INTERVIEW WITH NIKITA
Nikita, your dance company celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. What was it like starting a company at such an early age and did you ever imagine it would grow the way it has?
(Sigh)…Yes I was just 20 when I formed DNC. At the time I was literally just ‘going with the flow’ and really had no idea what I was doing! I had taken a gap year and trying to put off going to University, so started taking on random dance jobs. One thing led to another and I kept on getting work. That was enough to convince my parents I didn’t need to go to University!
So, you had no business plan or real vision for the company?
Initially no. But about 3 years in, I started to think like a business woman and set myself targets. Prior to that it had just been a passion and I was running it like a hobby. But it was only in 2008 I started to get serious. That was the same time I got nominated for Asian Woman of Achievement ‘Young Entrepreneur of the year award’.
Ah yes, that award. Were you disappointed you didn’t get it?
I was at the time yes. I was gutted as I had geared myself up and made myself believe I would win. However looking back, I just feel grateful to have been only 23 and nominated. The women who win those awards are extremely successful so even being a part of it at such a young age is an achievement.
Would you say that has been your biggest achievement?
No. Attaining the DNC Studio is.
When did you know you wanted a studio?
I always knew, from the time I first saw Shila ji’s (my Gurus) in Mumbai. I knew I wanted my own premisis where people from all over could come and learn in one base. That dream came true in September 2011.
How did you feel on the day you launched the studio?
Complete. I remember staring at the sign outside for what felt like hours! Just looking at it in disbelief that it had my name on. When I cut the ribbon with my parents and the local mayor, we were all gleaming with pride. It was an accomplishment for us all. My parents had seen my dream grow over the years and were very proud to see it become a reality.
What is the biggest compliment you have ever received?
There have been quite a few. One was from a lady at an event I performed at who said “You are as good as, if not better than Meena Kumari” after I had performed a song from Pakeezah. But possibly the one that touched me the most was from a senior Brahma Kumaris sister who said; “watching you dance was like being transported to Baba (God).” Another was from Shila Ji who said that she got goosebumps watching me dance and that I had completely embodied her teachings and the spirit of dance in every nerve. Considering she hardly ever gives praise this was an amazing compliment!
Do you regret not going to University and if so what would you have studied?
I don’t regret it for the academic reasons, but I do feel left out when I see groups of friends together. Because I feel I missed out on that Uni life and experience. But at the same time I had the most amazing years in India so I cant complain! If I had gone I would have studied Musical theatre and most probably gone into the West End and done Broadway. I loved singing, acting and performing arts.
So if you did not become a dancer, you would have been…?
Either an actress or a writer. I did performing arts at college and Drama always came naturally to me. I auditioned for full time theatre school when I was 16. I got in for my acting and singing, but not for my dancing! So I decided to train, and that’s what led me to Kathak and then the other passions fizzled out.
Have you learnt any other styles apart from Kathak?
I did a bit of Bollywood and folk dance at Saroj Khan’s school in Mumbai, but no other western styles. I have no interest either. I feel my body is natural for Kathak. I am not very good at free styling! Everyone expects me to be the first one on the dance floor at a party but I am not! I can only do choreographed dance.
Do you enjoy teaching or performing more?
When I was younger it was definitely performing more. I loved being on stage and entertaining audiences. Then in my mid 20’s I enjoyed both equally, now in my 30’s I prefer teaching. I am in my comfort zone and at my best while imparting knowledge.
Do you get nervous performing in front of your students?
Yes! Because they have knowledge and know what to look for. They have been taught (by me) to be observant and objective when watching dance. So I feel I have a lot to live upto when I dance! My duty is to inspire them so there’s that sense of responsibility, which makes me feel slightly anxious but also proud that I have been able to give them those eyes.
Do you prefer teaching children or adults?
Both equally. I love children because they are so innocent and carefree. They have no judgments. They just learn so freely without any inhibitions. Its such a joy seeing them grow up and improve in dance simultaneously. Whereas I also enjoy seeing adults develop, not just in dance but in self-esteem and confidence. As an adult theres a lot of pressure being carried, and so its beautiful to see my students overcome that and gain strength through the dance training.
Whats the favourite part of your job?
The end of term/year shows is a great time of celebration. Its an opportunity for me to come face to face with the students and parents. I like this kind of interaction. I love feeling that connection with people...
I am often asked why i enjoy dance so much. Is it because it is good excercise? Is it because it is fun? Perhaps i like the music. Actually its neither of those things. in fact those things do not even cross my mind when i dance.
Since I began learning dance at the tender age of 14, i have always experienced dance to be a process whereby I am able to completely 'lose myself'... Even as a spotty teenager i found myself unaware of my surroundings, yet completely alert at the same time.
In my earlier days when my technique was poor and my balance was off, I still enjoyed the challenge of trying to perfect the steps and the rewarding feeling it gave me when i did. I got a buzz out of practicing (and still do)... The biggest achievement being making each and everything i learn my own.
I love the mind-body co-ordination in Kathak which is so rare compared to other forms. When one part of the body is doing something the other has to be in complete control. It is iscolating yet uniting at the same time.
I thrive from feeling completely peaceful with my movements, and at one with myself. As though for those moments nothing else in the world exists.
Sages and Yogis call this process of union between the body & mind "YOGA"...for me i achieve this just by wearing my bells and zoning out.
Of course this is all easier said than done. Most of my students that i teach get so caught up in the technique, they sometimes never allow themselves to experience this. But for those who aren't afraid to let go, they really do lose themselves through dance. Perhaps thats why they keep coming back for more and more...
I had always hyped up 2015 to be the biggest and best year of my life. Little did I know it was also going to be a rollercoaster!
There were high expectations of this year, simply because of the milestones. It was DNC’s official anniversary of 10 years on 1st April. This gave me a chance to look back and reflect on the progress of the company since I naively started it as a young adult just ten years ago. Little did I know it would flourish into a family like institution which so many people have taken benefit from.
I remembered all of the students who have come and gone in the past ten years. The numbers must be in their late hundreds. What I find fascinating is so many people joined DNC thinking it was just a dance school, but soon enough became a part of a unique culture and lifestyle.
Many have taken this process further and accelerated or enhanced their spiritual development, using DNC as a platform.
It still gives me pleasure to see new faces walking through the doors of the DNC Studio, excited but also unaware of what the next few months or even years may bring for them. Many get immediate physical benefits, some experience better clarity and balance of mind and a lucky few get a kind of spiritual awakening of a higher purpose.
This year was also my 30th Birthday. All of my 20’s had gone into building up the dance company and establishing the studio, so it felt only right to celebrate the big day by doing what I love most – dance! I performed a full length Kathak solo recital, with live musicians at the Nehru Centre.
It was a big process leading upto it, as I collated all my material learnt with both Shila Mehta and Pratap Pawar from the past decade. There was a lot of trial and error, organizing the content into a structured order and then performing it to various small groups as a trial. It was also a challenge physically for me to perform for such a duration, following my health scare two years ago.
I was very proud with my delivery on the day and I have noticed the students who attended on the day, more inspired. It reminded me that I need to perform regularly to motivate them.
The big challenge was then to re-focus my mind immediately after the 24th June show, and organize the Summer Production in just a month! A lot of careful planning and time went into putting together our Grand show on 25th July at Beck Theatre. The audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the educating and entertaining line up of songs and choreography, accompanied by spectacular costumes. The buzz backstage was phomonomial and everyone seemed to really pitch in to offer their help. I smiled with pride as I realized that I had achieved the sense of community I had desired when I first started DNC.
Many people ask me what my next goals are. For now I am just enjoying continuing to learn, teach and take my students deeper into the art form.