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Bharathanatyam is an important part of my life, says Michelle Sequeira
She lives in Belgium. But, that has not deterred her pursuing this traditional South Indian art from. Thanks to her guru Kalpana Raghuraman, who is based in the Netherlands, she is able to learn, practice and perform Bharathanatyam. Michelle Sequeira was in Chennai during the December music/dance festival. She gave a performance for Brahma Gana Sabha on January 3, 2012. Here in this interview, she discusses the joy of learning this art form. Excerpts:

How long have you been learning dance? Who is your dance teacher?
My name is Michelle Sequeira and I live in Belgium. I have been learning Bharathanatyam for the past 15 years. My guru is Kalpana Raghuraman, who is a professional dancer and choreographer. She has trained under her mother Sharadha Raghuraman as well as masters such as the Dhananjayans, C.V. Chandrashekar and Padmini Ravi.

What has inspired you to take up this art form?
I became interested in this dance form at an early age when my parents took me to see various performances by visiting dancers, across Europe. I was fascinated by the grace and beauty of dancers such as Alarmel Valli and asked my parents to find me a dance teacher. It was impossible to find a good teacher in Belgium, and, after much search, they were able to get in touch with Kalpana Raghuraman, who was based in the Netherlands. I had to travel every week from Belgium to the Netherlands to train with Ms. Raghuraman. And, in 2006, I was able to do my arangetram.

What is your academic background?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and a Master’s in Information Management.

Sitting in a far of place (away from the home of this dance art form, Chennai), how do you connect to the art and people associated with it?
I am lucky to have a guru who lives in Europe but who remains very strongly connected to India and Chennai, in particular. Thanks to her, I am able to better understand the complexity of this art form and the culture around it.

Since you come from a foreign land, what kind of adjustments do you have to make to pursue your interest in this art form?
Since I was born and brought up out of India, I do not speak Tamil and, therefore, do not understand the texts relating to dance. However, my guru spends a great deal of time with me explaining these texts to me in detail so that I can bring out the correct emotions in the dance.

What Bharathanatyam means to you as person, as a practitioner and as a performer?
Bharathanatyam is a very important part of my life. Even though it requires a great deal of practice, I am always happy when I am dancing. I enjoy performing on stage - not only for myself, but also for the pleasure I bring to people who watch me.

How much of practice does it require to reach a level in this art form?
Bharathanatyam is a very rigorous discipline and requires a great deal of practice. I usually have a three-hour class once a week with my guru. The rest of the week, I practice on my own. When there is a performance planned, for example the one I recently gave for Brahma Gana Sabha on January 3, I have class three-to-four times a week.

What do you want to achieve in this art form?
I finished my academic studies in June last year and have taken on a part time job for now. I hope that this will allow me to continue dancing regularly. In Europe, it is difficult to make a career out of dancing, and, therefore, I have to find the right balance between the two.

Who is your inspiration in life and dance?
I cannot say I am inspired by one person in particular. I greatly admire all those who, through their hard work and determination, have had a positive impact on our world such as Mother Teresa, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Nelson Mandela. For the dance, I have to say that my guru is of great inspiration to me. She has a very positive attitude and is always pushing me to go further. I also admire her work and the various projects she is involved in.

What does this art form teach you and doesn't teach you?
This art form has taught me the importance of hard work, rigorous training and discipline. It also made me realize the importance of details. I learnt that small changes can make a huge difference to the dance. (For example, the specific positions of the eyes, hands, feet etc.) I am also learning a great deal about the Indian mythology.
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