The Edappally Nrita Aaswadaka Sadas in Kochi conducts Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam courses for women over 50. They are gearing up for a performance later this year.
On stage, the dancers line up facing the teacher. As the teacher explains each step, the students practice it vigorously, correcting each other. So far, it may look like any other dance class, but you will be surprised to learn the ages of the students. They are all over 50 and their teacher is younger than them. For students, it’s a second chance to make their dreams come true.
“For us, it’s about rediscovering our passion,” says one of the 26 members of the alumni dance class at Changampuzha Park in Kochi. Organized by Edappally Nrita Aaswadaka Sadas, a wing of Changampuzha Samskarika Kendram in Edappally, the course aims to rekindle the passion of women who have had to put family before their interests. The oldest member of the group is 75 years old. They are taught Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam.
Classes started in October last year on Vijayadasami Day. Mallika, president of Nrita Aaswadaka Sadas, which supports the program, says they did not expect such a big response. “We decided to give it a shot when we realized there were a few people over 50 who wanted to learn dancing. We started as a trial. To our surprise, the idea was well received.
Classes are held every Monday and Thursday morning at Samskarika Kendram. RLV Midhuna (Navya) Viswanath is the dance teacher. Watch them during class and one can clearly see their passion and joy. They turn into a group of loud, shy children who never hesitate to tease and help each other.
“We arrive early and leave late,” laughs Subi, one of the students. “We arrive early to practice the previous lessons. After class, we sit and chat for a while,” she smiles.
As Subi points out, classes are a source of happiness for them.
“These sessions make us happy and positive,” says Rajam Thampy Pulimoottil, who previously worked in Dubai. “It strengthens our mental and physical health. We found new friends here. We forget our health problems once we are here. My blood circulation is better and dancing relieves body pain. The classes are both entertaining and informative,” say Subi and Leena Narayanan.
All are either retired or housewives. Dr. Prema D Namboothiri is a retired teacher while Usha Premarajan is a homemaker. Indira Devi MS retired from Canara Bank. Mini S has also been retired. Other members are also in a relaxed phase of their lives. “Our children have grown up and we have retired. So why not do something we love? asks Rathi VJ, another student.
Encouragingly, their families supported them. “My daughter-in-law encourages me. She told me to try whatever I want and never regret not having made my wishes come true. She can’t wait to watch our performance,” says a student. “We longed to learn dance when we were younger. We couldn’t do it for many reasons including family responsibilities. We are enjoying this time now,” says Dr. Prema. They agree that their happiness is reflected in their family life.
Not everyone has learned the dance before. Students like Rajam are beginners. Mastering the dance so late in life was no easy task either. However, they are determined to continue and perform on stage. “At first it was tough. Now our bodies are adjusting to the new routine,” says Rajam. They feel that their body is more flexible. “Because we train regularly. At first, the body was stiff,” says Indira Devi. “Before, when we watched a dance performance, we couldn’t fully grasp it. Now we understand the mudras, adavus and everything,” says Leena.
Ask them how they remember the steps and find the time to practice, and then comes the answer: “We have our advice. We relate dance movements to our daily activities. For example, we can practice a movement if we rhythmically put mustard seeds in oil. The group burst out laughing. “We practice whenever we have time,” says Usha, while Rathi adds, “We make the effort to remember the lessons because it’s our interest, it’s not forced on us.”
The students with their teacher Midhuna
For Midhuna, students are her inspiration. His initial apprehensions turned to amusement and admiration. “I doubted they could follow the traditional way of learning ballet. I improvised a bit depending on their age. However, I was surprised to see their energy and returned to the traditional mode. To be honest, I admire them when I feel lazy or down. If they can do it, so can I,” confesses Midhuna, who is now like a friend to them.
Midhuna doesn’t force them because she doesn’t want to stifle their passion. “They have a strong attitude towards life. To venture into something like this ignoring the prying eyes of society takes a lot of courage. There is no room for competition or criticism between them. They are not afraid of other people’s opinions,” she says. “They are doing their best. I was tense about how they would view me as their teacher because some of them are retired teachers. But they are good students,” she laughs.
Sessions are going fast as the team wants to perform on Nrita Aaswadaka Sadas birthday in May. Mallika says she asked for a scene. Midhuna envisions a thematic sequence for their performance. “It will be easy for them because it requires more abhinaya (act) that adavu (steps),” she explains.
The students are more than happy to be on stage. “We are confident and want to set an example for the younger generation. We can’t wait for that day,” they laugh.
Elizabeth Thomas describes herself as a wild woman who finds happiness in words, colors, coffee and travel.