“We all need to learn to enjoy doing things, relish the journey, and try not to think of just the end goal.”
– Sanjana Sharma
Your journey in the field of social media has begun. How are you planning to take this forward in the entertainment industry?
In the entertainment industry, the belly dance that is done is not up to the mark or represented correctly. Even when we are taking belly dance into the entertainment industry, it should highlight the artistic and aesthetic appeal of the dance, rather than focusing only on the sexual and sensual elements. We would like there to be more awareness around the culture of belly dance, what it is, where it comes from, who performs it. All this can happen without taking away the entertainment aspect; we only want to ensure that belly dance is looked at in a more wholesome way, and also that when we say something in a movie is belly dance, it really is belly dancing. For example, recently there have been many songs which have been praised for their belly dancing, but from a purely artistic perspective, do they conform to the rules of belly dancing? I would definitely like to correct the impression that any sexy dance with a focus on the belly is belly dancing, and instead present it more as an art form with certain rules, just as we would present any other classical dance.
Do you feel the excitement with the new opportunities that are offered to you?
I am always very excited, whenever I get any new projects or get the chance to work with new people, because every time you work or collaborate with someone, you get a different experience, and it helps you to grow. Every experience teaches you something different. Some help you grow as an artist, while others help you work on your presentation or teamwork skills. You get to understand how different processes work, and you get to experiment with multiple genres of dancing.
In fact, I find this gap between the commercial and artistic world very interesting. Navigating both require a completely different skill set. And I try to approach everything with an open mind, whether it is something I am good at or something I am new to. I have really enjoyed working in both spaces. Time always passes without me even noticing, and I feel quite grateful and happy about all the new opportunities coming my way.
‘The journey of a celebrity is always celebrated’- What is your view on this statement?
I believe that when a person becomes a celebrity, there is always a reason behind it. It is because they have mastered their art and are exceptionally accomplished in their field. They have put in hours and hours of work, and come a really long way.
All their fame is due to their fans, the people who encourage them and cheer them and push them forward with their constant adulation and love. These people are very curious to understand the journeys of the celebrities they love, to get a peek into the process that they use in creating their art. They also feel motivated and inspired by looking at the sheer hard work that their favorite celebrities put in to reach where they are in life. They aspire to the lifestyles of the celebrities they love.
We all had thrilling experiences in our lives- What was yours and how do you think that it has changed your way of life? Is your vision evolving?
There have been many difficult times in my life. I used to live in Sion, and then my family moved to Navi Mumbai. Even though the living arrangements were more comfortable, commuting from Navi Mumbai to Khar/Bandra every day for all my training was a lot more difficult. To get there by 7 AM, I had to leave home by 5 AM, and I have faced a lot of stalking and harassment. Being out the whole day, sometimes I would get very late coming home. My parents worried about my safety because the area that we lived in was not brightly lit and heavily populated.
Another problem that I have faced throughout my career is being stigmatized and stereotyped for practicing an art form such as belly dancing. People assume a certain kind of character and do not treat you in a respectable manner. For example, if you tell someone you are a belly dance teacher, people suddenly feel it is appropriate to check you out from top to bottom. I have tried to always put belly dancing out there and to educate people about it being just another dance form, one that can actually change your life because of the way it teaches you to love and appreciate your body. It gives you the confidence to shed your inhibitions and blossom as a person. But this process has been challenging, and I have had to battle stereotypes ranging from sexualization to body shaming to character assassination. People tend to equate belly dancing only with a hypersexualized cabaret style, which sure, is an integral part of belly dance history, but there are so many other roots as well, that people may not be that familiar with. And might I add, performing cabaret-style itself is extremely technically challenging…there is a lot of effort and skill involved.
These days, there is much more awareness and much better understanding among people about belly dancing being just another dance form like any other. There is a positive response to my videos, and I have become quite open about it on social media as well.
I also undertook my entire training while working through my bachelors and masters degrees, and there were many times when I had to prioritize what I really wanted to focus on. Even though my parents have been extremely supportive, I have worked odd jobs to be able to pay my training fee.
My vision is definitely evolving. All these experiences, from harassment to traveling to managing studies along with dance training, have shaped and molded me into the person I am right now. Now I have seven branches across Mumbai where I run my own classes. I have a brand name too and am often invited to colleges to conduct workshops or judge dance events. I have also been approached by celebrities for private training. With all the new and exciting things happening around me, my vision keeps on evolving with the new things I learn every day, and it will always keep on growing.
One significant incident in my life has been that after working in a company for very long, I finally chose to quit that and felt confident and ready to start my own thing. It has been both thrilling and terrifying, but so far things have been going very well.
What are the positivities that keep pinching you every day to create something good inside you and how do you deliver the same logically and creatively?
The biggest positive in my life is my family and my partner. They have taught me to always be open towards new experiences and always look at the good side of things. Whenever I faltered or felt that I am going wrong, my father told me that he had faith in me and that I did not need to worry about money. He encouraged me to only think about my goal, and not think about anything else. My parents are my infinite reservoir of positivity and patience. The five things that they’ve taught me are to be patient, to be strong, to never give up, to always be positive, and to work extremely hard. I always keep these five things in mind when I am working.
What helps me to create and execute my vision is that I believe in learning. I learn from other teachers, other dance forms, my students, the people I work with, my family and friends. I will never stop learning. The more I learn, the more variety I add to my toolbox, and the more I am able to be creative. Learning new things not only ensures that you are constantly having fun, but also provides a direction in which to grow. And once I have created something, my years of training have given me the competence and the patience to execute it.
When I create something, I try to use what comes to the body naturally, rather than creating difficult steps for the sake of it. Art should make us feel deeply, and I want my art to make people feel happy.
How do you see yourself as a professional and as a person?
As a person, I see myself very different from what I am professional. Professionally when I teach and work, I am extremely grounded. I try and give my students and my art as much as possible. And no matter who comes to a class, whether it is a close friend or even my mother, I treat everyone equally in the class space.
As a person, I am very straightforward. I love to talk a lot and am generally bubbly. I love meeting new people, and my friends tell me that I’m quite funny. When I am with my friends and family, I am extremely chill, and I let my hair down a fair bit. But in professional settings, I always maintain a very calm and composed attitude and make sure I do justice to my students and the dance.
What kind of Dilemma have you faced so far?
One of the biggest dilemmas for me has been to leave the company I worked with for 6 years, and start my own classes. I could have stayed back and continued to work with them, or chosen to work with another belly dance company. But I felt ready to start my own classes, so I took a leap of faith and chose to do that instead. And I think the choice to take things at my own pace and to give myself the space to grow and experiment, has paid off immensely. My parents, my siblings and my boyfriend counseled and supported me during this entire time. There was a time when I felt lost, and their confidence in me helped me to overcome the internal struggles that I was facing. I questioned if I was ready to take on the responsibility that comes with running your own business. When you work for someone, you are an employee, and you don’t really partake in the same risks that they do. There is more scope to make mistakes. Also, I was not sure if I needed someone to mentor and guide me on my journey. But I made an active choice to push myself a little bit, and take on the creative responsibilities and risk that come with working for yourself. And I feel that it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
If you are asked to live dance with a fusion of creativity, prayer, and logic then what will be the change that you would first like to create and feel in your dance?
If I were ever to do a live fusion, I would want it to be with a live instrument. In fact, I would use different types of instruments. I want to use all my belly dance techniques, my training in style, and also my knowledge of other dance forms, in a very creative and unrestricted manner. I would like to explore movement and the ways in which the body can move, rather than use a fixed set of moves to create a choreography. And live music will make the process more involved and more spontaneous. Improvisations sometimes present the most beautiful and surprising results that way.
The logic behind this idea is simple. No matter what the music is, you can dance to it. Your body can flow to any rhythm, and one is forced to pay more attention and work harder when you don’t know what the music is beforehand. This is something that would satisfy me both as an artist and a human being.
What do you think that today’s generation is lagging behind in- Motivation, determination or are they more involved in the lame discussions?
I don’t think today’s generation is lagging behind in motivation at all. In fact, I feel like, in this generation, people are more willing to explore. They have dreams and goals and they don’t think that trying new things and failing at them is wrong. People are now breaking stereotypes about simply studying and getting a job. They are actually willing to take a step back and give up stability and security for pursuing a passion. There is definitely a rise in entrepreneurship, and young people want to do something of their own.
I feel like with the onset of the internet and social media, the current generation also has access to a lot more resources, and they are able to reach out to a large number of people.
I think there are also a lot of young people who are disillusioned, and they are the ones who require motivation. I think this is also not because they don’t have passion, or lack the ability to work hard. It is just that they need to have more patience, especially because the visions that they have are grand, and extremely challenging to achieve. I think all of us need to learn to enjoy doing things, learn to enjoy the journey, and try not to think of just the end goal.
In every generation, there will be sections of people involved in lame discussions, but that does not take away from the strength and dynamism of the rest of their peers.
‘Everybody can dance, it’s the drive and passion that makes you a dancer’. According to you, how do passion leads anyone from an average to an awestruck personality?
I think dancing is not something you need to have any inborn talent for. When you start learning it, you have to be true to your art form, and sincere in the pursuit of it. You need to immerse yourself in that environment and focus on simply learning as much as you can. It is only when you start learning that you develop a passion. Passion doesn’t have to be something that’s already inside you…it is something that is developed over time, with careful effort and devotion to your art. Once you start enjoying the process of learning, the process of creating, it leads to a transformation in one’s personality. It is a journey or self discovery and self exploration, not only in terms of dancing, but also in terms of what you want from life. Dance, or your passion for dancing (or any art), can be the thing that gives you direction in life. It has certainly been the case for my own life.
Do you think that the entertainment industry needs to make some vital changes in the field of dance and choreography? Mention those changes?
I think the entertainment industry needs to make massive changes in their dances and choreography. Bollywood and entertainment industry should also do justice to the dance form. Entertainment should not be the only concern, but also retaining the authenticity and the essence of the dance form. Another thing that they need to show is the culture and the rituals that make a dance form what it is. Their dances and choreographies should create curiosity, rather than simply being something they passively consume, or copying only the moves without the rich culture and history behind it. I feel that especially in the context of belly dance…it is only used as entertainment. There is no attention to what it really is, or what it means, or who performs it, and if the dance is even being performed correctly. Dance cannot just be a tool to showcase something, it has to be an element in and of itself.
What are your skills and subjectivities that you feel can lead you in the race of being the next celebrity?
Firstly, I feel that my skill is what will put me ahead in the race to be a celebrity. My proficiency in my chosen dance form, and the talent that I have been investing in for so many years of my life. I am still constantly learning, growing, moving forward, and striving towards excellence. I put in everything for my dance.
I also feel that many people are motivated by the example that I am setting. When I teach dancing, I not only teach the process of dance, but the process of living one’s life too. I think the parallels between dancing and life are very apparent. This is something that I have discovered through my journey. And I think it is important for me to make people aware of this.
I think I have the personality, the charm, the affability and the relatability that it takes to be a celebrity.
According to you which generation is inclined towards you the most?
I feel that all the generations are interested. I have people of all ages and from all generations who are my students. All my classes are mixed generation. And I feel that every generation is so different when they dance, and they have so much to give. So I feel that every generation is inclined towards my dance, but it’s just that there are more young people because they have more awareness about the dance form. The older generation is developing knowledge about the dance form, and I am now getting more and more older students. My mom is learning from me, and even my dad, boyfriend and brother look at me and learn. So the more awareness there is, the more people will come.
‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’- What is your take on this statement?
I don’t really agree with this statement because I feel that there is nothing that is impossible. When you start learning and developing something, you start making that impossible thing into happening. So the moment you commit to your journey and start it, you are making it possible. You’re working towards making it happen. Every time you see your body doing that, every time you see the dance coming into your body, it is chipping off a little bit of what is ‘impossible’. So to me, impossible is not a word that I relate to. If you keep doing something and working hard at it, there is always potential and the possibilities are infinite.
How can you describe your excitement in one line?
The pure joy which comes from giving my heart and soul to my art and my students (is how I would define my excitement in one line)