Breaking the Conventional With Her Moves – Aparna Nagesh For Feministaa

By Avilasha Sarmah in Starting Up 11/06/2019

“There was never really a how, it was just a question of making a stand.”

 

Aparna Nagesh looks nothing like a professional dancer on the surface. She is a far cry from the conventional industry standards. But when she moves, even her crew fails to match her flexibility! Trained extensively in Jazz, Ballet, Contemporary, Latin & Street dance, Aparna found dance as a medium for self-discovery that helped in creating her identity and overcoming the fear of failure.

 

As she strongly believes, art can create an impact, she set out to create history by starting Chennai’s first all-women dance crew! Becoming a creative entrepreneur with High Kicks, her dance company, she realized balance was her key to hold on to her two images: Aparna, the dancer and Aparna, the entrepreneur. While in the process she found inspiration within herself.

 

 

 

Dance as a conversation with the body.

 

“I like the process of moving my body and feeling free when I am doing it.”

 

Aparna says that dance is her passion which she uses to fulfill her purpose and ultimately it is a catalyst for change. “You have a passion and you have a purpose and for the longest time I thought dance was my purpose and now I have discovered that it’s my passion.”

 

Growing up, because of her skin color, she was bullied in school. This made her insecure about her appearance. But for a long time she never really understood it. The dance was her only source of true expression and it made her express herself authentically.

 

“I have always believed that anybody who wants to perform and dance should be able to get up on stage. It has to be the skill that matters.”

 

There were instances where people did tell her that dance was a visual medium and that a dancer has to look a certain way to be called ‘beautiful’. Heavily against it, she says that one cannot equate being ‘fat’ or being ‘dark’ to being ‘ugly’. It’s not a generalized thing. It’s each person’s and how that person is perceived.

 

“I have seen people go up on stage who may not fit the stereotypical mould but everybody is glued to the stage and they are all really moved.”

 

In the end, it has to be about one’s audience or one’s consumer being moved by what one’s doing. The idea is to make people feel, even if it is meant to be just entertainment, one has to make people go wow!

 

It cannot be about wanting a 6’5 or 5’11 and long legs, tall, fair skin, skin, Aparna exclaims! She says that if people especially ask her for a ‘type’ seeking to hire a dancer, she legitimately refuses. But on a positive note, there has been incremental change, event organizers do not demand a type anymore. “Especially with me, they don’t try because they know I don’t put up with it!” She smirks!

 

All I am saying is fitness doesn’t equal thin,” Aparna further traces her point.

 

“I can call myself a better performer simply because of my training and my experience.”

 

She says that rather fitness should come from within. “Everybody really has to tune in, listen to their body, hear what it’s trying to tell you.” She encourages her dancers to communicate with their bodies. They start their sessions with everybody checking in as to how they are feeling at the moment.

 

“It is very important to connect the internal with the external.”

 

 

Her dream is to be professionally mentored by choreographers Hofesh Schecter and Akram Khan. Although when it comes to inspiration, it is her own self that keeps her going!

 

She feels just as she has realized herself that although we can have many people around us who we look to for guidance, nothing is more inspiring than the self. She explains that pushing through all obstacles and striving is only possible when one is motivated internally.

 

“I had to kind of keep telling myself, you’re awesome, you’re great!  And then at some point I realized, hey you know what, you’ve done all of these, you’ve managed to get past this!”

 

 

Creating Chennai’s First All Women Dance Crew!

 

“If you have a talent, if you have a skill and if you have an art form, it is very easy to use that to effect change.”

 

Her belief in art activism inspired Aparna to start the all women dance crew, High Kicks. She says that the power of Arts, regardless of its dimension, to instill positive change depends wholly on how it brings people together and builds sensitivity. As a person who has been vocal towards influencing positive change, in her 12 years as a professional dancer, she didn’t see too many women sustaining. Then back from New York where she went to study, fresh with ideas, she started “High Kicks” in 2011.

 

High Kicks in session

 

“I realized there was no platform for women to explore dance in a manner that they felt comfortable doing.”

 

The main motive of creating an all-women dance crew was to break preconceived notions about what dance means and what it means to be a woman in dance. There were stigmas that needed to be broken and it all made her start the all-girls ensemble.

 

“I always felt like this whole Feminine Shakti had not been tapped into.”

 

She says that she grew up with only guy friends she was mostly around masculine energy. “It was interesting for me to see how this feminine energy could translate when we put a bunch of girls into a room.” Without bringing those stereotypical notions of if women are together they can’t work, there will be bitchiness and cat-fights. However, it proved to be very effective, and they were able to change mindsets. It was slow. One family at a time, one person at a time.

 

Venturing into entrepreneurship after being a dancer came as a part of putting out there what she creates. “I like the challenge of marrying how I am gonna sell that work as a performing ensemble.” Given her experience and long years of association with movement, dance and research, she is currently working towards selling that content in schools which she does as part of her institute, Madras Dance Arts.

 

It’s a constant battle to balance the two out, but she enjoys it. “I have to keep checking myself and reminding myself to delve into the creative back.”

 

Then the balance comes with all the things that she does for her own mental health; things like listening to her favourite music, meditating, or even exploring her favourite food or reading. The idea is to completely tune out and switch modes. But there are also times when cancelling a class or a meeting is okay. But in the end, it is all about balance.

 

“Over the last 8 years, I feel like we’ve really been able to make a very small difference and I feel like that’s how change begins.”

 

 

In 2019, they opted for a bigger change. They removed the ‘all-girls’ from the High Kicks logo and became an inclusive brand. High Kicks now invites in anyone who identifies as gender-fluid, non-binary, trans, even creating a safe space for males with feminine energy.

 

The change has been slow, with people still identifying with the nomenclatures that exists. But there has also been a good number of positive responses. When times are changing, we ought to change along with it, she exclaims, even if it means removal of the binary description. The idea is to craft High Kicks as a safe space for performers irrespective of gender.

 

Today High Kicks is all about telling the story that one would want to hear in the most real and heartfelt way possible, Aparna proudly says.

 

 

Tune into one’s energy before the High Kicks Session

 

Currently curating a creative team for Feministaa! Apart from that I am a wanderer who loves to write. Places call out to me and I enjoy making poetry out of moments. Do check out my book – “When the Cuckoo Called”.


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