Bharatanatyam performer Kamini Manikam on teaching the Indian classical dance

What does it mean to carry on your mother’s role of teaching dance? (Indira Manikam is the principal of Tanjai Kamalaa Indira Dance School in Kuala Lumpur.)

Teaching dance can be different from teaching an academic subject. And especially with bharatanatyam, it is beyond a mere “teach-the-body-to-move” process. Students are taught to go deeper into their hearts, tapping into their emotions to express themselves. It takes time and dedicated effort for body conditioning and facial expressions, more so when getting a student to fall in love with dance and making them practise willingly.

That includes sharing stories with moral values, and pep talks, to make them realise that beauty is inside-out and one needs to dance for love and not for fame. Teaching dance is a beautiful journey, in which you ameliorate students by guiding them on a journey of metanoia.

How different is dancing and teaching?

Teaching can be an exhausting process because you are working with another individual. And not all students have the same grasping power and ability. It requires heaps of patience and tolerance. It is actually much easier to dance than to teach.

Initially, when I started teaching, I was a “Guruzilla” who expected nothing but perfection. There were moments when I broke down emotionally because I could not get a child do an Adavu (step) right, and was consoled by my mum to take it lightly.

However, over the years, I’ve realised that improvement – regardless of whether it’s big or small – matters more than being perfect. It is a two-way process of continuous learning and growing. And in that journey, you would see your students as your own children and a reflection of yourself.

A dance student is like a seed that requires nourishment by the gardener (teacher) with love, patience and the right ways. But to flourish into a tree, it depends on the quality of the seed and circumstances.

bharatanatyam

‘Timeless Thanjavur’, a solo bharatanatyam recital by Kamini Manikam.

Having faced challenges in the school’s journey over the decades, what are your hopes for the academy and yourself?

The performing arts organisations face both internal and external challenges, just like every other industry. Sustaining (the school) the last 52 years in Malaysia has not been an easy task. I have seen the pain and suffering my mother went through over the years.

Malaysian artistes have limited resources, and we are forced to push our boundaries. Sometimes I wonder whether running productions is merely for the return on emotional investment, when the monetary returns are not justifiable for the blood and sweat invested.

When it comes to leisure, most Malaysians choose the cinema, restaurants, parks, malls, clubs, and so on, to unwind. But why not choose performing arts events? Moving forward, as Malaysians, together we need to change the Malaysian performing arts scene by changing our mindset.

So what’s your advice for young or budding artistes?

Performing arts in Malaysia is not as glitzy as it seems. To perform in that “light”, you have to go through “darkness”. You must work hard with perseverance, determination and sincerity. In order to achieve (something), don’t do anything and everything by compromising your self-respect, dignity and honour.

If there is a need to compete, choose to do it with your three toughest competitors – “I”, “me” and “myself”. Do not get carried away with people’s validation, both praises and criticisms.

You are your best critic; so always reflect and ratiocinate. Focus on the process of learning and growing, but not the fruits of action. You will be rewarded with what you deserve, not what you desire!


Find out how Kamini is bridging the gap between bharatanatyam and the younger generation.