Vaishnavi T.N, Belly Dancer

Dance has chosen me since I was a kid. It has come my way a couple of times, but I just started it cause it gave me happiness.

I still remember the first time learning dance standing out of a dance class,looking at my sister dance. I was nearly 3 years old, from then I started getting into a habit of watching Bollywood songs and trying to imitate their steps.

When I was 8 years old is when I bumped into a show called SHIMMY on Travel & Living channel where they thought basics of Bellydance, I started following it. At the same time  Shakira fever was hit everywhere. And I fell in love with her Hips Don't Lie and started imitating all dance steps from every album that released. At all small competitions I started dressing up like a bellydancer or Shakira and started dancing.

At the age of 13 is where something that I realized and my choices changed. Thanks to my best friend who pushed me in school and told everyone that I dance like Shakira, I came out of my shell and performed in school. From that day everyone in school gave me the title bellydancer and even teachers started asking me to help my seniors choreograph & for other school fests. With this I got the urge to learn more so I started my formal training in Western styles, because nobody was ready to take me for Bellydancing classes as they considered me very young. So I continued to learn on my own, once a week going to my Dad's office just so that I get to watch videos on YouTube to pick up some steps.

In my family everyone is a Doctor or an engineer and they had the same pressure on me that I would be one of them. But my choices changed as my Dad fell sick when I was 13 I started dancing more just to forget the pain and find some peace. I had realized it by then it's dance was what I want to do. When I announced it to the family once I finished my schooling, haha of course there was a storm !! They made me join a strict schooling for my 11th & 12th just so that there is no extra curricular activities. But I found my way out. I went and auditioned for one of the Dance crews in Bangalore and got in. Started learning all dance styles during this training. Meanwhile I also started bellydance formal training as well.

And for my 12th grade I changed my college, became the college head so I handled all the extra curricular activities & hosted fests.

Everyday by doing this I only realized how much I love dance & how much I love doing this.

I started teaching dance by the age of 16 to kids and slowly started with adults with the first studio I started. But after a couple of years I realised bellydance is something I completely want to focus on. So I quit all styles and continued with bellydancing. By now I had stopped studying after my 12th. Because I wanted to do performing arts for my degree which I wasn't allowed. I was made to take up CA exams as my dad was CA and they wanted me to follow his path. But I failed the exams 2 times.

By then I had started working as a full time Bellydancer. I use to take classes, work as a studio manager and doing specialization classes in Bellydance under my teacher Payal Gupta.

And I learnt from various other Indian & international teachers who visited India.

These years were one of the most difficult phases convincing my family about bellydance. And my choices. Everyone stopped talking to me within my family. I had 50-50 support from my parents. As they were also worried.

A lot of times I also questioned myself about what do I do ? Is this right what I am doing ?

But I just wanted to follow my happiness and nothing else.

In the year 2016 is where I started out on my own as a freelancer,I was only 19 years old. Being the youngest one in the community and setting a base from the scratch was one of the difficult phases of my life again. But I kept going, the love for this art is what made me continue.

I failed a couple of times the first 6 months I never had any students & no income. Slowly I got the invitation to teach in other cities. Since I always loved dance and travel. I chose it and started conducting workshops & intensives in multiple cities such as Chennai, Pondicherry, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Surat, etc. By 2017 I had taught more than 150 students across India and completed around 10 cities. I started doing this to spread about the art form and give people an opportunity to learn this art form in cities where they don't have an access to it.

It was challenging to bring out this art form in conservative cities. I had students who use to lie to their parents to come to my class as well. But people slowly started accepting bellydance after attending the sessions. That gave me happiness.And I started being invited as a judge in most of the college's and as a speaker to share my experience.

By 2018 I started a bellydance festival called “WAHDA” ( Unity of Bellydancers ) bringing together all the bellydancers of Bangalore and teaching different styles of bellydance and having a showcase by the end of it.

This festival turned out to be a huge success and had its own uniqueness of flavors of different teachers.

As I always had an urge to do something for the community and this was one of it that brought me satisfaction. It dint stop there I had the habit of writing every detail of what I learnt and observed. I had written like this about various styles of Bellydance from 2017 already. So I wanted to go deep into it and I started my research in bellydance for close to a year. And I released my book by 2018 in June. It's called “RAQS RIHLA” ( Journey of Bellydance ) It is India's first Bellydance book.  Because there is wrong information about bellydance in a lot of places. There are a lot of them who claim to know this art form but not it's history. To change this is why I wrote this book.

One of the biggest dreams that I had with this art form was to represent India in World Bellydance Competition. I had been waiting to do this for the past 3 years. But I could not make it cause I wasn't earning so much nor was I able to fund myself. But I dint want to give up I did multiple jobs I lived in pondicherry for 3 months conducted intensives, worked 8 hours a day and thought kids other dance styles. Travelled to Bangalore on the weekends conducted Intensives here as well. I would really thank Kash because she helped me raise funds in the last minute, helped me with work & borrowing loans as we don't have loans for Art's and Culture. My bank balance from 300 rupees went to 1.5 lakhs in 3 months. And I finally travelled to Egypt.

It was a dream come true I had tears as I boarded the flight & as I reached Egypt as well.

It is one of the world's biggest festival and I was the first Indian to make it there.

I dint win the competition but it was a great experience.

There were legendary teachers and teachers with whom bellydance has nearly started. The music we dance to is as well created by some of them. And all the international bellydance artists across the world come there. I could not believe being one among them.

My inspiration and my teachers who changed everything for me about the art form are Randa Kamel & Mohamed Shahin. They both are the gems of bellydance, in your lifetime you have to learn from them if you are in this field.

And there are a few more teachers who have constantly supported and inspired me Julia Farid, Alexander Pak, Karim Gad, Sadie Marquardt, Aziza, Soraia, Marta korzun, Aida Bogomolova.

And I started my dream school IRA Bellydance School before I left to Egypt. Here the school specializes in History of Bellydance, Authentic styles, Oriental, Folkloric & Fusion. And today I have centres in Mangalore, Mysore & Bangalore.

The biggest turning point was the reality show that came my way by end of 2018. Where I had to bring back the styles which I once a upon time danced to. Four months of this show gave me a lot of experience and everyday learning presenting my work in front of celebrity guests and having celebrity mentor from Bombay to guide me. And winning the show was something I never imagined I would be able to do. As it was my first reality show as a choreographer and competing with some of the best co-choreographers in country.

Dance vs Dance reality show will remain one of the closest to my heart and a lifelong cherishment.

This has been my journey so far at the age of 21 , and it does not stop here all this was just the beginning for me. I am on a quest to make IRA Bellydance school one of the best with its quality of teaching. And working on a production show this year ( which is a surprise on what it's going to be )

And working on myself to travel abroad to learn further & represent and win for India.

My family is happy with what am doing & I have been accepted by those who dint speak to me a few years back.

At the end I would say just follow your dreams. If you wanna do something do it , but work hard for it. Nothing comes easy.

The harder it gets don't give up, because that's where you know you are nearing success. I have been through ups and downs through this 6 years of my professional life. But something that kept me going is the love for the art form, passion & the will come what may and am ready to face it. Every challenge has had its own lessons and it's molded me into this person I am today.

To upcoming dancers please make sure you know your base before you start teaching & respect the artists who have been in this field as well. Age doesn't matter. You can start anywhere & anytime. Just make sure you start with the right guidance.

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