Interview: Rajeswari Vaidyanathan on finding her calling in dancesport and working with Mira Nair for A Suitable Boy
Rajeswari Vaidyanathan had a flourishing career in the retail banking sector before she decided to take a plunge and follow her passion - dance. However, to make most of it, she went to Europe to learn dancesport, a competitive ballroom dancing. And, soon after her return, she took over a Latin dance company, which was on the verge of shutting down, and transformed into a dance institute that offers training in all social dance forms like Salsa, Bachata, Cha, Jive, Samba and Waltz.
A reliable name in the industry, Rajeswari has trained Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor for Befikre and much recently the star cast of Mira Nair's A Suitable Boy. To know her experience of working with Mira Nair, understand what made her take the plunge and how is she coping with the pandemic, we spoke to Rajeswari. Excerpts from our chat:
Q: Tell us about your recent project, A Suitable Boy. How did this collaboration happen?
I was approached by Mira Nair's assistants in July for doing a particular Tango sequence for the show. Afterwards, I had a short interview with Mira and I sent across the first clip of the choreography. She was probably impressed with it because subsequently, I became the sole choreographer for the web series.
Q: Which form of dance did you teach to the cast of the web series and how long did they take to learn it?
I taught them Latin Ballroom and other Western Dance forms. We trained several lead actors including Tanya Maniktala, who plays the role of protagonist Lata. We started our training in August and by the time we finished, it was November. The training was intensive as the actors were dancing these forms for the first time and there could be no compromise on the quality and authenticity. What was amazing was that each one of the actors had immense enthusiasm to learn and they wanted to deliver with perfection.
Q: Before you pursued your passion for dancing, you had a successful corporate career. What was the point that made you leave all of it?
My passion lied in dance since childhood but over the years, it got suppressed under the pressure to excel academically and then professional. And, I did excel, so much so that I was unable to let go of my corporate life, considering the success, money and power that came with it. But, suddenly I developed a life-threatening tumour in my stomach and it was three weeks before half-year closing when I was rushed to emergency surgery. Despite being told to rest, I was back at work in two weeks as my boss was dependent on me but that determination to ensure that the work is done and with perfection made me realise that it was time to do something of my own.
Q: Why Dancesport?
I had various ideas in mind when I was planning to quit but dance was my first priority. But, I wasn’t very attracted to Latin at that point. However, when I started training with the European Champions, I was completely floored by its intricacies. Through my time in Europe, I realised that India was selling a Latin that didn't exist anywhere in the world, it can be crudely stated as Bolly Latin. And, I didn’t want to emulate the same so I started my training with Slava Visnakovs and Tereza Kizlo, winners of the first World Dance Council Amateur League competition. During this training, Dancesport became an integral part of my life. It was scientific, analytical and logical.
Q: How many different kinds of dance form does it involve?
I train all social dance forms like Salsa, Bachata, Cha, Jive, Samba, Waltz. I am able to change social dancers for the better by giving them an understanding of science and logic behind each step and breaking each step into its simplest form.
Q: How did you meet your partner Shannon Benjamin? What steps did you take to turn around his dance school into what it eventually became?
I met Shannon while social dancing at a Latin party. His then-wife and I became very close friends and it was through them that I got my first exposure to Latin dance even though it was a Bollywood version. When Shannon was divorced, the company was getting shut down. It was then that I took up the company and revamped the teaching structure and curriculum. I also standardised the way the instructors delivered the classes so that the students would have similar experience across centres.
Q: We heard you also trained Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor for Love Is A Dare song in Befikre? Tell us about your other associations with Bollywood.
We trained Ranveer and Vaani for three months in the Yash Raj Studios for the last Tango sequence in Befikre. The choreography was suggested by me to Vaibhavi Merchant, the official choreographer. Besides them, we have trained Shernaz Patel and Denzel Smith in Waltz and Rumba for a UK production and Isabelle Kaif and Suraj Pancholi in Salsa for Time to Dance.
Q: How are you managing to function in the lockdown period?
We have started the virtual training classes. It was initially started as a single class on Sundays but now I am taking five batches in a day. Besides, there are several private classes.
Q: What’s next?
While we are anxiously waiting for the pandemic to subside. It did expose us to the avenues available online that we never considered before. We had many students who constantly requested me to be in Mumbai but they are now open to the idea of virtual classes, which we intend on continuing post lockdown. Besides, we are planning to expand and will be partnering with our students and associates for the same. We have expanded internationally in Dubai where we have started to train students with an athletic spirit for traditional Dancesport competitions. We are also hoping that after A Suitable Boy, we get to explore more production-based choreography projects in India and abroad to popularize authentic forms of dance.