“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain
In the first of our new series of interviews with people who’ve pursued their passion and taken up in their lives things they love, we interview Swara Patel.
Swara is an MBA from MET, Mumbai, a passionate dancer, entrepreneur, dance educationist, member of international dance council and now a dance therapist certified by CDI France and CMTAI. She was inspired to start her current venture, Rhythmus HappyFeet Dance Academy (RHF), in 2011 along with her friend and now co-founder Deepika Ravindran.
RHF specializes in teaching children dance with a unique approach of developmentally appropriate music and syllabus. RHF also provides a certified Ballet curriculum in affiliation with Ballet Manila, the Philippines.
Swara also has been conducting training workshops for school teachers with an objective to give children an active learning environment and has reached a milestone in introducing Agile Kids – a dance and creative movement program specially designed for schools bringing in kinesthetic teaching and learning
In this interview with The Life School, Swara speaks about her passion for dance and teaching this art to kids, and what keeps her inspired in doing so. Let’s start right away.
The Life School (TLS): As I understand, you are an MMS in Finance. And now you are a dance teacher. So please share how your journey has been, and what inspired you to do what you are doing now?
Swara Patel (SP): My story starts like that of most typical traditionally brought up Gujarati girls. I come from a well-educated family and so I completed my MBA somehow because of flaws in our education system and not because I was inspired to study. I got married immediately and conceived soon thereafter. A story of a not so savvy girl in today’s age. Well that is how it began but the nice thing about stories is that they can sometimes take surprising turns as mine did.
Being at a dance performance brought tears to my eyes, and made me feel more than I would, being anywhere else. Something deep within me kept telling me to plunge into the world of dance. Already a mother of two, I thought it was too late to take up dance professionally. I had worked at a few places, but kept making excuses to not give it my all. Then one day, I just took that plunge and went through an intense training in dance for two years.
Two years of intensive training and the perfect co-founder in the form of Deepika Ravindran gave me the courage to start my own dance academy – Rhythmus HappyFeet – which today is known for its unique approach of age appropriate music and syllabus, operates at 4 centres and 5 schools in Mumbai and has grown from 90 to 2,000 happy students in a span of just 5 years.
TLS: That’s truly inspiring and wonderful, Swara. Congratulations for the journey you’ve had. Anyways, what role can dance play in the life of a child (or any person)?
SP: Children are born with oceans of creativity, and frequently express themselves with movement. You can’t learn to dance by sitting at a desk. You can’t learn dance from reading a book and there’s no test you can pass to become a better dancer. This sets dance education apart from other important subjects like science, math, and humanities.
You can only learn dance by doing it. You observe your teachers and then try to imitate them. You progress through trial and error and the feedback you receive. You learn by making mistakes and slowly overcoming them over time.
Dance education preserves a child’s precious innate creativity and ability to learn things through trial and error, while the rest of the world is trying to suppress those characteristics. The skills that one learns from dance have a lot of value in every field of work.
Dance teaches us to visualize ideas creatively and collaboratively and businesses today have to innovate to survive. Our economy was once an industrial economy, but now any kind of repetitive task based on numbers and rules is something we can write a program for. Jobs like these are automated and outsourced.
Right now, robots are being developed that can do knowledge or analysis-based work; pharmacists for example. Several hospitals around the world now have advanced robot assisted operating rooms. In another twenty years, the only jobs left are the ones that computers can’t do.
Let’s teach our kids to dance, so that when they grow up and enter the workforce, they do so with a fully intact, highly valuable asset – their imaginations.
TLS: That’s truly a wonderful thought!
SP: Indeed Vishal. Since the dawn of time, dance has been used to express joy and sorrow. In no other activity do human beings, in a very fundamental way, become their own creations.
The expression of self-creation is one that must be nurtured in all our children and it can be achieved most powerfully. Perhaps, through the language we call dance.
TLS: Great! By the way, who are some of the people – inside or outside the dance circles – who have inspired you the most over the years, and why?
SP: My father for his discipline, simplicity, hard work and humble nature. Madhuri Dixit – a brilliant dancer who still does her ‘riyaz’ every day and just keeps getting better. Dr. Carla Hannaford – for bringing in wealth of knowledge and research on the importance of movement in child development. And Anne Green Gilbert – for her approach and use of creative movement and dance to bring kinesthetic teaching and learning to classroom.
TLS: What advice do you have for young dancers?
SP: To all young dancers my advice is that persistence pays off. We all have different learning curves, so never compare yourself with other dancers and beat yourself up. At that very moment, remind yourself of the very reason you dance. It’s one of the most common mistakes dancers make as it gets competitive.
Don’t miss a single opportunity to learn.
Respect your body. It is capable of achieving miraculous results if you learn to take care of it. I have seen young dancers smoking, living on sugared drinks and not getting enough rest – this just does not take you far – you cannot last and eventually you give up.
And advice for parents who support their children in dance – give them a fair chance by giving them lot of opportunity to dance in their growing years and support them if they do want to pursue dancing professionally.
TLS: What goals/dreams you have for yourself and your work?
SP: My dream is to make every school kinesthetically (learning through movement) smart. Where children have freedom to move, play around, and learn. Movement in classroom is considered as important as math, language and science. Get away with the body split (using more of upper body to learn) and bring back full body integrative movement back to classroom.
TLS: Hypothetical Question: Let’s say that you knew you were going to lose all your memory the next morning. Briefly, what would you write in a letter to yourself, so that you could remind yourself the most important things in your life starting the next day?
SP: Well, I will remind myself of all my beautiful family and friends and the support system they provide me to pursue my passion for dance and I am sure rest will be taken care by them.
TLS: Complete the sentence – Dance is ________
SP: Dance is a gift that becomes entrenched in the soul. Those of us who feel this way have trouble describing it to those who don’t, but I think of it like this – “There’s a point when the movement and music grab hold of you and fill you so … become more than a body moving through space; you become art.” ~ Rhee gold.
TLS: Wonderful thought, Swara. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts with TLS readers. I am sure a lot of kids and parents reading this would get inspired to consider dance as a career – or even as a way of expression – with greater respect and seriousness it deserves.
SP: I too hope so, Vishal. Thanks for this interview. The pleasure was mine.
P.S. Here is the latest composition and dance from Swara. I was very impressed by it, and I am sure you would feel the same after watching it.
If you can’t see the video above, click here.