One of the oldest participants in Vidisha Anand’s dance academy All That Jazz was a 58-year-old grandmother. “She walked in saying, ‘I love theatre’, but she never had the platform to perform all her life,” narrates the 29-year-old dance teacher and entrepreneur.
“She joined our centre and regularly came to classes for six or seven months until the final musical performance. It was Aladdin, and she thoroughly enjoyed her role,” Vidisha says.
Her eyes mist over as she goes on: “Soon after the finale performance, I was told she passed away in her sleep. Her daughter called me to say, ‘Thank you for letting her live her passion before she left this world.’ I get goosebumps even now thinking about it.”
Changing lives and impacting people is all in a day’s work for Vidisha, who founded her dance academy eight years ago in Gurugram and later expanded to Delhi. Born in a business family in Delhi, she was still in college when she got the opportunity to become a dance teacher at an American school.
“I took up the job only because I was very impressed with the principal! She would high-five her students and was completely approachable, unlike other schools where fear is used to discipline,” says Vidisha, who ended up working there for three years, became the most popular dance teacher the school had ever known, and was cited as an example for others.
Then Vidisha’s business instinct kicked in and she launched her own dance school. “I had been dancing since I was eight; it helped feel and release emotions, and I wanted to share this with others,” says Vidisha, who trained in musical production from Trinity College London.
She designed her jazz and contemporary-dance workshops as a form of musical theatre, with a grand performance at the end of each semester. “It’s a space for amateur performers to showcase their acting talent using dance. Otherwise, theatre in India doesn’t give much chance to amateurs.”
Starting with 35 kids in 2011, her academy’s most recent performance had 120 people of all ages. The personal transformations she has observed over the years have been remarkable.
“Introverts open up, those who aren’t able to socialise give up their inhibitions, and one breaks through one’s internal boundaries. I also had a case when a man began growing in his career after joining the dance class as it helped him become more confident and accustomed to being in the limelight,” she narrates.
In fact, she goes on, “Men need dance more than women. They are usually not socialised to express their feelings but dance gives them a way to release pent-up emotions.”
Though a lot of students face barriers in their personal lives or are inhibited due to being shamed for their bodies, they turn into different beasts the moment they step on to the stage at Vidisha’s classes.
“People live for society. They train their kids to win and offer them rewards to do so. But in our musicals, we do the opposite: through the performance, kids train their parents [in the audience] to accept them for their imperfections, and express why comparisons with others are a parenting failure, and how to forge one’s own path,” says Vidisha.
Dance is therapeutic, says Vidisha, who believes repressed negative emotions – including fear or inability to forgive – can lead to all kinds of ailments.
“Dance teaches you about yourself, both physically and mentally. You find yourself through dance; it makes you comfortable in your skin, and breaks all the barriers you have created within yourself against happiness,” she says.
As Marquez said, “No medicine cures what happiness cannot.”
First published in eShe’s October 2019 issue
Syndicated to CNBCTV18