Love Affair with Dance 

Presenting to you, Scrum Master, Dance Researcher, Dilettante Poet & Painter and Multidisciplinary Performing Artist, Bindu Rajendren.

When asked where are you from, she said it was a difficult question to answer. As our conversation got deep, I realised why. Though born in the middle east and migrated to New Zealand, and presently living in Australia, Bindu Rajendren is truly south Indian, without any doubt. Her links to her roots are deep, not because of a traditional upbringing, because she craves for it. She stays connected and makes every effort.

Her desire to learn is unfathomable, and she keeps digging for knowledge at every opening she gets. At present, for a broader understanding of the Natya Shastra, she is exploring dance lessons from her Gurus in Kerala. She also part-takes in workshops with great performing arts masters based in India. If you describe, she is in love with dance, that will be the most under-valued statement. 

Bindu works full time to sustain her passion for dance, and after years of saving, she found a dance space and built a Kalari. She named her Kalari, Sowparnika, her ‘go-to space’. Her daughter affirms if you cannot find Amma, all you have to do is look for her in the Kalari. 

Bindu has premiered her work at global, regional, and diasporic festivities and performances in Australia, London(U.K.), New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, and India. Last year and a half, the pandemic has induced a new space in the digital world for her. She has performed to a much wider audience, collaborated with artists from different genres. 

Today, I have with me Bindu Rajendren. Let us dive into an incredible story of a wannabe dancer who had to change course to be a nutritionist, who got lost on the way only to find her path afresh. Working full time as a Scrum Master and a Multidisciplinary Performing Artist, how did she make it? Let’s find out.

A conversation with Chippy & Bindu Rajendren,
Dance Researcher, Dilettante Poet & Painter and Multidisciplinary Artist. 

CKChippyHey Bindu, it’s been almost a year since we first met during the Zola Talks on ‘Kerala Performance Arts & Mural Painting’. Covid allowed us to make space around us closer. 
BRYes, it’s true. We are all connected now more than before. I work from home these days. Even pre-pandemic, I had negotiated early working hours from my employer. I start work at 7 am and finish at 3 pm. 
CKCAustralia has had a few lockdowns and has been isolated from the world due to Covid. How did you cope during this time? 
BRPandemic was a blessing in disguise for me. I used this time and space and opportunity to learn and constantly learn dance. 
CKCDance is your passion!
BRUm…I find the word passion overused. And to be frank, I have not found a word for what dance is to me. How we breathe, that’s what dance is to me. I love dancing. I hear a song, I break out into dance, wherever I am, be it on the sidewalks or a shop. Once in a Dubai shopping mart, I heard Jaya Prada’s famous song ‘Barsaat main jab aayega sawan’, and I had to dance. When the beats hit, I could not resist myself. I stood in the aisle and did the steps while my sister made sure no one was walking towards us. As the music played, I happily danced away.
CKCIt’s your pulse.
BRYes, maybe that’s the word. It’s there with me, always. Dance is life.
CKCDance is not your profession. 
BRI will say I have two full-time jobs. I work in a company here and I also dance. I usually refer to myself as a multidisciplinary artist with dance as my main focus.
CKCCrazy for dance…  How did this happen?
BRChippy, honestly I don’t know. There are no dancers in my family, from my mother’s side or father’s side, and no singers either. As a family, all were interested in arts but no artists in the family. I am probably the only one.  
CKCWhat’s your earliest memory of dance ?
BRThe earliest memory is a vague one from my Dubai home, maybe around three years or older. I remember dancing on top of a teapoy. I stood atop and danced while watching television. My mom stood behind me and told my dad, ‘this girl, she has got something, we need to send her for dance classes.’ It was my Amma who took me to Guru Kalamandalam Mohan at age four and enrolled me in dance class. I learned to dance from him for a total of 17 years. Am still in touch with him and he is so proud of me. He never thought that I would pursue dance even though I loved it.

I was born, raised and lived in Dubai till my 12th grade. I never used to miss dance classes. As much as I could I would continue to dance, even throughout my grade 12 year when typically all Indian kids are dropped from extracurricular activities to concentrate on studies. I refused, just said ‘I have to dance’. Amma was the one who took me to all my performances and to this day she encourages me. Amma never pushed me, she let me do whatever I wanted with my dance. Except after grade 12, she wanted me to be self-independent and be able to stand on my feet. 
CKCWhat were your plans after school ?
BRAfter 12th grade, I wanted to go to Nrityagram and learn dance. Ma’m Protima Bedi had just opened her school, and I was longing to join. That time, it was a different period altogether.  All I wanted was to dance, but at the same time, my parents asked me to do other things so I didn’t go to a dance school to pursue dance. My school Principal, my parents, and my teachers said in a synchronised tone, ‘no, no, no no, no, no.’ All were against me choosing dance. Hence, landed in Delhi to do B.Sc. in Nutrition. 
CKCBSc. Nutrition… Wow! What happened here ?
BRWhen I went to Delhi University’s Lady Irwin College to do B. Sc. Nutrition, I became the Music & Dance Society Secretary and President quickly. Any function I used to dance and any events I am representing the university for intercollegiate festivals and competitions. 

Oh… and there, I met my first Dance Goddess, Ma’m Asha Singh, an Odissi Exponent. She was amazing and she still is. She took me under her wings and allowed me to learn folk dance. The number of folk dances she taught me in my three years in Delhi, gave me an insight into a different aspect of dance and a good understanding of folk dances of India. I used to live in the hostel on campus. Ma’m Asha Singh who used to teach at the university, lived across the road from my hostel. Any chance I get, I will go across to her apartment and learn dance. I was privileged to learn from her. In those three years, I was introduced to contemporary dance, dances from Mizoram, Himachal, Odisha, & Kashmir. 

Once during my university days, Ma’m Asha, produced a dance production of different dances of India. I was in about six states in her production. The adrenaline was rushing those times, complete one folk dance and dress change and rush backstage for the next costume, and makeup, finish the next and the next, and then the next. It was unbelievable. 
CKCYou were the most wanted artist in your college.
BROnce for the intercollegiate IIT dance competition, our theme was a performance on different yugas. For this work, we were dancing 8 to 9 hours a day to premiere the work in the competition. Just before the final act, I collapsed on stage and I was in incredible pain. My teammates had to lift me. I could not do anything myself, my father had to fly down from Dubai and take me to Kerala. I was completely down, this was during my second year at the university. At 18, diagnosed with sciatica. I was put on tractions for a long time. I had to be careful after that. Always.

During college, my classmates and college mates supported, encouraged, and screamed for me to get up on stage and be me, whether it was a dance, fashion show, and on-demand request of Madhuri Dixit’s ‘Chane ke khet mein.’ Now that I think about it, the whole college, from juniors to seniors, teachers to lecturers, all of them supported me. They all knew my dance craze. I was happy to dance because of the encouragement. My outgoing student sash read, ‘Madonna Payalwali.’ (Madonna on anklets)
CKCAfter Graduation ?
BROh! I was lost. After B.Sc. I moved back to Kerala and was not sure where life was heading and did not know what to do. I was in a ‘what am I doing’ phase. Due to health reasons I was not able to immerse myself in dance at that time. I remember enrolling for a management course but didn’t even know why I did that. I was lost, no one to properly guide me, direct me. 
At that time I lived with my grandmother and she introduced me to Raj. Everything happened quite quickly after that, we got married and we moved back to Dubai. 
CKCYou never got time to find yourself. So after marriage what did happen ?Did you have a conversation about your craze for dance with Raj? 
BRNo, we did not have a discussion regarding dance before our wedding. I was twenty then, what do I know then. Raj knew about my passion for dance. After marriage, we moved to Dubai and I got into a job. Once Raj asked me if I would like to continue dancing. As soon as I heard that I called my Guru Kalamandalam Mohan and resumed my dance lessons and also did work full time. My Guru stopped coming to teach me after my seventh month of pregnancy, as he was too scared for me. After my daughter was born, I stopped dancing for two years and by then we had migrated to New Zealand as a family.
CKChippyHow did things move in New Zealand ?
BRI landed a job as an Administrative Coordinator for a Degree Programme at the University of Otago. What I did when we moved to New Zealand was to take part in community-based performances, every chance I got I used the space to perform my dance. That’s where I met my mentor, Alison East, Lecturer at the University of Otago. She is a teacher and choreographer with more than forty years of experience. She once saw me dancing at a community event and enquired about my background, we had a good conversation, and we parted ways.

My husband, Raj, was very encouraging. Even though he doesn’t come from an artistic family, he understands my craving for dance. He said, ‘why don’t you pursue your studies in dance’, and that’s when I was like. ‘Wow, okay‘. So I did not waste any more time, I enrolled for Masters in Dance Studies at the University of Otago, and I have never stopped dancing since.
CKCHow did masters change you?
BRWhile learning Indian Classical dance all my life I never got the depth, we learn items. Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Padam, Tillana, all items after items after items. We never learn the theory of dance. 

When I did my Master’s, I got into the abyss. While learning I got into the depth of dance. Alison East held my hand and introduced me to the breadth of dance. During my studies there I engaged in independent research, workshops at the dance lab with guest artists and lectures, and the teaching approach combined theory, movement practice, and lectures. My thesis was on Theyyam and I completed my master’s degree studying part-time and working in the university as an Admin Coordinator. 

Rather than moving my body, I started moving my mind for dance. I became a thinking dancer. I started connecting movement to intellect. I found my niche there, found my sense of belonging there. I found myself. I was lost and found myself.
CKCYou said you got lost after graduation and did not have a direction. So, It took you that many years to find yourself. 
BRYes, to know what I want it took me years. 5, 6 or more… I was married very young, had my girl and moved to New Zealand, worked and studied. It took me a long time to find myself. 
CKCYou worked and studied…must have been full on.
BRIt was. I had to take my daughter to school, take her for music recitals, and I will be in the car studying, then get to work at University and also manage the chores at home. My Raj was my biggest support and constant companion, he is the reason I am standing tall. He was a great help then and is the greatest support now. 
CKCAfter your masters, how did things turn out? Was there a career you could make in dance?  
BRNo. One of the things I realised early on is, ‘I can’t dance and make money.’ So I did not want to associate what I love with a monetary benefit.  I wanted dance to help me be who I am. Dance has been my companion since I can remember and dance has never failed me. So she is my best friend and I always go to her every time. I am constantly thinking about her. It’s like this addictive love affair, that I cannot withdraw from.      
CKCDid you at that time have any clear idea on how to progress with dance? 
BRI didn’t have a clear idea or path. I just wanted to dance. That’s it. I continued to work. We moved a lot in New Zealand, from Dunedin to Christchurch then to New Plymouth,  again continued to work and also continued my dance. I did not have a guru during these times but I continued to learn by myself. 

In New Plymouth I started teaching a few children and also created a small dance theatre company, we used to perform for the New Zealand Rugby Festival, and for small events. We performed at the Taranaki Art Festival, I did 16 different shows on different art forms and I was approached by Java Dance Company on the recommendation of the Council to be the guest artist. I also worked with galleries there, and more. 
CKCAll this while doing a full time job ?
BRI don’t dance for monetary gains or reasons. I don’t think it will work for me. So I work to sustain my dance. Honestly, that’s why I am working. Always working. 

I did have a gap of three years where I could not find a job when I moved from New Zealand to Australia. I went into depression at that point. There were a few months where I was just in self-pity. Once I picked up dance and started to dance, I was a happier person and I found a job, everything fell into place again. During the most difficult phase in my life, it was my dance that got me out. She is my best friend.
CKCI am keen to know what your day job is ?
BRI work in IT. I lead a group of people in the Agile methodology. I am a Scrum Master. It’s a challenging job as well. 
CKCNutritionist to Scrum Master !!!
BRThe company I work for now understands my commitment to dance. They are fabulous, they have flexible work hours as well. All you have to do is manage your time, do your job and they are pro-work-life balance. I start work at 7 am and finish at 3 pm. Initially, the time arrangement was requested for picking my daughter and dropping her to her classes and after-school activities. I finish work at 3 pm, I have a cup of tea and at 3.30 pm I am present in my Kalari. Sowparnika Kalari, ‘my go-to space’. 

At my Kalari I am dancing, learning, drawing, thinking, teaching, researching, and studying dance. That’s my time and space for dancing. Some days I spend up to 10.30 pm at my Kalari. Most days I will finish up and be home and be with my Raj and Bhadra, my daughter, and we cook, and spend time together. 
CKCYour family is completely merged with you.
BRRaj and Bhadra are so supportive. I won’t be able to do what I am doing without them. My daughter and husband are my rock. Raj is my videographer, my daughter is very much into music, she helps me with music production, mixing and mastering, videography, and video editing. As a family, we are very much invested in my art form.
CKCSo is your employer. They are understanding, adjusting and cooperative for you to make this happen and balance the act smoothly. 
BRI am so grateful that my company understands. People only see the dance but there is this whole army of human beings and nature and company behind me who hold me up. At my job, my manager is interested in my dance and wants to know more, and wants me to share links to my programs, They are aware that I am performing at both national and international levels, they know that it’s not a frivolous thing, and people understand that I am very serious about dance.  
CKCThey are all rooting for you.
BRWithout my family and my company’s support, I would never be able to do what I am doing. Not even a little bit of what I am doing. 
CKChippyHow do you prepare yourself for the performances you do? The stories, the music and what art to perform, is there a process?
BRThere are two paths to how I perform. Currently, I am studying Mohiniyattam from my Gurus in Kerala and also taking master workshops. So the first way of choosing a performance is to perform what my guru teaches. Performing lineage of a great guru’s artwork is a beautiful thing to do and I like that. My second way is to do my music and my ideas, and create a performance and design based on my thought process.
CKCHow do you develop an idea ? How does it work?
BRHow it works. The whole process starts with an idea. I may or may not be actively looking for ideas, and sometimes I am just spontaneous. In the middle of the night I think of an idea, I jot it down immediately. I may have a choreographic moment that comes to me at night. I keep a journal on my nightstand and I write it down immediately. 

I just premiered my latest work Prithivii Tatvam, a call to action in response to climate change for the Erasing Borders Dance Festival 2021’ organised by the Indo American Arts Council, New York. The idea has been simmering in me for the last five years. It happened while I was reading. I read a lot and am often inspired by images and stories. This latest work was inspired by the Atharva Veda, a topic written in ancient literature.

The process is long. From concept to research to music direction, arrangement and vocals to direction to choreography to performance to videography to final mixing and mastering, when everything falls into place you are content. I enjoy the process and it keeps me alive. There are moments of spontaneity within this long drawn-out thought process and that’s how I work. 
CKCAny favourite music?
BRFor the last year and a half, I have been gravitating towards sopanam music, the indigenous music of Kerala. I am finding my movement striving in sopanam music. My body enjoys sopanam music. 

When you create your music composition, you will need a Music director, which means you have to have a violinist, veena, mridangam, edakka, and keyboard players. It’s an expensive affair. Now you know why I need work, only to sustain my passion.
CKCDo you have any hobbies?
BRApart from Dance, I am a spontaneous writer. I write poems and I paint as well.  I always saw these hobbies as separate from each other. They were all compartmentalised and they never saw each other. Last year I got an opportunity to create a work and with the encouragement of Ma’m Anita R. Ratnam. During this process I realised I can mix my creatives and let them layer themselves to bring out something greater. I used some of them to create a layered sense of understanding of my work. That’s what you will see in my Erasing Borders Festival performance. 
CKCHas covid disrupted your world of dance ? What were your most recent projects ?
BRIt was a blessing in disguise for me concerning my dance studies and research. The pandemic allowed me to extend my space for dance and research into the digital world and so far it has been great. Some of the noteworthy projects, if I have to say, are from 2020 and 2021. Ma’m Anita R. Ratnam commissioned me for Boxed 8.0, Mini Dance Series. She and her curators handpicked 40 dancers from around the world to create something in response to Covid. My project was titled ‘Hope’ and I collaborated with dancer musician Niharika Senapati. Again I also performed ‘Dance to the rain clouds, Andal’s Garden, a project commissioned by Ma’m Anita R. Ratnam again. Early 2021 collaborated with five artists, three Mohiniyattam artists, and two musicians from around the globe for a video production called ‘Vanasthali: Dance of the Forest,’ collaborative choreography in Mohiniyattam conceptualised and produced by myself. 
CKCYou have done quite a few work with Anita R. Ratnam.
BRFor a dancer of her stature, reaching out to help other upcoming dancers and established dancers, and writing about dance, I find her an all-encompassing dance world, how she tracks and extends it out, to others, I find that beautiful. Very few dancers can do that. As dancers, we are all focused inwards, and I find Ma’m Anita R. Ratnam’s focus is outwards and not egotistical. It’s ecoistic, and I find that beautiful. She is someone I admire.
CKCAny dancers you are inspired by or a role model for you ?
BRAnyone who dances inspires me. There are so many dance forms and multiple levels of dancing. Be it the technique, be it with ideas, everybody has a better skill in one or more areas. I am always looking for that little extra that I can get inspired from. I have created this Frankenstein model, where I take a little from here and there, a certain element from various dances.  So I created my own Frankenstein dance model. So thats’ my role model. 
CKCAny word for advice for people who pursue dance as a passion? 
BRWho am I to give advice? I don’t have any words of wisdom. My circumstance is such that people around me were rowing the boat along with the flow. For me, it worked. 
For anybody who loves dance, and feels that’s where they belong, they should work within their circumstances to make it happen. My belief is if you love something and if it is dance, you have to go after that.

Nothing beats hard work. I promise you nothing can beat perseverance and hard work. Even when nobody acknowledges you, you know you have worked hard. Your conscience that’s the most important thing. That’s where I find my true sense of happiness. After I finish rehearsals, my feet are sweaty, my clothes are drenched and I have to think about washing my hair, even though I washed in the morning, at the end I go to bed happily. Because I know I have made my heart and soul happy, just doing what I want to do. 

I didn’t have shows for a very long time and all I did was dance at home and was perfecting and practicing and perfecting, doing what I can because no one can take away what you worked so hard to get. So, if someone wants to pursue dance they should. But, they need to work out how they are going to sustain their dance.  
CKCDance is an expensive affair ! 
BRIt’s like running a small business. Unless you are paid well to perform, you cannot pay your accompanying artists, or to create music or to produce music, or to learn. If you are producing music yourself, you have to pay. You have to pay all artists. You have to pay all the accompanying artists who perform with you. Sometimes you need to work to sustain your passion.

My daughter is all grown up, she is artistic, independent and she now needs me less and I have the time now to completely immerse myself in dance. My husband is incredibly supportive and he has learned the skills to support my work. He worked hard on his photography and videography skills to support me. He invested money in his gear to support my dance. We need all this to work out to support dance. If I had all my hard work and everything and my husband and daughter didn’t have the skills to do the video and music, I would have to engage someone else to do the video and when you have to bring in external resources you will have to think about the monetary cost associated with dance.  I always pay people who I work with. I can do that because I work. If I am spending on my dance and doing it is because I can.

In all honesty, unless you come from a wealthy family, or you have another means of support, to continue dancing, it is an expensive affair.
CKChippyYou made the world around you work for you in a positive way. 
BRThere was a time, I was told I cannot dance. Remember my collapse during the college festival. I had sciatica and had to put traction on my legs for a while. It was hard after that incident. After my marriage, even though I started dancing, I could not sit in aramandalam for a while. I had to work through it at a slow pace and I did fix it.

When you are in this frame of mind where you are constantly worrying about your health you are not in a position to be creative. That is a big hurdle to get over. I have had health issues for a long time. I had depression and associated with that I had health anxiety, all of that impacted my creative thinking. 
CKCAnxiety is a hurdle.
BRWhen you have health issues and when you are scared it’s going to be something horrible, how can you dance? How can you be creative? It takes lots of perseverance to get past that. 
CKCHow did you silence that voice in your brain?  
BRIt’s not easy, it’s very hard. Three years ago I lifted a suitcase while in India and sprained my psoas muscle. Without realising what happened I returned home to Australia and I started getting this lingering pain. I was so sure I was going to die. My husband had to take me to the emergency room and I was hospitalised for two days and doctors advised two months of bed rest. 

Chippy…In 2 weeks I will be premiering a new show,  and it was a sold-out show. My brain was in anxiety mode. I sincerely took a break from all activities for one week and then the next week I somehow got to work and managed everything and performed to a sold-out audience. Sometimes you just have to believe in yourself and just do. These voices can tell you so many things and the moment you listen to these voices, it becomes horrible. For me when I feel sick, if I dance, I feel better. My husband always says, if you are feeling blue, go see green. For me, if I am feeling blue, I go to my Kalari.
CKCAs an artist, you must come across people with opinions and some with judgement. How do you deal with criticism ?
BRInitially, I used to get affected a lot and get upset and when situations like this occur, I used to say I am going to stop dancing. The moment I started dancing for myself, my happiness, when I am sure I made my heart and soul happy, I stopped caring. Of course, I value opinions. If my Guru instruct, ‘Bindu, work on your movement at this point’, I will listen and take their suggestions seriously. Unsolicited and unnecessary advice, unless it is of any value, I don’t see anything in it and I just let it slide like water off a duck’s back. That’s the only way I can maintain my sanity and from my experience of knowing who I am and how I deal with things. 

People are allowed to critique. They should. If it’s not coming from a place of ego or malice there is so much value in the criticism. Constructive criticism is acceptable. Sometimes it’s okay to ignore and it’s fine. At times, we need to agree to disagree.
CKCYou are still figuring out a lot about yourself through dance. Your desire for learning dance is intense.  You were constantly working towards your purpose. 
BRLearning and getting in deep and finding how I fit and where I fit and why I fit. I am still trying to figure it out. The more I discover knowledge, the more I realise I am ignorant. I am working towards a space of enlightened ignorance.  I am eager to learn. 
CKCYou are working two full time jobs. How are you balancing your love affair and work?
BRWhen you are having a love affair, you make time. Right!!! 
CKCI have to agree, you are having an affair with dance ! 
BRDance constantly excites me. You can see from this entire process that I was lost. Only dance was the commonality. When you fall in love for the first time, you feel flutter and flurry, I feel that every second with dance. Even now. 
CKCButterflies in your stomach.
BRAbsolutely, I am always excited to dance and even when I am sick, dance can cure me. I dance and it helps me. 
CKCIn sickness and in health.
CKCYou meet yourself at 18. What would you tell her?
BRI would tell her not be too hard on herself and that it is ok to be a wildflower and bloom where she lands, the best way she can. The sun, rain, wind and love will always follow her if she is true to herself.
CKCThank you, Bindu. It was so good to connect with you again. I am so glad you agreed to be part of my new adventure. Your love for dance is spectacular. I love you for that. 
BRAbsolutely. I am so happy that you chose me. I hope it’s of value. Thank you, Chippy.
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