Describing herself as a curious child and a thinker, Kamini Manikam grew up in an environment filled with dance and music. Her mother Indira Manikam is an established bharatanatyam exponent and principal of the 52-year-old Tanjai Kamalaa Indira Dance School in Kuala Lumpur.

And it is that environment that has shaped Kamini into who she is today, inside and out.

“Born in a milieu enriched with dance and music, I naturally was inclined towards the arts, which played a major role in shaping me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I do not see the arts as a separate entity of my life. I consider the arts, especially this dance, my mission in life rather than just a passion,” said Kamini, when we met for an interview recently.

Kamini is a performing artiste, choreographer, producer, director and instructor in bharatanatyam.

Her mother’s school, established in 1966, got into the Malaysian Book Of Records as the “Longest Operating Dance School in Malaysia” in 2016. Kamini, in her 30s, also teaches at the school.

“Through my personal experience, I can assert that bharatanatyam is ‘meditation in motion’. When one dances in liberation, whether in the heart or for real, the soul replenishes and transcends to the apex of attainment. Hence, I chose dance as my form of worship and a spiritual journey towards enlightenment,” she explained.

The human resource development graduate holds an MBA from the University of South Australia and is currently pursuing her PhD in Business.

In 2013, she received the World Tamil Federation Malaysia Global Award (Entertainment Category) while in 2015, she won the MIEC Young Indian Entrepreneur’s Award (Veterinary Pharmaceutical Category). Kamini has been working on and off with her father, a vet, after graduation.

Recently, she was named one of the recipients of the Women Icons Malaysia 2018, which recognises women’s contributions and accomplishments in their respective fields.

Kamini is the founder of Wowga Creativarium, which aims to promote the arts as a form of edutainment and push for compassionate living through the arts.

Some of Kamini’s past productions include Lipstick: Celebrating Life As One, which was showcased in 2014. The first series focused on domestic violence, while the following year, the second series focused on sexual assault and gender equality.

‘Dancing With Shiva’, a thematic bharatanatyam recital by Kamini Manikam.

Besides using dance to create more awareness about such issues, Kamini is also on a quest to bridge the gap between traditional bharatanatyam dance and the younger generation.

“I want to make it relevant, and something they can relate to, but without changing any traditional dance moves. For example, we can dance bharatanatyam to the beat box or even a Michael Jackson tune,” she said.

“Now, I feel like I am in a generation where I am sandwiched. My mother’s generation is very traditional, so we need to know how to sustain the art moving forward. At the same time, I have to be very realistic. Many people are going into contemporary dance. So it’s all about rebranding and repackaging,” she shared.

This year, Kamini intends to complete her PhD (which she started in 2014) on “The Effects Of Social Media On Generation Z’s Intention In Indian Classical Dance In Malaysia”.

“Creative entrepreneurship and artistic management is not well-developed in Malaysia, so I decided to do something business-y related to art.

“You see, what’s happening now is we don’t get enough people coming for shows. One reason is the mindset. When it comes to leisure, most people want to go to the cinemas and malls. Schools don’t really take children out for performing arts shows either. But we need to cultivate this (love for the arts) mindset from young,” said Kamini.

She feels that in current times, the Generation Z population would rather go on YouTube or Facebook to watch performances and other forms of entertainment.

“But the arts industry suffers that way – because money is spent producing a show,” she emphasised.

Currently, Kamini is working on a production, which is still in the planning stages, called Beauty And The Beast. It is a dance drama in bharatanatyam, with a Malaysian twist.

“I have always loved this story because it emphasises beauty on the inside-out. The mass media often (presents) their distorted views of the beauty of women. I perceive that sexiness is neither about flashing your flesh nor does elegance come from wearing expensive fabrics. Sexiness is confidence; elegance is attitude. A compassionate heart remains forever in the minds of people, compared to the magnetism of a flawless body,” she said.

Read about what Kamini Manikam has to say on teaching bharatanatyam.