On the stage, dancers stand in rows facing the teacher. As the teacher explains each step, the students practise it with vigour, correcting each other. So far, it might sound like any other dance class, but you will be surprised to learn the age of the students. They all are above 50 and their teacher is younger than them. For the students, it is a second chance to realise their dreams.
“For us, it is about reclaiming our passion,” says one of the 26 members of the elders’ dance class at Kochi’s Changampuzha Park. Organised by the Edappally Nrita Aaswadaka Sadas, a wing of the Changampuzha Samskarika Kendram in Edappally, the class intends to rekindle the passion of women who had to put family above their interests. The oldest member of the group is 75. They are taught Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam.
The classes began in October last year on Vijayadasami day. Mallika, president of Nrita Aaswadaka Sadas, who supports the programme, says they did not expect such a great response. “We decided to give it a shot when we realised that there are a few persons above 50 who were keen to learn dance. We started it as a trial. To our surprise, the idea was well-received.”
The classes are held every Monday and Thursday morning at the Samskarika Kendram. RLV Midhuna (Navya) Viswanath is the dance tutor. Observe them during class and one can clearly see their passion and joy. They turn into a group of children who are loud, shy but never hesitate to tease and help each other.
“We come early and leave late,” chuckles Subi, one of the students. “We come early to practise the previous lessons. After the class, we sit and chat for a while,” she smiles.
Like Subi points out, the classes are a source of happiness for them.
“These sessions make us happy and positive,” says Rajam Thampy Pulimoottil, who used to work in Dubai earlier. “It strengthens our mental and physical health. We have found new friends here. We forget our health issues once we are here. My blood circulation is better, and the dancing relieves body pain. The classes are both entertaining and informative,” say Subi and Leena Narayanan.
All of them are either retired employees or homemakers. Dr Prema D Namboothiri is a retired professor while Usha Premarajan is a homemaker. Indira Devi MS has retired from Canara Bank. Mini S has also retired from her job. Other members are also in a relaxed phase of their life. “Our children have grown up and we have retired. So why not do something that we love?” asks Rathi VJ, another student.
Hearteningly, their families have been supportive. “My daughter-in-law encourages me. She told me to try whatever I want and never regret not fulfilling my wishes. She is keen to watch our performance,” says one student. “We had yearned to learn dance back when we were younger. We couldn’t do it due to many reasons, including family responsibilities. We are enjoying this moment now,” says Dr Prema. They agree that their happiness reflects in their family life.
Not all of them have learnt dance before. Students like Rajam are beginners. Mastering dance this late in life has not been an easy task either. However, they are determined to carry on and perform on stage. “Initially, it was tough. Now, our bodies are adapting to the new routine,” Rajam says. They feel their bodies are more flexible. “Because we practise regularly. In the beginning, the body used to be stiff,” says Indira Devi. “Earlier, when we watched a dance performance, we could not fully grasp it. Now, we understand the mudras, adavus and all,” says Leena.
Quiz them about how they remember the steps and find time to practise, pat comes the reply, “We have our tips. We relate the dance movements to our daily activities. For instance, we can practise a movement if we rhythmically put mustard seeds into oil.” The group burst into laughter. “We practise whenever we get time,” says Usha, while Rathi adds, “We take the effort to remember lessons as it is our interest, it is not forced upon us.”
The students with their teacher Midhuna
For Midhuna, the students are her inspiration. Her initial apprehensions turned to amusement and admiration. “I was doubtful whether they could follow the traditional mode of learning classical dance. I improvised a bit to suit their age. However, I was surprised to see their energy and resumed the traditional mode. To be honest, I look up to them when I feel lazy or down. If they can do, I too can,” confesses Midhuna, who is like a friend to them now.
Midhuna doesn’t force them as she doesn’t want to quash their passion. “They have a strong attitude about life. Venturing into something like this ignoring the prying eyes of society requires a lot of courage. There is no room for competition or criticism among them. They are not afraid of others’ opinion,” she says. “They try their best. I was tense how they would consider me their teacher because some of them are retired teachers. But they are good students,” she laughs.
Sessions are going on swiftly as the team wishes to perform on the anniversary of the Nrita Aaswadaka Sadas in May. Mallika says she has requested a stage. Midhuna is contemplating a theme-based sequence for their performance. “That will be easy for them as it requires more abhinaya (acting) than adavu (steps),” she explains.
The students are more than happy to be on stage. “We are confident and want to set an example for the younger generation. We can’t wait for the day,” they giggle.
Elizabeth Thomas describes herself as a wild woman who finds happiness in words, colours, coffee and journeys.