Blossoming of the arts, the Geetha way

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People come to me or to my studio and tell me they want to learn to dance,” says odissi exponent Geetha Shankaran Lam.

“Why? They tell me it’s because of something they saw on television or on YouTube and liked it. So, I put on the music, and we dance to it. What’s next? “They must practice. In my time of being a dance student, dance is forever,” said the 47-year-old. Today, lifestyles are too fast. Everything is now. Why go to a dance teacher when I can learn on the Internet?

“It’s about learning discipline too. So, when the student learns from me, I insist the parents get involved too. If they don’t miss tuition, then they must practice dance too.

“I do a video of the class, and send it to the parents for them to get their child to work on it at home. Clear the chairs in the living room, now come on, and show me what you learnt in class. That’s how it must be done, I tell the students and parents. The encouragement and support must be at home too, and not just with the teacher.”

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Geetha is using her own methods of teaching, at her Geethashankarandance Studio and Haven. It’s what she had learnt after 4 decades of studying first under Krishna Kumari, where she trained in bharatanatyam and then, Datuk Ramli Ibrahim for odissi.

These are two Indian classical dance forms that are popular with Malaysians. Geetha was 16 when Ramli and Amu Tharmarajah formed Sutra Productions — now known as the Sutra Dance Theatre. After countless shows, and endless touring with rehearsals, Geetha became a household name among dance and arts lovers in the country.

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Photo credit: LakshmanR

Geetha insists she always wanted to dance as an offering to god, as a means of healing the soul in both dancer and audience. It was not about being famous. To hold on to her own belief that dance had the ability to heal, she left SDT at the 20. With her partner Lam Ghooi Ket, a dancer with the Temple of Fine Arts, she settled down to family life. She soon took on odissi classes at TFA in Brickfields for advanced and senior dancers. She also danced herself, and  choreographed  dance productions, and other related tasks. She left TFA to strike it on her own with GSD about 5 years ago. It’s by the family for the family motto as the studio sees Lam at the administrative helm, while Geetha’s 3 children are in dance and music classes there.

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Photo Credit: LakshmanR

Her students hail from Teluk Intan, Perak, to Seremban in Negri Sembilan and around the Klang Valley. At her dance studio are also teachers from abroad, and freelancers. The classes offered are not just in dance including kathak, but also in Hindustani and Carnatic vocal lessons, as well as yoga, among others.

“Everything is about wellness and wellbeing. Arts is a vehicle for the creative process. It allows the child, teenager and adults to find meaning in life. We can be interconnected through the study of the arts. For the dance teaching, Geetha says she can’t be as strict as her own teachers were with her. “I use music to explore movement. I don’t insist on the old way of drilling the steps (adavu) because youths today don’t want that. If I use the strict teacher tone, the students won’t come.

“I believe the arts in an everyday joy. For dance, after a while, the students fall in love with the brand, me, and the art form. And I accept people are good in their own way.”

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That evanescence draws all kinds of Malaysians to Geetha’s studio. Not just dance lovers but cancer patients, the handicapped and even the lonely. She has made a mark not just with dance but with her strength, which is evident to strangers by her bald head. “They see me bald, and ask if I am sick, with cancer. I say no, but I am sick of the negativity around me. It’s about accepting and empowering ourselves, by looking within an ignoring the noise outside.

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Photo credit: LakshmanR

“It’s also to say I had gurus before but now I am free. Actually, I broke the traditional Indian mold when I married a Chinese! Geetha learnt much about her own inner strength when her body collapsed after she became a caregiver to her husband following his illness. “The doctors told me there was nothing wrong. I asked myself, what is it that dance cannot cure?

You know, when my body was weak, I was crawling on my knees to dance. But I kept at it. I did my exercises, went for acupressure, used essential oils, and changed my diet… My students were compassionate. It was only in January 2015 that I got better. “So, I understand what illness can do to you.” geetha (3)

Her methods of teaching and her vision will see fruition in an arts showcase called Manja come May 8, at 5pm, at the Shantanand Auditorium, TFA. “It’s my cluster of blossoms performing in the first half of the show, followed by the teachers’ performance in the second half. It is about a soul awakening, like students walking into a class. This showcase will be the first of many projects GSD will undertake and help cultivate our community, sharing with them the beauty and ideals of music and dance; most importantly the notion that anyone can sing and dance at any age if you put your mind to it!” said the founder of GSD, Geetha Shankaran-Lam.

Manja will offer an ode to 3 Hindu goddesses — Saraswathi, Laksmi and Kali – with original music by Hariraam Lam and Bhavani Logeswaran. The dance styles are odissi with 14 students, bharatanatyam (23) and kathak (16).

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Photo credit: LakshmanR

The students in Manja range in ages from 6 to 51. They will also be doing the nattuvagam (rhythm) and production design. “One special student,” she reveals, “can’t hear and has limited vision. She has been my student since the age of 11. Now, she runs a laundromat,” says the proud teacher.

“Manja is about things dear to us. Like the arts. You can have a career in the arts. But you must love what you do. For instance, my first dance studio saw the rental at RM1,700. Now, I have a new place at Vista Sentral (in Brickfields) and I meet the monthly rental of RM5,000 with 160 students. “Dance makes good out of you. And life, to me, is a celebration.”

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Perhaps it’s time for a celebration of life through the arts. For details on Manja, call 012-7953091/016-6021308. Admission via donations from RM50. Taking aim at the conventional, the upcoming musical and dance showcase by Geethashankarandance (GSD) will present classical ideas that is beyond the norm. This community project conceived for children and adults alike who appreciate being unique, MANJA will provide an escape from a cookie cutter world into one of bursting creativity.

MANJA, a cluster of blossoms is a showcase of Indian classical music and dances in the style of Odissi, Bharathanatyam and Kathak performed to live music by Geetha Shankaran-Lam, Arvinder Raina, Bhavani Logeswaran, Nayanika Ghosh Chowdhury, Sreerag Sajeev, Hariraam Tingyuan Lam, Aviraj K. Tayade, Nitin Ware, Narinder Kaur, Ashni Kumar and the blossoming talents of GSD.

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