I first saw Manju at a function. The 67-year-old Sindhi grandmother, with a heavy veil on her face, came up to me and talked about how she herself wanted to dance. I invited her to the studio and she came one day with a friend, setting aside her apprehensions of probable reactions from a deeply conservative family. The first day she just cried," recalls Somna Tugnait.
Manju has since then gone on to give several performances, the most recent of which was attended by her husband and children. She is not alone in this creative adventure. More and more ladies are turning back to dance after huge gaps, not letting age or familial responsibilities stand in their way.
Somna herself gave up a lucrative corporate career after decades of employment to explore her passion for dance. She is the founder director of Gurukul, a Dubai-based organization with branches in Zurich, Switzerland and Bengaluru, that works towards enhancing the practice, understanding and appreciation of Indian art and culture across the globe. The artistic director of Gurukul is internationally acclaimed Kathak dancer Pali Chandra. Somna is Pali's sister.
"Over the years, I have seen many women in their later years revisit their childhood passions. Age is no barrier, it's the skill and interest that matters. Our classes and workshops have helped them express their deepest self and it has been a personally fulfilling journey for me," says Somna with a smile.
Madhu, one of the students at Gurukul, is excited about being able to complete her artistic journey after a gap of many years. "Progressing from a homemaker to an aspiring dancer, I feel completely transformed. It was not easy to turn back to dancing but I am glad I took the step," she says.
Saritha Varma says that with mindsets are changing over the years and families and teachers are quite supportive of such decisions now. "The lure of art is too strong to ignore. One has to come back," says Saritha, a kathakali artiste who started learning the art form at the age of seven, and after a hiatus of many years, returned to the stage recently.
"There are a lot of challenges though. Age renders your body inflexible and bringing it back to a dance-ready condition requires a lot of practice. It is tougher to return to art after a break," says Saritha, saying that she recently portrayed a male character after almost 20 years.
The owner of a popular dance school says that not many women pick up contemporary dance after a long gap; classical art forms seems to be the preferred choice for them. Madan N Nair, managing director of Sreejaya's School of Classical Dance, agrees with this statement. "We do have students who have come back to bharathanatyam or mohiniyattam after a pause of many years. They perform at all the programmes we conduct."
He is impressed by their ability to juggle responsibilities, work and passion. "They are learning this in a very professional manner, not just as a hobby. They devote a lot of time and effort for this."