharathanatyam is an incredibly powerful and transformative experience for both me – the artist and the audience as it allows the audience to connect with the dancer on a deeper level through the shared experience of movement and expression.
Additionally, I love the energy and passion that I bring to my performance which can be infectious, leaving my audiences feeling inspired, moved, and uplifted.
Do you think it’s getting increasingly hard to keep our children and the next generations engaged with their heritage and culture given the influences of social media?
Social media can be a double-edged sword when it comes to cultural engagement. On one hand, social media platforms can provide young people with access to a vast array of information about their heritage and culture, including music, art, literature, history, and language. This can help to foster a sense of curiosity and appreciation for their cultural roots and can provide opportunities for connection with others who share their cultural identity.
On the other hand, social media can also be a distraction that can make it challenging to maintain cultural engagement. With so many competing demands on their attention, young people may find it difficult to prioritise learning about their heritage and culture. Additionally, social media can sometimes create a homogenizing effect, where cultural differences are overlooked in favour of a more globalised or mainstream cultural identity.
I think it’s very important to remember that cultural engagement is not solely dependent on social media or technology. It is the responsibility of parents, educators, and community members to play a vital role in fostering love and appreciation for cultural heritage by creating opportunities for young people to learn and engage with their culture in meaningful ways such as traditional ceremonies, festivals, workshops or even cultural dance and music classes. These opportunities can help to ensure heritage and culture traditions are passed on to future generations.
What advice would you pass on to migrant women who’re new to a country in order to stay connected with their heritage and culture?
These are some of my tips to migrant women to stay connected with their culture in a new country.
- Connect with other members of your cultural community: Seek out community organisations or cultural groups in your new country where you can meet other people who share your cultural background. These groups can provide opportunities to learn more about your culture, practice your language skills, and share in cultural traditions and celebrations.
- Explore cultural events and activities in your new country: Look for events or activities in your new community that celebrate your culture or traditions. This can include cultural festivals, language classes, dance or music performances, or other cultural events.
- Learn about the history and culture of your new country: While it’s important to stay connected to your own heritage and culture, it’s also important to learn about the history and culture of your new country. This can help you better understand and appreciate your new home and build connections with people from different backgrounds.
- Lastly, share your culture with others: Don’t be afraid to share your own culture with others in your new community. This can include sharing traditional foods, music, art, or other cultural practices. Sharing your culture can help build understanding and appreciation for diverse cultures and help you feel more connected to your own heritage.
Follow Deepa and Chandralaya Dance School.
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