Fame is a Fleeting Experience, So One Should Enjoy Every Minute of It - Reeja Karai

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1. Tell us more about your background and journey.

I have always been a creative person and was very sure from the very beginning that I would always work in a field that requires the same. I have a degree in Mass Media from St. Xavier's College Mumbai and I also have a diploma in Animation from Whistling Woods International, a reputed film school in Mumbai. 

In fact I worked in the animation and visual effects industry for nearly 8 years before I finally switched to full time dancing. Dance has always been an integral part of my life and I have been dancing since I was four. Formally trained in various styles like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Jazz and Salsa, my heart finally settled on Bellydance. 

I think amongst all the forms that I have learnt, Bellydance movement just felt comfortable and my body felt at peace bellydancing.I have also had a tryst with fitness and dance fitness where I was a certified Zumba and Pilates Instructor for nearly 5 years.

After many years of working for various dance companies, I finally started my own school called RAQSology that focuses on Belly Dance Movement not just from the physical, but also mental and emotional perspectives. So, I am hoping for some exciting times ahead!

2. When did you first decide you wanted to pursue dancing and how did you start?
As long as I can remember I have been dancing. I have danced through different phases of my life from happiness to trauma, and well for me, dance is literally a way of life. I also realised that I have a penchant for teaching dance as well and many people started benefitting from the same, especially with Bellydance. So you could say I have found my IKIGAI with dance.

3. Who is your favorite dancer and why?

Art is organic and constantly evolving. So, I feel as dancers it's very difficult to be inspired by just one source or person. I have always been influenced by a variety of dancers and dancing legends, and have taken inspiration from certain aspects of their dance and life. 

Currently, Mira Betz has been a huge inspiration as I love how she spins a new take on Belly dance Movement with every performance piece she shares with the world. Plus she is a Selfless and giving human who even in these uncertain times, provides free sessions to those who really need them.

4. Can you throw some light on opportunities one gets as a dancer?
In India, dancing can be a difficult profession to pursue from both Teaching and performance perspectives. 

I think one of the biggest issues you face as dancers (Indian Classical Dance forms having an upper hand here and a bit of an exception) in our country is the fact that most people consider you a bunch of uneducated and uncouth individuals who have either been influenced by the media or are unsuccessful at doing anything else. 

So we choose to dance. But that is gradually changing as more and more people are getting aware about dance as a profession and formal dance education.
That being said there are many dancers who are extremely talented but due to certain circumstances, not able to communicate properly. 

So it is up to us who hail from privileged backgrounds to speak up not just for the profession, but also for the thousands of dancers who are unable to express their passion vocally or in words.

Also it's important for individuals who are not from our professions to respect and value our work. Please don't haggle with artists! Trust me it might seem very easy to perform or create a work of art, but it has behind it years of training and hard work and not to mention money! 

We need to pay bills just as you do and well if you want to have a good learning experience we need money to train too.

5. Is format training required or can one train themselves purely on the basis of talent?

I cannot stress how important format or formal training is. That being said I know dance is not a profession where return of investment happens easily. I know that there are a lot of dancers who have full time jobs and pursue professional dancing at the side. 

So if you can afford it or save for it, dance training is COMPULSORY! I mean you will always notice the difference between raw talent and someone who has spent years polishing the same. Also just as in martial arts, formal dance training brings another level of discipline and focus to your form.

6. What piece of advice would you like to give to future and aspiring artists?

I think there are two major things I would like to stress on here. One is humility; No matter how successful you get, please remember there is always going to be someone younger, talented and bursting with fresh ideas. 

So fame is a very fleeting experience and even though it should be enjoyed, it should not be at the cost of putting someone down or disrespecting their work.
Secondly, with so much social media exposure, expectations have hit an all time low, and this unfortunately has given rise to mediocre work being showcased. 

That does not mean one should not be sharing their work. It's important to have a self reality check and realise that sometimes there is still a lot of progress or training needed despite the praise and adulation you receive.

7. Which is your favorite book and why?

I must say of all the interviews I have given, this is one question I think dancers are never asked! So thank you for considering us as a group of people who can read and also educate ourselves. 

I think 'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand is my life Bible and I think it should be for every individual who pursues a passion that requires creativity and individualistic expression. 

Of Course it is very difficult for us to live on the fringe of society like the main protagonist of the book, but there are so many principles we can abide by and still succeed.

- Reeja Karai, Dancer
- Interviewed by Shilpy Sharan

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