Youth Advocate: Sareana Kimia

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
June 15, 2015

Sareana Kimia catapulted to fame and became pretty much every DC Indian household’s topic of conversation when Washington Post ran an article on her over the last holidays.  The headline jolted each of us into paying attention and we all read of her. After recovering from awestruck admiration, we naturally shared her story around. The children were pulled up by parents, and the students in turn thought she was cool and brave for all that she went through and manages to keep at.

I was to speak with her a few months since, but somehow our busy lives could not get a breather enough to connect, and we played tag awhile and when I finally did, it was well worth the wait, and what an honor! Being a mom to teenagers, I’ve always admired the youth for their tenacity and the beauty of their innocent dreams and the passion with which they plunge forward!

Sareana’s face popped on my screen, she was really just another teenager (albeit a precocious one) with a smile that lit a thousand candles, and a laugh that was at once shy, unassuming and sure. I had done very little homework on her, just coz I wanted to hear first hand on what she had to say!1236175_247552748726239_989927615_n

With  an air of nonchalance studded with occasional escapades into her own mind and getting distracted with her work, just like any other teen, she conversed with me, on her interests, her life, vision, and her personal story that shaped her for what she is today.

Read on:

Continue reading Youth Advocate: Sareana Kimia

Meditation Coach: Pallovee Surana

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
April 20, 2015
Pallavi Surana

These days Meditation is everywhere. In print, on TV, at fitness clubs and yoga studios, and on Facebook even! Take a step back and wonder and it feels a natural revival of what this world today needs and what the society could use. There is just incredible stress, pressure and lives just don’t seem simple anymore. The more evolved we get, the more entwined we are, within ourselves. I believe, the tipping point of doing more, and living more has reached. It is the start of the beginning of when, we as humans are exhausted with all that we are doing, and the light bulbs go off. It takes a conscious effort to step back and take stock and well, that’s precisely what meditation brings on.

Today, you will meet Pallovee Surana. I met her exactly a year ago through a mutual friend. She conducts meditation classes in group setting. For her group of friends. Every Friday. In a complete unassuming way. With no expectation of any compensation or receiving for all the goodness and help she extends.

They say “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I was ready when I met her. She has helped me. Just as she has helped others, through her practice of meditation to lift that cloud in our head, and see what we are meant to see.

Inspiring and worthy for more folks to know of her and her work, this is her story.

Pallovee (Pallavi) Surana:

 

Pallavi Surana

 

Let’s start at the beginning. Where, what and how are you here in the US?

I was born and raised in Bombay (and Abu Dhabi in parts). Hindu family, went to a good private school. This is no your usual private” She giggles. “Film star kids went there. Twinkle Khanna, Hrithik Roshan and the likes. Neighbors were Raj Babbar and Vivek Oberoi. Was a great environment to grow up in for the kind of lifestyles that I was exposed to. Graduated with a degree in Architecture and well, married my husband (who was born and raised here in the US) and moved here to Florida.

So, how did this start? Do you remember when you started thinking along these lines?
Actually as a child, I did not believe in all this. In 11th grade, I had this sudden urge to find out answers to basic questions.. My life was good. Plush even. My father had a large successful construction business in Abu Dhabi. I had tons of friends, was doing great at school, known as Miss Abu Dhabi by friends, but I had to find out if all we were born for was to eat, drink, & die… or was there something more to life…
I remember having tremendous discussions with my father about philosophy & business management & principle centered leadership discussions about Stephen Covey, Norman Vincent Peale, Lee Iococca, Wayne Dyer& others… We had a huge library with tons of inspirational books. I loved principle centered living: living your life on the basis of principles because they don’t change. Everything else is transient.

Like Buddha! He had such questions when everything was going great for him too! Okay, so you just asked folks around you, and read up. Did life change in any way after you moved to the US?

At my in-laws, Jain scholars Visited us often. I started listening to their lectures, theories and it just started to make sense. Jainism answered a lot of my questions about the science and art of life. I was hooked. I just had to keep reading & pursuing. Meanwhile I read many religious texts, from the Bible to the Bhagwat Gita, To Mahatma Gandhi, Buddhism. So, if I had a question, I searched for answers regardless of where.

I followed Jain Sadhwi teachings as they changed my perspective from ego centeredness to soul centeredness and made sense in a crazy world.

Jain teachings eh? So this “meditation” as you call it is stemmed from those teachings?

Yes! I follow and teach the Jain principles and way of meditating and looking inward for your answers in a systematic way.

There is a systematic way to meditation? I grew up with a few Jain girlfriends and they did lead simple lives. I had no idea about this. Did you practice apart from reading? Back then, I mean.
Oh yes! We went through some challenges at that time, so I started meditating to change the energy patterns in my life. To my surprise I felt much better after I meditated & had greater clarity, less reactivity to things that were not in my control…I couldn’t control people or circumstances around me, but at least I could control what I felt. For at least a little while, I became less judgmental and was not attached to other’s behaviors. I think this was a major turning point in my life as I realized being a victim was my choice. I made my principle “Even if you think you are most helpless at least you can be of help to someone” based on that I started volunteering at the kids schools, adult literacy programs.

Would you call this a ‘journey’?

Honestly I didn’t know I had a journey, I was just busy living one day at a time. I just believed strongly, that if I gave up to the Divine will, things will be fine. The journey was shown to me. I had to figure things out and and I had epiphanies, ones that led me towards my purpose.

How did this teaching come about?

It started simply, as all things do. So, I started meditation in a family Jain class that we belonged to and everyone felt good. Soon some friends asked to learn meditation and I offered to to lead a session for fun & since then the rest is history as they say. History is 7 years or even a little more maybe..

wow! That IS a long time. It’s amazing how time flies when we focus and do what we are in tune with I suppose. So, what exactly IS meditation? We’ve all heard it, what do you think and why would you call yourself an ambassador of the practice?

In my opinion, meditation is a tool to quieten your mind. It is a vacation from thoughts that plague us, it is freedom from fear and loneliness. It is the strength to carry on in this crazy world, an anchor to realize that we are not alone on this path of life & that all the burden we have been carrying is unnecessary and needless. We are enough right here & right now! In fact we are perfect and our true nature is abundant happiness. We have to give up our attachment to suffering… learn our lessons from whatever comes our way & move into the knowingness that we are really and truly blessed. Everything that is happening to us or around us is an illusion, it is a hologram.

I see what you are saying, but to play devil’s advocate here, how can what happens to us, and our thoughts be anything but real. Good and bad happens to us, and we are not always in control of how we feel. We are swayed. Don’t you think?

Yes, but that’s the thing. The only true thing is our reaction.
Our reactions create positive or negative energy. If it’s negative energy, then that attracts more negative energy and before we know it, there is a spiral of negativity that can take us to the bottom of the whirlpool. It is crippling. The root of all problems is how we feel. That is the meaning of life. To remove that negativity, we have to reach our subconscious and reprogram it as all our behaviors are based on subconscious learning. Once that happens, we get clarity, change our thoughts into positive ones, and that’s how we attract more positivity. That’s also how we get (manifest) what we desire. Happiness.

What’s the most poignant lesson or words through the time, that has stuck with you?

Two things have stayed with me.  
The first was advice from Stephen Covey. “Begin with the End in Mind” How do you want to be remembered on your epitaph… This principle guided me to take the chance of bringing meditation as a tool for thought control, even before it became a buzz word, it gave me the strength to jump with my own intuition & start teaching.
The second thing told to me was, give up your attachment to the I. You are not the doer, it is done through you, you are not responsible, you are just the conduit, the catalyst, the Television that is broadcasting. I have lived by these principles & try daily to incorporate these in my life…

Do you actually practice these at home? Isn’t it a bit of a challenge to work with our own at home?

My philosophy has been actions speak louder than words.. To bring change & influence people, words are not enough, you have to live what you preach in your daily interactions. Charity begins at home and I needed to bring that same awareness to my family members, which was hard. I started practicing compassion towards any negative relationship & to my utter surprise people changed. It takes time, but they do.

Ive heard you use the word Preksha. What is Preksha?

2700 years ago, it was taught that “emotion over reactivity is the root problem in this world”, was very true and I could see first hand the application of this solution of Preksha or Perception in my own life. It was amazing! This is the journey of experiencing the realization. As awareness increases, intuition increases and this helps in making decisions!

That I can vouch for, yes. Ive been doing this a few months now, and I know there are changes I see in myself which has helped clear the fog in my head 🙂 So your classes are definitely something many look forward to. I see the ernest flocking, the acknowledgement of positive changes, and how much of a calm progress the ladies make with time. You must feel such a surge of emotions?

It has been an awesome ride and I feel blessed when I see my students or my fellow travelers light up with their own greatness… This surge of positive energy, keeps me going every week, and we succeed only if the other succeeds. We are in this together!

From being the worst critic, I am my own friend, I am gentler with myself & more forgiving & in that love & acceptance I am aligning myself more with my own greatness the divinity that shines within..

As you can tell, I recently started calling myself Pallovee because love is what brings us together and I bring love which is the highest vibration to every interaction.

Pallavi

I know! ..and I love it! It’s a lovely adaptation and even true to what you bring and share around you. Thank you! So this is your calling you think? Have you a vision of where you want to go with this gift of yours?

Thank you! My path. My path now is to be the best that I can be, bring compassion and cooperation and oneness to the forefront. I also want to create a program for the kids. I believe, starting this journey much earlier in life, will remove a lot of un-necessary stress and we are always looking to make our lives easier, sooner. Personal life coach, is another term that’s been thrown at me, and I have ventured into this knowing with assurance that I am indeed helping others.

Om Arham.

***

Personal discoveries are always interesting. Personal discoveries that help others discover themselves are even more interesting, and if we pay enough attention, inspire us to make something of ourselves. Ive started believing in slowing down and being conscious of my thoughts and listening to them since I started practicing. Maybe after reading this, you may want to try out Pallovee’s classes or one where you live locally.

Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed putting this together!

Kuchipudi Dancer: Kavitha Cheedalla

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
April 6, 2015
Kavitha Cheedalla

Classical dance (of any form) requires huge amounts of dedicated practice, effort, focus and determination to see it through. The technique of dance demands a concentration, a willingness to abide by the stringent rules and principles for accuracy and tradition to be upheld. When a child learns it, it seems like an easier absorption, and to a large extent, is. The age, the flexibility of body, the mind-space and the simplicity and stress free student life encourages and makes learning a simpler, faster experience.

Introduce the rigor of classical dance to an adult, and it takes on a whole new dimension.

However, something is to be said of passion and childhood dreams and realizing and recognizing opportunity and seizing it to line all your ducks in a row and then well, achieving it. It’s a childish pleasure and happiness, I assure you.

Kuchipudi is the classical dance form of Andhra Pradesh. Made popular by Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, back in the 60s, this is a detailed, expressive form of rhythmic dancing set to music and story telling. Mastergaru as he is fondly and popularly called was the embodiment and authority of this artform and I was and am fortunate to have learnt a few years under his guidance back in Madras (Chennai). He has many exemplary students who carry on the torch, and one such is Guru Mrinalini Sadananda who started a dance school: Kalamandapam in Springfield VA in the 90s, and under whose guidance I re-started in 2000.

Today, am introducing to you, Kavitha Cheedalla, a Kuchipudi dancer who started as an adult along with her daughters and now performs, and teaches in Northern Virginia at Kalamandapam. She is an example of what determination, grit and passion can bring together when the situation has made itself conducive for it. I’ve known Kavitha since the early 90’s, through common friend circles and then later on as part of the Kuchipudi dance school run by our Guru Mrinalini Sadananda in Virginia. We learnt, and then taught together for a while, and I have seen Kavitha grow as a graceful accomplished dancer and it gives me great pleasure to write about her. Her passion and devotion to this art form comes through in many ways.

Read her story: Kavitha Cheedalla

 

Kavitha Cheedalla

 

So, let’s start at the beginning! How, when did you start here in the US? 

In June 1998, I started learning as an adult in a summer camp with Madhavapeddi Murthy master.  I still remember that day. I just went to admit my girls in the camp. I had previously mentioned to Subhash uncle (our Guru’s brother and a popular wonderful violinist) that I always wanted to learn and he casually told me, “Why don’t you join?” so I did.

Where did the enthusiasm come from? What made you jump in? 

I had always wanted to learn growing up. I learned from Mahankali master in our town (in Andhra Pradesh) for a month or so when I was 8 years old. After that, I saw master garu around town, and he would always ask me, “Why did you stop coming?” I also admired two of my friends in high school who were dancers. I started again because I always wish I had continued when I was little. I didn’t continue as my parents were not too keen, school and other things took over my time, and these classes got lost. 

So it’s safe to say that it is not a new passion but an old dream? One from childhood? 

Yes! An old childhood dream, of course. ☺

It’s such an incredibly deep happiness am sure! Tell me, how was it to start as an adult?

Starting as an adult was very tough because the body does not cooperate as it would for a young girl. There is an enormous strain on the limbs and mind because our postures are not perfect or right most of the time. Also I had many distractions and obligations: job, cooking, house work, leaving my husband home alone while the daughters and I went away for hours together on Sunday mornings for class.

 I agree. It is hard to keep at it, when your thighs, legs and back hurts with staying in posture and moving them to the rhythm. How did you stick with it in the initial stages?

I was able to stick with it because of the encouragement from my guru, Mrinalini aunty. I also had little roles in the ballets which made me very excited and proud of the little accomplishments.  I was lucky that I worked in a school system and had summers off, so I got to do summer camp every year for about 8 years or so. That helped a lot because of the daily practices, and when you do something everyday, it only makes you stronger. 

 So true! I know that you are a huge advocate of practice. How many hours do you spend on practice?

Initially there was no set number of hours. Whenever I got a chance I would practice alone or with other friends. Now I practice 4- 5 times weekly to keep up with all dances and to keep my energy levels strong. Practice is what helps me remember what I have learned and helps keep me in shape. It’s the memory to remember the sequence, and also our body has memory, and we have to keep refreshing it for it come with ease. 

 How was your first performance on stage? Tell me about it 🙂

I was very nervous and scared about whether I will be able to do a good job. I first played the role of Guhi (guha’s wife) in Ramayanam. The scene was taking Lord Rama and Lakshmana on a boat to get to Sita. Even though we practiced so many times, it is a different story when you get on the stage. The lights, the pressure, the makeup, and the adrenaline to be on stage and to not freeze even knowing the routine well is a challenge. After the performance, I was so happy and proud listening to everyone’s compliments.

Kavitha

 Regarding learning, you speak with such enthusiasm and live it when during practice and class, would you encourage picking up and starting to learn as an adult? What are the differences you find as opposed to starting as a child?

Yes, I would definitely encourage anyone who wants to learn at any age. It is super important to keep practicing daily or 2- 3 times a week. The initial stages are very hard. Takes a lot of co-ordination, of the hands, legwork, hands, mudras and the changes along with expressions and posture. It takes couple of years to get the basics and the feeling of confidence. I would think it is definitely easier learning as a kid because you don’t need to worry about other things. You can give all your time to dance, but most kids don’t realize that, and that’s just the way life is. They cross that stage and then realize that only when looking back. 

 If we take up a hobby or a goal, it usually eats up into our hours and life. Did you have to make any kind of adjustments at home because of dance? 

Not a lot of adjustments, since it was just Sunday classes, except when we used to rehearse for dance ballets. For ballet rehearsals, we stayed 4- 6 extra hours on weekends. I always made sure that I had cooked for my husband. I slowly got more and more involved and now I have a lot more responsibilities. I have very nice, understanding husband who also helps me with accounts and also backstage during ballets. He’s been very supportive during all these years and has always encouraged me to do what I love and enjoy, and that is to dance, perform and at the school. 

Kavitha and Ravinder

Looks like behind every happy and successful woman, there is a man who supports her and fills the gaps at home. Like Sheryl Sandberg mentions and celebrates the #LeaninTogether, where the man encourages the woman to go after her dream! 🙂  

What about the physical demands and challenges of learning and dancing as an adult?

Well, you must keep yourself fit. You must eat right and sleep well. It takes discipline to watch what you are eating, and keep yourself in shape. Aerobic exercise and strengthening (abs and upper arms etc) are all involved, and you realize that with time, that the body gets used to the rigor and we build stamina, and because of the exercise, there is the endorphins that make you so happy and pleased with yourself, just like any other exercise. Body movements are easier when you practice everyday. When you take a break, it is harder to get back on, but the body remembers and with practice, it comes back.

Great! Let’s talk about (y)our Guru. 🙂

My guru, Mrinalini Sadananda , is a very enthusiastic, exciting, and encouraging person in dance and in my life. I am where I am in dance because of my guru’s encouragement. I remember practicing so hard for the Lord Brahma role in one of the ballets. Even when I played the role of Narada (my very first solo role) for Venkateswara Vaibhavam, aunty did not stop giving me practice until she was sure that I got it. I also want to thank all our visiting gurus Pasumarthy Vithal, Sathyapriya Ramana, Dugakka, Balakka, Devarkaonda Srinivas, Chinta Siva and Bhagavathula Srinivas! They all taught me and helped me improve.

 When did you graduate to teaching?

I don’t think we graduate, and stop learning. We are always learning, especially in dance. Dance is like an ocean (samudram); there is always more to learn. We learn so many different things from different teachers and even when we teach.  Aunty encouraged me to teach beginners around 2003.

 Teaching is a special skill and talent, and I have always believed that just because someone is a good performer doesn’t make them a good teacher and vice versa. Not always at least. What do you think? 

It depends on the person. For me, teaching helped me become a better dancer. When you teach, you are perfecting the student, which helps you correct yourself. I would say they are related. I love teaching because it makes me proud and gives me the satisfaction of sharing what I learned with others.

Right, I suppose I meant that teaching requires more patience and the interest to share what you know, those are different from just practicing what you know. You’ve been running the school for a few years now, what are the challenges you face?  

Since we only have classes once a week, we have to accommodate students of different levels in the span of 4 hours. The challenge is to place them, make sure they are reaching their full potential, and keep them motivated.  Sometimes it is hard to organize practices and have everyone committed. Another challenge is keeping up with finances, inventory.  Every year we try to make things better organized sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  All of our teachers are volunteers and I am thankful for all they do.

 Yep, very few understand the demands of a completely volunteer-run organization like Kalamandapam. It’s run primarily to spread the joy of learning and that of dance, something that is hard to maintain in the society and the pressures we face. Are you happy where you are with dance?

Yes, I am happy with where I am learning as an adult. I missed out on learning as a kid so I felt that I needed to work extra hard to get here and I will continue working hard.

 Have any goals (in dance?) or do you feel like you’ve achieved it?

My goal was to learn to Kuchipudi dance. I reached that to a certain level but I am still learning. My next goal is to keep this tradition going and spread the tradition as long as I live.

You’ve performed at so many venues, from local temples to various events including the Kennedy Center. Where do you see yourself in 5 years as a dancer, as a teacher?

Lord Nataraja’s and guru’s blessings got me here and I will work towards spreading the tradition continue teaching, performing and pass my torch onto the next generation.

2013_Utsav 303

Kavitha’s two daughters are also accomplished dancers and watching them together is endearing and shows how nicely art can be a bonding that can bring a family close

Daughters and Kavitha
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So there you have it.

Have a childhood passion that you have resigned to live vicariously through your child? Maybe it’s time you re-think it, and if you wanted it badly enough, then well, you have inspiration in front of you. Do it. You have but one life, live it well, and realize that dreams don’t have to stay dreams if you have the zeal, and determination to see them through. Yes, if you work hard enough, you can have your cake and eat it too! 🙂

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Like this feature, check the other lovely ladies I feature on here. Know of someone who deserves the recognition and who inspires you or others in the community, feel free to contact me and we can get that going! We all could use some ignition every now and then 🙂

Batala Drummer: Aparna Krishnamoorthy

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
March 9, 2015
I met Aparna on Twitter. We started following each other when we realized we had a few things in common. Apart from DC area residents, we both enjoyed food. She is great at discovering various food places in and around DC (and everywhere she travels and she does travel a lot!) which makes me watch her with envy, coz well, that’s what a suburban can do! 🙂
She writes about it in her fresh new blog:Apart from food, what caught my eye was her fervent tweets and passionate shoutouts to a Batala drummer group. I had no idea what Batala was, but every link was to a place they played and so I asked her one day, and she explained that she is part of the troupe and they play at various places. I googled, like a good dutiful curious cat, and my eyes went round. I love all things music and arts, but seeing all these strong, vibrant women with HUGE drums and the way they swayed and played, was an experience itself!Then she tells me they are an all woman Band – Batala Washington and that she joined after moving here to the US!There was definitely a parallel connection. Not only were the arts the connection, she also followed her heart and passion and it shows! I can relate to that. Totally. :-)Of course I had to badger her to spend some time to sit down with me and tell me and us her story! How? What?Read on!
Aparna Krishnamoorthy:
Blog: Doorstep and Beyond 

So Aparna, let’s start from the beginning! A little background please?

I grew up in India, mostly in Bangalore, and have been in the US now for 13 years. During the day, I work in Product Management in the corporate world. My (outside of work) passion is in Food and Travel, and I LOVE exploring new restaurants and neighborhoods in DC (which I now call home). I recently started a blog – Doorstep and Beyond to document my adventures.


So, I can tell you love music. How did that come about? Started off as a child or is that a recent entry? 

Growing up in a Tamil Brahmin family, it’s hard to escape music. I grew up learning Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. I have ALWAYS been exposed to music and dance, but percussion has been my main draw.  When I was about 10 – I wanted to join “mridangam” classes, but it was a pretty male dominated thing to do, and multiple teachers refused to tutor a girl! So that was that. I ended up joining my high school marching band to get my percussion fix! 🙂 

Haha, I can totally relate to that! I am not Tamilian by birth, but have lived there and I know that it’s something that runs in your blood, and it’s actually a hugely envious trait, for the rest of the clans I mean! So this sounds like a natural progression of sorts. 
Percussion is amazing, and am not surprised but more shocked that the teachers would actually refuse you! Gosh, You showed them didn’t ya! 
So tell me, did you figure out why percussion? 

Percussion is fascinating to me. It’s very mathematical (and I love numbers!) in a sense, and timing is everything.  Also, when playing the drums, you are expressing yourself, and you literally forget about everything else at the time. The energy is fabulous, and invigorates me. 

I agree. The drum resonates deeply. 
I know we can all google, but tell us about Batala. What sort of drumming is it, and origins? 

The music that we play is from Salvdaor, in Brazil. In Salvdaor, music is literally everywhere. There are multiple street parades (called blocos) – and the music is basically the evolution of the drumming methods brought to Brazil in the 18th and 19th century by West African slaves. There’s a lot of history to the music we play.The all-women Batala Washington percussion group started in June 2007 in Washington DC, and is part of the International Batala group that plays Afro-Brazilian / Samba-Reggae rhythms.
There are over 20 Batala bands around the world – in the US, France, England, Spain, Brazil, Belgium…etc. It’s a big family!

That sounds super fascinating. But you are right, when I think South America, the vision is that of free styling, happy folks engaged in music, singing or drums and one thing that stays is that they all look so happy! That’s such a positive thing for a group to project. Love it. 
So, how did you fall upon this band? 

In 2011 my husband and I bought a condo and moved to the Ust neighborhood in DC. As luck would have it, Batala played a show in my neighborhood within a week of my moving! The minute I saw them – I knew I had to join them! I literally found my groove with them after seeing them that day. Seeing 70 women playing drums is powerful!

U bet! Isn’t that wonderful? Things just come together, when one is ready for it huh? 🙂 
So you’ve been with the band a few years now, tell me how this has changed or shaped you? 

Drumming in general to me is powerful, even more so as a girl. You forget about everything else when you are drumming – so it’s a great stress reliever, and a mental stimulator. Playing for 3-4 hours is also good physical exercise – it’s draining, but you are so wired from the stimulation, it’s almost like a “high”!
Batala Washington is all female –which brings about a different kind of energy and support!
Also, we got to play a show that opened for The Rolling Stones – can’t beat that!

All female is excellent! I belong to an all female biking group, and the fun, strong atmosphere is such a thriving atmosphere to be in. Has its perks definitely 🙂 Also one day you must send a video of you girls to all those tutors who refused you! 😉 
Rolling Stones! Wow Indeed! 
It must be a lot of fun and hard work am sure? 

Playing with Batala is a LOT OF FUN, and if you are not having fun, it’s hard to keep up the commitment. At the same time, it’s also challenging. You are constantly trying to improve your skills, learn another drum, recognize the nuances in the music and the beats…it’s a constant learning and improvement process.
We also get to play at really cool and interesting venues, events – exposing me to a lot of things that I otherwise may not have come across. 



YES! I agree. Work Hard, Play Hard always works. As long as we are challenged, and there is constant growth, interest and commitment sticks. What fine perks you have! 🙂 
So tell me how many hours a week you meet, what’s your time commitment to this? 

It’s definitely a big time and energy commitment. We spend about 5 hours weekly (Saturday mornings) or rehearsing as a group, and of course we have shows that we are all involved in. We are also an all volunteer band, which means we are involved in teams in the band and all contribute time to organizing shows, or managing the costumes and instruments, or doing PR etc.Currently I co-lead the production team, which is basically responsible for responding to show requests, making sure shows are set up and logistics on day of show. We have a number of teams and everyone in the band is encouraged to join one – if possible.

There are social commitments as well – with almost 80 people in the group, there is always a birthday, or a happy hour, or something! It’s up to you to manage your time and energy though – if you really want to do it, you will find a way. I have it easy – but there are women in the band who are in school, who have kids in school, so it’s a lot harder for them, but everyone is just so passionate about it, and you make it work. You want it to work.

Thank you for re-iterating what I also believe and tell folks all the time. If you want something bad enough, you will make time for it! The enthusiasm levels is what makes a group successful, and this is great that you girls have it together. Wonderful! 
Do you think this drumming is for anyone to try? Is there a personality that would do better? Let’s say, should we be musical or trained for someone to try Batala?

Absolutely for everyone! I believe that it gives you a different persona when you are drumming, especially with a group of other women! Introverts, extroverts, musically inclined, not so inclined – there really is something for everyone, as long as you want it!

Yay! One of these days I’ll probably try it too. Am getting all enthused just watching a few of those videos you sent! So with all this time commitment and practice, I bet you had to give up a lot too? 🙂 

Haha, yes, no more late Friday nights! In all seriousness, my husband has been a great support – since it does take a huge chunk of time, time away from him. And time away from friends too. My friends are also always supportive and come cheer us on in many shows. I don’t think of it as a sacrifice – but more that I have really found something that is truly satisfying, and am glad to have all the support I do!

It’s awesome to have that support right? Pretty much all the women I’ve spoken with, have a spouse who is amazingly supportive in what they do. It works both ways, but without the men allowing us to be ourselves, reaching where we want to is hard. 
So, how diverse is this group? Have any one else from India or someone you can relate to? I know it doesn’t matter much, but for curiosity sakes? 

There is one other Indian in the group. But – never felt conscious or stood out – the group is EXTREMELY diverse and very welcoming. I like that it is also a different world of sorts, for me – and outside my regular circle of friends. 

Awesome! I agree. It’s refreshing too, isn’t it? 
Okay now share some funny incidents during this learning process. I bet there are a few, there have to be! 🙂 

Oh man, too many to count! To keep it kosher, I’ll give you a small example. When we were rehearsing for our show at the Rolling Stones concert, Mick Jagger (we call him Mick ;)) came out and said Hi – and all of us just stood there like lovestruck teenagers, in awe, and didn’t say a word. Not sure what he made of that…..We’ve also had a number of shows where my (drum) sticks fly off…or I make a HUGE and very evident mistake…it’s embarrassing, but it happens…and we laugh it off.

LOL! Mick eh? Yep, the aura of a super musician. I can see that happening with a few I admire. 🙂 
..and yes, sticks flying. That’s me definitely haha! 
As a parting shot, tell me where you see yourself, say a year or 5 years form now? Batala is here to stay? 

Honestly, I don’t really know. I am not a planner. I do however know that I want to and will keep doing it as long as I can. Once a Batalette, always a Batelette J

A few links:
WashPo article on Batala Washington. 
CCTV’s article on the Troupe and Founder. 

****
 
There you have it folks. If you have been reading the posts here, the one constant thread that you will find is ” Follow your heart and your passion” Just do. Don’t overthink. Happiness and Contentment is found in the journey when you follow what your heart tells you. 
 
If you are new, take a moment and read some of the earlier women I’ve profiled on here. Subscribe for a fortnightly “So, what’s your story” on meeting the next Ms.Chutzpah 😉 

 

Jackie Tury: Awakening The Arts

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
February 9, 2015
Today I introduce you to Jackie Tury, artist and social worker who found her calling in the creative arts while laying down in bed nursing a leg injury 8 years ago. From then to now, Jackie has gone on and not only learnt to paint and explore within the various mediums but she has also integrated her work in the social field and with a perfect marriage of the two, she has evolved into an artful awakening artist and teacher!I met Jackie at a yoga retreat last year, and during the 2 hour session with her, I reflected, thought and chose my colors and cut and painted and glued and created a piece of work that was uniquely me and a reflection of my mind and its various layers. I did this with her asking questions, and leading me (and others) through the process.
Most definitely a very different kind of art class, I thought in my head as I held on it driving back.
Arguably, and not surprisingly, am not the only one who thought so!
..and with good reason, Jackie enjoys this process and you can tell how much by just visiting her home, which I did, and here is why I think she is wonderfully inspiring, different and has something that each of you will take away at the end of this post!

Jackie Tury:  Artful Awakenings: Check her blog out!

So Jackie, tell me about painting. That’s a lot of paintings I see around the house. Is this a hobby since childhood, did you go through lessons? How did painting come about?

Jackie chuckles: Nope, it’s something I picked up when I was having this “mid-life crisis”. I had a leg injury just as I turned 40 and I had to stay in bed. I took that time to look within me and see what made me happy and what I could do with the time I had. Painting cropped up, coz well, it helps having a husband who is also into arts! You can see it everywhere here!” 

I see that! The paintings and art pieces jump at me, like literally, 3-D pieces too? His work?
Yes! He does, and remarkably so. He is a strong support. These are his pieces. 

She points to a huge pianist-on-the-wall piece. Incredible wall art that one can most definitely not ignore as you walk into the room!

So tell me more about your “reflective” period as you recovered from that leg injury?

Ok, so I used that time to sit back, and really evaluate myself in a positive way. To think back, reflect and weigh in on what made me happy, and it really helped that I was forced to just sit down, and so my mind wasn’t occupied with the daily work, but more on myself. It was an “awakening”. I looked at that period as one where I went through personal growth. It was like clearing the fog and knowing where I wanted to go to make me happy and content. 

I think I know the feeling. It probably could also be due to the age the stage we are in our lives? Somehow when we allow it, things just seem to fall into place? When there’s a quiet within us, clarity floats in.
So you went to some classes and learnt the basics of painting?
Yes I did. It helped to go through a formal class, and it refined how I looked at paints. I was very happy and very gleefully kept painting and soon the house was flooded with my canvases and I was getting teased by the family. It was fun! I just kept painting, and then since the place was getting overwhelming, I started and with great difficulty accepted the idea that I could actually sell and did. A few pieces. 
It was hard. She added with a pause. That’s my biggest obstacle, how to sell or put a price on something as creative and hands-on as a painting. 
 
It is, and am beginning to believe that you are not the only woman who feels that way. Many say that. It’s an intrinsic block I suppose, one that we all need to make an effort to cross, and we will!
How would you describe your paintings? I see them and they don’t just look like paintings, they seem more tangible than just paint dried on a canvas. Am I even asking that right?
She laughs. I think my paintings are whimsical. That’s my style, most likely. I like to bring in things that mean something to me and add that in. A piece of cloth, paper, writing, jewel, sand, I work that into the painting, and make it an art work, it isn’t a painting anymore. 
 
How interesting! I noticed that, definitely piques interest and makes it very personal?
I’d like to think so. For folks who have worked with me and when I walk them through their art piece, they each create a unique piece that speaks to them in a way that is both therapeutic and cathartic. That’s how I originally started this program called Mother Nurture. 
 
Mother Nurture? Like an art class?
 
Yes, and No. As in, it is a program that I developed with my Social work background. It was after I discovered how much healing I got from painting, and I felt the need and also realized that there were others who could and would benefit from this, and so I decided to spread that joy. That’s how Mother Nurture was founded. I was already working with a few professionals and therapists because of my work in that area, so I added in this element of using the paint medium to make for healing and growth. It worked great, truly was an awakening. So, each week it was about a different emotion/feeling/discovery we worked on. Positive and uplifting was the goal. To rediscover parts of you through arts. 
 
Wow! That must have been so gratifying!
Yes it was and I loved that there are enough folks who actually benefit from it. That’s when I got more confident and realized that I, perhaps had something of use to give to people out there, and that there was a need for such therapy and finding oneself through painting and art! 
We had moved homes then and I went back to work, so things were a bit on the back burner and I took my time, and started again after a few months, and basically exploded! I realized I had the space (at home) and I had the talent, and I knew a few girlfriends were interested, so I told myself, “It’s now or never, so let me go run classes and just have fun!
Walking through Jackie’s very cozy brightly lit walk out basement art room, I cannot help smile at the whimsy and the creative air I am wrapped in. Tidy and organized, the stringed lights, the mirrors on the walls, the old comfy couch all together bring comfort and a quiet. Precisely the environment someone would want to go take a trip deep into themselves, an atmosphere that nurtures.
Which is what Jackie encourages.
The whole thing came to a full circle when Jackie put the Mother Nurture program and the arts together and it was a fresh new perspective that people loved! They were creating something so unique and personal and no two paintings from the same class looked alike
     
Fantastic, isn’t it great when you can visualize the birth of an idea? I can positively see you glow when you talk about your baby! Tell me how the growth was and are you happy with where you are?
Jackie laughs: It brings me such joy to talk about painting! Painting is of course different from selling your paints which is also different from teaching painting, as I discovered. Each requires a different way of thinking and chartering and that is hard and takes effort. But I suppose when you love what you do, things have a way of falling into place. I started teaching slowly, and I love my monthly classes at home, and there is a good turnout and am happy with that. One day I eventually hope to bring out a book putting all the learning together.

What was your biggest hurdle or challenge you face on a daily basis, that intrudes into your painting and what you want to do? Made any sacrifices or things that you feel guilty or bad about?

Well, my husband is a huge support to me and I am thankful for him. Has helped that he is also into arts and he understands that this makes me happy and so he takes care of our girls when I have to be elsewhere. For instance, when I had my first art show, my husband could not be there, an that was hard, but that’s the way it had to be. So was the time when my daughter had a fall and her nose hurt and I was not in town but at a retreat doing my art class. So yes, it’s a constant juggle, but I think it helps prioritizing and having a supportive partner who can stand in for you. 

How do you stay motivated? It is easy to get bogged down by routine.

As far as arts is concerned, I don’t need extremal motivation. I get my ideas from surrounding myself with nature, seeing new things, taking pictures etc. I am addicted to painting, and I get antsy if I don’t, so that’s good. But, as a businesswoman, that part requires work. Jackie chuckles. I have to work on that part, as that doesn’t come naturally. Trying to streamline most of it, so I don’t have to consciously do it all! 
Since money is such an icky subject, it has helped that I set up an online payment, so I don’t have very many cancellations, and also that money and payments are taken care of without addressing it consciously. Many women are juggling roles, that it is hard for them to take 3 hours for themselves! 

What are the three things that describe your work?

1. Therapeutic. 
2. Artist growth 
3. The process is larger than the product. 

These are power wish paintings that my clients create in the three hours they spend with me. 

***



If there is one thing that you take away from Jackie, it is that we find ourselves at the most unexpected time and mostly when we are not looking. It is never late to start and if there is even a hint of a fire burning within you, you owe it to yourself to run with it. 

Liked this post? Hit next and read about the other ladies Ive spoken with. There’s something to glean from every one of them. I promise. 🙂

Black Belt and Marathon: Serial Achiever Sheetal

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
January 26, 2015
We start the new year off with someone who has accomplished goals with a dogged determination and ones that took some dedicated persistence over long periods of time. With unflagging practice, Sheetal Rawat has followed her childhood dream of earning her black belt at the age of 42 after working on it for 5 years. She then went ahead ran a marathon.

 

Yep.

 

 

I’ve known Sheetal awhile, and only over the past few years have we gotten close enough for me to watch her with an air of awe and wonder. I can’t walk fast for nuts (coz of my knee) and here she was running marathons and kicking ass (maybe even literally!).

 

For the most part, thanks to Facebook, there is enough and more of everyone’s accolades hitting us at super byte speeds every time we open the app. It’s reached masochistic tendencies for some. To open, watch someone be happy for something they’ve achieved or celebrate and then instinctively look back on their lives and well, you know how that goes down the drain. It’s morbidly entertaining when you sit back and watch!

 

So, what we do see is the icing on the cake. The final ‘aha’ crowning moment. The tip of the iceberg. What we don’t see is the huge massive amount of personal effort and struggles that laid the foundation for the tip to shine through to you.
Is it worth it?
Heck yeah!
How do I know? Well, I know just like you do. You and I will together learn in this very space what it takes to become the very best that *you* want to become.

 

I sat down with Sheetal (over a period of time) and this is what I have for you.
Read on.
Get inspired. Fan that fire within.
Spread the joy and inspiration.

 



So, Sheetal, here’s how I see you. You hold a full time job, have two actively engaged kids and then there are the dinners and social events that you most likely are obligated to attend. Your downtime and weekends are precious to you. And you tell me you have TWO huge physically empowering achievements under your belt (literally too perhaps).
I have one question. How?

 

Sheetal grins sheepishly. “Honestly? I don’t know. I just did!”

 

Haha, okay, let’s start from the beginning. You say Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. That’s impressive. So, when did you start? Why TKD and not karate?

 

I did karate for one year when I was 11 years old in my home town. I loved doing it then and earned a yellow belt. The classes were next to my house so it was easy to attend, then the instructor moved and my parents were not ready to send me far out. Since then I always had an inkling to start but then college and job never made it happen. My son joined Taekwondo in 2009 and thats when my husband asked me if i would like to try too coz he knew that it was something I always liked. So i joined the adult class right here in the neighborhood.  

 

How long did it take for you to get to black belt?
I started in Jan 2009 and got the black belt in May 2013

 

Wow! That’s a long time! 4 years. Did you ever feel like giving up?
Actually I never felt like giving up. I always wanted to be a black belt and keeping that goal in mind, did not take a single break after I joined in Jan 2009. I guess I was worried that history may repeat itself!

 

So what made you keep going on a daily? Surely, some days are harder and it is very tempting to give up or fall into a break?
My Taekwondo instructors Mr. Faleski and Mr. Dudla were the key motivating factors. They made the class so interesting and fun that I never got bored in so many years. Also as months passed by I made new friends in TKD. We started having outside TKD parties and had a nice set of girl friends. When you are having fun with the activity and also share it with others who become friends, it never gets boring.

 

So, this earning the black belt was quite important to you.
Yes! Childhood dream I suppose.
   
How would you say this helped you? Physically am sure it was strenuous, mentally? Was there a difference you saw in yourself?
In TKWD we do kicks, punches, stretching, jumping etc. This helps in building cardiovascular strength and also toning of muscles. I gradually got really toned and flexible. It felt so good feeling the difference in my body over time.
Taekwondo helped me relieve stress. On stressful days, I made sure I attended the class. After 85 minutes of class I would be completely relaxed. The practice of Taekwondo has also greatly increased my ability to concentrate and has taught me how to focus my mental and physical energy. It is true what they say about focus!

 

Isn’t it amazing how one activity actually helps all around! How did you feel when you were given that black belt?
Very happy, and a sense of completion. It was my childhood dream coming true.

 

So they say work-life balance and we do know it’s hard when a woman has to play and juggle equally well many roles in just one day even. How did you juggle?
Well, work was work. Evenings, and weekends, were when I needed support, and thanks to my husband Suk, who helped at home and with the kids, or this would not have been possible! Both the kids were also enrolled in TKD, so everyone knew what it takes.

 

Isn’t that fabulous? I love it when the family is involved in an activity. There’s proven research that kids emulate and adore parents and the bond is stronger when there is a physical (or intellectual) activity that they are both involved in. What a fantastic way to show that taking care of yourself physically and setting a goal is how one achieves things in life, without lectures I mean! 🙂
Yes! I did not start off to teach or get the kids to follow me, but then I realize how much they value and support me when I do get on such goals! So it’s nice yes, I can relate to what they are saying as I am also doing what they are, so there is understanding and it’s a lot of fun.

 

 

Awesome! Is there any one particular person who was your inspiration?
My dad.
When I was a growing up my dad  and I watched a lot of karate and Kung Fu movies. He always said that girls should know and be good at self defense. That’s why he enrolled me in karate class. He was not very happy that it stopped back then, but when I joined here again he was thrilled.  He told me to complete it this time. I just had to.

 

We could probably file this under things daughters do for their dads to be proud of them! Alright. So all you did was show up at every class and keep at it and after 5 persistent years, the black belt was yours! Kudos! 🙂

 

With that down in May 2013, you were already eyeing your next goal, and that was the Marathon. Let’s talk about that. Where did running come from?
Marine Corps 2013. That was the goal.
Running really just started as fun activity. Few of my friends registered for Rock and Roll marathon in VA beach in 2005…So I decided to try it out. I had my second child in May 2004 and wanted to get rid of the weight that I had put on. Since the plan was to meet every Saturday and practice long distance walk/run, I decided I could do it.
   
I’ve always imagined one must be fairly fit or athletic to start jogging! How fit must you be to start running?
Frankly speaking u just need to be mentally disciplined to start running. Everything just falls into place. Initially a person does not need to run. Just interval of walk and run is good enough. As long as there no severe back issues or knee issues, anybody can walk or run.. The trick is to stay consistent with the routine.
For example; my first half marathon was all walk. Then I started with the 2 mins walk and 2 min run interval. Eventually I progressed to all run.

 

Ah, see, now you give even me hope! Always nice to hear from folks how they went about doing it. So did you have a particular program or group u trained with?

 

Initially for 2 years I trained with my colleagues. We met every Saturday or Sunday and ran on W&OD. Later I decide to run by myself coz that saved my 1 hr  driving time . I pulled out a half marathon prep sheet from the internet and customised it to my schedule and then followed it all the way till the race day.

 

Wait, you did this alone? You just printed a sheet, and got your shoes on and started running?

 

Sheetal laughs: Yep, just me, alone.
One can train by themselves for half marathon. Full marathon is a completely different story. Since the training period is longer (almost 4-5 months of training is reqd) and also the distance is longer, a training group helps. A friend was already part of a group that trained for marathon, and I joined them.

 

Hmm.. how did this come about though? Another long term goal to achieve?
Yeah, so I ran 5 half marathons between 2005 – 2012…So then I realised that half marathon was not a challenge at all, it was all too familiar. Logical next step was to do a full marathon. I always looked at the car stickers of 26.2 and said to myself one day I need to do this. It was just another goal to achieve, and things just fell into place once I found the group to train with.

 

Super! Run me through a typical day of training? What’s it like?

So this is how a week looks when you are training. I used to run one long distance on Sunday morning. My group organizer would decide where to run and how many miles. Every Sunday was a different location and diff number of miles to cover…Interesting run was when I ran 18 miles at C&O canal. Training runs were usually early morning, start before 7 am!

After the run, drive back home, stretch for 30 minutes. After that eat a good protein diet for muscle repair.  Monday was rest day. Tuesday and Friday I would run 4-5 miles. Also on Wed I would do yoga for 1 hr so that my leg muscles would get good stretch.

 

Where do u get the motivation to wake up at 5 and step out into the cold?

The full marathon medal and the bumper sticker of 26.2  was the motivation. I needed to prove myself that I could do it…Also I realized while I was practicing, my fitness levels were just great. Before I started running, I always used to fall sick due to allergies. Since I started running, my immunity has increased and allergies have drastically reduced. My energy levels were high! It felt so good. Seeing this change in health, I was determined to train every day.

Also my dear husband and kids were my biggest motivators. Never once did Suk, my husband complain that I would disappear for 4-6 hrs every Sunday morning. Also kids were very proud that their mom was training for full marathon

 

Super mom! But I bet does take considerable effort doesn’t it? To stay on track? How important is mental strength?
Running a complete marathon is all about mental strength. After around 20 miles, most of them will have some amount of pain. It is at that moment where mental strength comes in play. Your body is constantly signalling you that you are tired. But mentally you need to visualise the finish line. You need to focus away from pain on to your breathing. You need to keep talking to yourself that just a few miles more and you can stop with the medal around your neck.
Also the running time was my “ME time”. It felt nice to get that time alone running all by myself.  If anytime I was upset with anything, I would go for a run. It cleared my mind completely. Guess that’s what they mean by exercise and endorphins 🙂

 

Was there a time when your body or our mind were so drained that you said, Ok, am done, am giving up?
No I did not….Once decided, then it has to be done.  she states matter of factly. Like that was even a choice!

 

All goals come with some sacrifices. What did you give up?
Oh yes! All the Saturday night parties. The great food and wine, I was and am a social drinker anyway, so it wasn’t that hard, but I gave up 3 months while I trained. I made sure that I slept by 11 pm latest on Saturday night as I had to be up 5:30 am to go a practice run on Sunday. Also the diet. I had to watch what I ate. Carbs on the day before the run and protein diet after the run.

 

It is a mind thing isn’t it? Once we switch it off in our head, the body follows. Awesome! So what’s your next goal?
She grins: Yes, yes it is. No goals in sight yet, am looking to see what appeals to me next. You’ll know 😉

 

Haha, fair enough. What is your message to ones who are on the fence? Especially ones who want to but are worried they would be hurt or they think they can’t fit it into their lifestyle?
Take it slow and do not give up. The biggest mistake most women do is that we decide to start running on day one, at high speed. Then we are not able to cope up with it and then give up. Best way is to go slow. Increase distance as you feel comfortable, and then work on speed. Life will happen and will continue on, one must pay attention to your heart and mind and do what makes you happy and proud of yourself.

 

There is a reward at the end of that journey right? And it’s just not that medal?
Absolutely! The reward is the sense of satisfaction and achievement. It increases your self confidence and most important increase in endurance, stamina which eventually boosts your health, and let’s face it, our generations will live long, and we have to be independant and be on our own, so fitter we are the better for us.
This is a picture of me finishing the Marine Corps marathon in 2013. You can tell how happy I was!

 

 

So, it is worth it?
Absolutely! Especially for all Indian ladies who are always busy running after kids and managing the home front. They hardly take out time for themselves. Running or walking gives them that time for themselves. This is so important for mental and physical health
I would suggest ladies who are on fence, start with a 5K and eventually do a 10 miler  or half marathon is worth it. It is a stepping ladder for full marathon and your own happiness!

 

***

 

So, there you go. Fitness is happiness. You and you and you can do it. Only thing stopping is YOU. Yeah? 🙂

 

Have someone who has inspired you in any way? Message me either here or on Facebook or just fill in the contact form here! Every woman has a power that’s waiting to unleash, and while you are getting that cape on, you surely want to help another sister climb up and see her own potential?

 

If you’ve enjoyed this: click through and read about other remarkable successful women on the blog!

 

 

Rhythmaya And Nirathi: Bollywood Dance

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
January 15, 2015
Continuing on with the Wednesday feature – interviews and showcasing influential women of our area, today’s spotlight shines on Nirathi the Director of Rhythmaya Ive known Nirathi since she moved into the area, fresh out of college and went to the same Indian dance school to learn Kuchipudi. She is one of those who leaves an impression on you when you meet her. Vivacious and always smiling, Ive never seen her tired or down, and is always up for a challenge, outing and some talk. When I think back, I doubt Ive ever seen her angry, upset, with anyone or anything and always seems to be in control or at least in ever adapting mode to the changing world and situations we are thrown in. Patience and bigger picture acceptance and recognition form the pillars of how she runs her life and company, and I have always admired her through the last 13 years Ive known her.She is inspirational, from the way she charts her course and how she manages and juggles home, work and how determined she is to make it through her goals to get to where she wants to be. To turn a passion into something tangible takes more than just talent and a dream, and Nirathi definitely has it figured out, for the most part, at that young age!

The interview below is long, but I assure you is worth every bit, so do read on!

Nirathi Rao: Director of Rhythmaya

Contact: Rhythmaya (Website)

leadership-nirathi-373x159

Alright Nirathi, let’s start off from the beginning! Tell us where you are originally from: 

My parents hail from Andhra Pradesh, India and settled in Alabama in 1968. They lived with so many challenges: Racism, low income, learned the ways of a new country with a newborn and no available ‘daal’ to cook (their biggest adjustment!). But they look back on those days as an adventure, not sadness. That is what makes them amazing people: positive and selfless individuals who helped so many people even in their difficult times. These were the values I was raised on.

I was born in a city called Huntsville. When my parents first moved there, it was about 20 Indian Families and my dad was the president of the Small Cultural Association they formed. By the time I graduated high school, it grew to 100s of families but everyone still knew each other’s name, and that is the true beauty of the south—genuine hospitality that came in all forms and from every nationality which habituated there. 

Okay, so tell us about your schooling and how you landed in Virginia from Alabama?  

I majored in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, something my dad ‘let’ me venture into as opposed to the regular pre-med and engineering paths most of my peers followed. It was my dream to be that CNN Anchorwoman.  I thoroughly enjoyed attaining this degree for four years-from being in Campus News TV to running behind a cameraman catching stories at my ABC Network internships. After college graduation, my parents moved Northern Virginia for their jobs and I joined them and looked to Capitol Hill for my first gig.

 I luckily landed a Press Job working for a Florida Senator and Presidential Candidate for two years. It was an intense time of life, learning so much about the real world and what actually goes into News and Politics was hard for me, I was not sure how long I could last in that environment but still so thankful for the experience.

Since I was single and chilling on the weekends and finally moved to an area where the Indian Arts was heavy, I explored dance schools and joined Kalamandapam led by reknowned artist, Smt. Mrinalani Sadananda, and instantly fell in love with the fluid movement and expression of Kuchipudi. After participating in several dance dramas with Kalamandpam, it was like I could stop searching for my soul-It was right there within the art.

During this span of two years, I started to teach Bollywood to teens and children on the side for community functions. Then I realized, I lived for the weekends not to sleep in and have Sunday-Funday with my other 20-something friends, but because I felt most alive by teaching the art to young people. I knew it was the path meant for me at the time, regardless of the salary cut I was about to take.

Have you always danced as a kid? How did it start? Do you remember? 

Kamal Haasan’s Sagara Sangamam released in the early 80s and I was a mere 3 year old dancing on the coffee table trying to copy his every move. My mom frantically searched for aunties in our community to help us “copy the movie” but not too many people were available. Eventually my sister Pallavi, 5 years my senior and a pretty moody teen, somehow agreed to teach me my first dance and I am ever so appreciative.

So what Ive noticed is that you are very current with movies and even remember really old ones (from way back when I was a kid!). How much do you think Tollywood or movies has had an influence on your dance and passion?

 Tollywood is no Bollywood, it is just now gaining that glamorous effect as it entered the 21st century. Before, it was considered “nerdy” by the American Born Desi, but I have always loved actors like NTR and ANR and particularly their dance moves But in the 80s, they would do some wacky things, costume and steps wise! I think it was those people that took my choreography creativity to another level, you can move your body anyway you want, and if you have swag, you can pull it off. That’s what those “nerdy” men taught me.

Then I was ecstatic as the heroes got better and better looking: Nagarjun and Chiranjeevi ruled my teens and then of course Mahesh Babu having no mustache really put a spin on telugu movies! 🙂

 So the answer is yes, the changing times of Tollywood has a had a great influence on me. Whether it is a traditional K. Viswanathan song or a meaningless modern item song, I have always opened my mind up to look at what was on the screen as “art” .

Nirathi

 Movies always have some impact on us and I agree! So now coming to the studio, dance school – forming Rhythmaya – tell us the story. How and where did the seed happen?

So my co-worker Mihira Patel and I were sitting at our desks one day at work in 2005 and she saw me busily typing an email to all my students about the upcoming Ugadi function. And she said to me “wouldn’t it be cool if we could just open a dance school?” and together, we embarked on a new journey.

Group

 Just like that huh? Sweet! Best things in life usually just spark into us. So the name’s interesting. Is there a story behind that? 

 I have always loved the word “Rhythm”, I believe a Tamil movie was named Rhythm and when I heard that, I thought, what a pretty name, maybe I can name my daughter “Rhythm” Of course, Jay would not have that. So when Mihira suggested something with “Maya” since it’s a word westerners could relate to, I decided to put my “Rhythm fix” to the school’s name and combined the two words as “Rhythmaya”. So, co-founder Mihira Patel and I came up with that together.

How many years now?

We began in 2005, so 8 years

Really? 8? Wow, time does fly! So every business or organization has milestones. Personal and industry, what do you think yours and Rhythmaya’s are? 

2005, we held our first classes in people’s basement. Ashburn and Falls Church were our branches.

2006, we got our first gig as a troupe at Cherry Blossom Festival and were ecstatic

2007, we landed a front page picture in the Arts section of the Washington Post performing a fusion dance at Howard University’s Homecoming

2007, the Washington DC Convention center hosts the Telugu Association of North America and 100 dancers shine on stage with a colorful decades piece of Tollywood

2008, through NetSAP DC, we performed our first semi-classical piece, “Natya’s Evolution” at the Kennedy Center

2009, the Troupe produces its first message piece “Bhoomi’s Tribe” about saving the environment and with a first place win at the Legg Mason Asian Festival, we decide our mission is “art for a cause” meaning, whatever troupe does from now on will have a message and aim to perform for nonprofits and charitable causes

2010, we hold our first of many Annual Charity events, it snowed on that day but we managed to pull in 200 people in the audience to benefit Hope for Humanity of DC and since then, we have been a sold out showcase every April trying to manage crowds of 500 plus. We have also been involved with many Indian and local DC charities since our mission had become clear in 2009.

2011, the Ashburn Branch hits 150 students

2012, Madame Toussads wax museum of DC asks us to be the show opener for the unveiling of their Bollywood Stars, a very high profile Media Event since it was the first time South Asian Actors were recognized in the museum

2013, Rhythmaya Franchises out to Rockville and opens up a Kathak branch, finally ventures into classical dance after years of thinking about it!

2013, the Troupe performs “Raksha” message piece about Lord Shiva saving the world with the arts for Congress at a Capitol Hill Event

Troupe

Fabulous!! So all these milestones are obviously with a ton of planning, creating and hard work! How do you manage all of this juggling? 

Well my hours are flexible because I run my own business but I do follow the schedule very strictly once I have created it.

 For example, 8 AM to 3 PM on weekdays is completely dedicated to administrative duties for the school (making music, communicating with parents, arranging for performances) and also for Household chores and errands, cooking and working out (the last thing is SO hard to do but Hot Yoga makes everything more exciting)

 Then 3 PM to 6 PM is completely dedicated to my kids after school pick up, this includes their homework time, mommy playtime and after school activities

Dubai

 6 to 9 PM on the weeknights (Monday to Thursday) is dedicated to class time

 Friday nights is family night or night out with my friends, the latter only happens once in awhile , I’m pretty sure facebook makes it look like I go out a lot more than that haha but you know it has a way of glorifying our experiences as you say Rads! 🙂 

Kalavapudi Family Portrait

 Saturdays we will do one social activity and then try our best to have one meal at home with just the four of us. This becomes really challenging, its really really hard for a person like me to decline fun invites, but its about prioritizing. Also, Sat night is performance night in high seasons like Diwali etc, but I do what I can. I’ll go to the performance, get the students through it then race home to be with the family. 

Wow! Okay, so the secret is to create a schedule and stick to it, like your life depended on it! Is that how you manage an active social life as well? (Yes, blame Facebook ;-))

I organize weekly schedule for me and the two girls and strictly follow it, put it in the google calendar and share with whoever is involved that week: be it Jay, my parents, my in laws, sisters, my baby-sitters or my neighbors.

 I think taking breaks is really important too. Even if I lose some sleep, I put the kids to bed and watch some junk tv to wind down for the night (hindi serials and Drama TV can really help a girl out!)

 Other ways to take break include: inviting a girlfriend over after the kids are in bed on a weeknight and just catch up with them. Adult interaction is so key for sanity and virtual communication like Gchat and Facebook don’t count. Most important thing is getting it into the calendar and make it happen.  

And most importantly, always believe you deserve the break, don’t feel guilty for taking some time away from your family and work.  Especially when this includes cleaning up a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Remember, you will be better at your job and your family duties if you are refreshed and have the extra sugar calories in your system once in a blue moon.

 Awesome! So essentially, you are saying there is a well entwined support system around you, and with your scheduling, it all meshes in together? Yes? 

Oh yes, I get a lot of support from my parents, in laws, my sisters, my aunt and my neighbors are all really good people. The kids are older now where I can put them in a car and take them to performances and classes but there are enough people who take pleasure in being with them rather than me dragging them out of their set day.

 My husband Jay is really supportive of my endeavors. He runs his own business too and I think one of the reason he supports me the most is not just because he sees that following my passion makes me a happier and more fun wife :-),

It’s also because he is very ambitious himself and he has a strong belief in constantly renewing goals for success and never ever for a moment, have I seen him get lazy. It is really inspiring. He will come home at 8 or 9 PM, pretty late, they ONLY want dad and that’s what makes him amazing! But what works between us is the scheduling: bottom line is, I don’t have a day job and he doesn’t have a night and weekend job. So he does night and Sunday duty and has trained the girls to watch NFL with him. This leaves the golden question: when do Jay and Nirathi get to spend time together? Haha.

Family!

 My parents and in-laws are fantastic individuals. Never once have they asked me what the heck I was doing and why didn’t I return to my job on the hill. Okay that’s a lie, I think my mom asked a few years ago when she was volunteering for the Obama campaign, when I was returning to the hill, and I said well its kind of not the right time with the girls growing up. When Natya was born, my mom was around a lot when I returned to teach after my maternity leave. She is a really a bubbly individual with an infectious personality, people just want to hang around her always and she picks out  all our costumes, her fashion sense is beyond her time and she always can see the future with what looks best 🙂

 Taking on a new partner, Sheila Oak, has alleviated a lot of my stress. She has a day job as a financial consultant but manages to really work hard with me on the weekends. She never says “I don’t have the time”, she always finds a way to make the time and I think everyone should have that attitude. It is great to have someone to confide in about our line of work, it is certainly not easy to pass up weekend social activity as the rest of our peers are at brunch, lunch whatever it may be. I’m just glad I know someone as crazy as me now to relate to!

Am smiling knowing how encouraging and blessed you must be with the kind of people that are your pillars! So, just with anything else, ether are challenges and decisions one must take as you go along doing your thing. What are your challenges running your own show and tell us how do you handle them?

So there are a few: 

1. Bollywood is no longer a PG rated genre and receives so much criticism from our traditional society. The lyrics and choreography are sometimes extremely inappropriate and it is my job to create a filter and make good judgement calls on what to teach our students. Bollywood can get repetitive, the same hip shaking step can get old but again,  it is my job to keep it unique and I will try to find different angles and themes to keep the children and audiences engaged during our shows. While Bollywood has headed in a more ‘westernized’ direction, you can still dig deep and find beautiful stories and songs which keep traditions alive. At the end of the day, Bollywood is not going anywhere and big stars like Shahrukh and Kajol, have more influence on us than we think, so we should just embrace the good (and the butterflies they give us) and do the best we can with it.

2. You really have to pick and choose your venues carefully, like you work so hard, both you and the students and you want to go to places where the audience appreciates your efforts. But then, you have parents who want you to perform at certain places that might not be at the standards just mention. So in a business like Bollywood-Tollywood Dance, you have to find a draw a certain balance in making the client (parent) happy and the student appreciated.

3. Discipline and Responsibility. Well, you have to make deadlines for yourself instead of someone else doing that for you and that gets hard, cause you can put them off forever, so you always have to be ‘on’ and responsible. And you have constantly make your own plan and not follow instructions of anyone else. I mean that is a good thing definitely, but sometimes its nice to take orders….or not. 

4. I miss having co-workers to go eat lunch with. I am a one-man show and only see Sheila and the other troupe members once a week, not daily. Working from your home computer is not always the funnest!

That’s true, I agree. There is a whole social interaction that we miss when we work form home, and it takes a fair amount of self-discipline and perseverance to not fall off the path. You’ve been doing this for give or take 8 years! How do you feel when you look back? Is Rhythmaya where you want it to be? Have you stuck to your goal and path? 

Yes I am really happy about what Rhythmaya has become, a school where children not only dance and link to their culture but a place of mentorship and safety within a world we are trying to make more peaceful. I think the community we have created is the safest thing a child can lean on when in trouble. We still have such a long way to go in improving our strategies and growth with our new branches and franchises. But I am today, a happy person, a good wife and mom (I think) and I manage to keep up relationships with the wonderful wonderful people who surround me.

Group2

Are you one of those constantly dreaming up and working towards new challenges in a road map or do you adapt, take and tweak what comes to you?

Yes, I think a life with challenges can get exhausting and possible give me a coronary at the age of 40 but a life without it would be very boring for both me and Jay with our normal lives as well as our businesses. As for Rhythmaya, Sheila Oak and the other Senior members Shriya Kothur and Madhuri Giri constantly keep me on my feet with their unique themes and ideas.

Are you a planner to the tee? I know you schedule and prioritize, but you know am talking about taking it to the next level of OCD 🙂 

Actually no. I think I am nothing like a Type A personality and more like Type Creative (ie scatter brained)

I have tried my best to improve with that. Finally started shifting my life into outlook calendars and such but the best Ideas come to me while scribbling on an ugly scratch sheet of paper! Jay and Type A’s like my sister Pallavi constantly criticize my lack of planning skills, but I think my energy levels to commit to the actual work makes it a win-win situation at the end.

Of course, it’s all a balance! Professionally, where do you see yourself going? What’s next for Rhythmaya? Say in a year’s time, in 5 years time?

I would love to continue to do what we do with our students by motivating them to grow up to become confident and strong individuals. I want my students to be proud of spreading their culture and maintain their unique identity as Indian-Americans. If I have the capacity to dream further, I think more gigs in downtown DC like Smithsonian type places, downtown NYC (directing one show or one dance piece on Broadway would definitely complete my heart’s desires) , grow our dance audience and student population to clientele outside of Indian-Americans is especially important to us, especially with the Bollywood frenzy around our society It’s the new Salsa!

What are your proudest moments as the director, as a teacher and as a performer? 

Reaching down for my parents blessings at the end of every Annual Charity Show. Everything that happens on and off that stage is because of their beautiful journey as immigrants in this giving country.

A child beaming after a performance makes me the most proud, they have one more dose of confidence to live their life with a free spirit and with no fear as challenges approach them. Any hand written thank you card from a student makes my heart melt. When we gather socially with the students for holiday events, the way the kids all bond outside of dance and form friendships makes me proud.   

A student’s father said to me “Just like I talk about Tendulkar, my daughter talks about you”, pretty intense comparison but I appreciated the compliment, very nice thing to say to someone….

Kalavapudi Family Portrait

 ***

Was that fun to read or what? Inspired? Did you go ‘wow, that IS a lot of work” and “how cool it must be do choreograph and teach dance all day?”

It was an absolute pleasure getting to know Nirathi and how she ticks and works to create and establish such a fabulous school and to make a difference in so many children’s lives!

 

…AND We Are Back In 2015!

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
January 10, 2015
So we are 20 full days into the New Year and am not sure about you, but am still tingling with the excitement of the newness of it all. Helps that it’s winter, coz the cold air always spelled freshness and gives me goose pimples.

I know what you thinking!
No, it is NOT because of the cold, but it’s because of the anticipation of achievements, goals, and the possibilities that can be achieved by our dreams that we dare to dream!

Don’t you think?

The old one is gone. 
The checklist is withered and scratched off.
The choice of whether one wants to carry over some goals and not is entirely up to us to decide. 
That’s incredible. Just in itself, without any of the other fanfare or the societal conditioning that we would love to lay this on. 
So, long story short, am back. 
*waits for the round of applause to die down* 
*grins* 
Yes! 

I shall continue bringing you some exquisitely ordinary woman who wield the power to harness their best. They are women who you will pass on the street or carpool with or will share a gym bike with. They are women who look just like you do. 

Suburban. Wife. Mom. Careers. Dreams. Sweatshirts. Kids. Juggling. Dreaming. Achieving. Mourning. Whining. Groaning. Gritting. ..and some more. 
These are the women who dare to follow their dreams, make the wisest choices under the circumstances and stick with it, despite all odds. They wear their invisible cape on their shoulders, and are always conscious of the ever so slight tug at the neck when things get rough and the wind is blowing strong and when the body teeters, but the strength of their mind holds them steady, while that cape gives them that anchor to keep sailing. 
Lots of exciting things to come your way, so hang on, coz that’s what am doing!
..and if you are new around here, and have no clue what am talking about, here are some previous posts and ladies that are worth reading about.

Nirathi. 
Lakshmi and Aruna 
Karen 

Inspiring in the simple ways they talk and teach us, I hope you will tune in weekly to read and share and draw from the words and the people that I introduce you to, right here.
Subscribe, just so it’s more convenient in one of the following ways: 
Monday. 
Every Monday with a post that will make you think. 
And I’ll introduce you to an inspiring woman every other Monday.

..and that is a promise! 

<3
Radhika 

Sthree Skincare And Spa: Lakshmi And Aruna

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
November 13, 2014
Second in my Wednesday Featured series is what most women usually frequent at least once a month. Get some TLC and groom themselves so we can go out and battle the world while looking pretty!

Ive known Lakshmi and Aruna since many years now. Coming from to US in early 90s from a place in India where one would never dream of going out without a neatly arched eyebrow and the fact that there was an establishment offering such services at every other street corner, it was like a heaven sent to discover someone who would do it and do it well!

A good friend introduced me to them and since then, they are my go-to in a rush, coz am as lackadaisical as them come when it comes to staying on top of such grooming. I wake up every couple of months with “oh God, I look like a bear” moment and then I frantically call them and get an appointment and once am done, it’s like a new person emerges from behind all those shaggy 70s look eyebrows!

Plus they really are very nice and easy to talk to through all that pain 🙁

Known them since 10 years and Ive seen them grow ground up. From operating out of a small home-based apartment to now an established skincare spa in a busy location in Northern Virginia, they are the quintessential duo for what fantastic smiling customer service is all about. I was very happy when they decided to entrust the picture taking of their grand spa opening to me! Check some of the pictures I took for them here. 

They have worked hard with patience and waited their time and their success and growth is both inspiring and is worthy of emulation. The sister-in-law duo (Aruna is married to Lakshmi’s brother) are warm, inviting and do a perfect job every time without compromising on quality and time. Always up for a chat, they sat down with me at their Spa, to tell me in a candid interview on how they started, and where they are and how they kept going.

Lakshmi and Aruna

Contact: Website Sthree Skincare (Northern VA)

LakshmiAruna

1. Tell us where you are from, originally and how you two got together.

Lakshmi – Born in India, and grew up in Tanzania, and after high school I wanted to learn beauty and cosmetology. Went to Zeenat Beauty School there. Finished my course in worked there for a bit before I married and moved to India. Got enough practice working on family members! Went back to Beauty school in Vizag and learnt the other side of aesthetics and discovered that Tanzania was way ahead of what was being offered in India.

I moved to the US because of my husband’s job, and stayed close to my brother and sister-in-law. Aruna and I became such good friends with similar interests

Aruna – I grew up in Bombay and Vizag, Masters’ in Bio Sciences and Bachelor’s in Education. Lakshmi is my husband’s sister and we hit it off very well personally and personality, so we are friends and family and we love to watch out for each other through support and care. 

2. How did you fall upon cosmetology and beauty? 

Lakshmi: Friends found out that we made each other’s eyebrows so pretty and looked groomed, and so started asking us to do it for them. There was apparently no one in the immediate area who could offer this service. Then out of personal necessity, Aruna and I decided why not do this from home and make some money to pay the bills. Word spread and soon, we were kept very busy through the day with calls and clients!

 Aruna – Lakshmi was the one who led the way, and she knew how to do the basics of grooming, and she taught me and helped me get aboard. Since then, I picked it up and now I enjoy it and trained myself to become an aesthetician.

So did you train to get here or how does this work?

Lakshmi – My training started from East Africa, then in Vizag, and then I taught myself and practiced and then now in the US, we go over yearly trainings/certifications so we are current and certified and know exactly what’s going on in the field.

Aruna: With Lakshmi’s training, I got comfortable quickly and then I had enough backing to take that step to get a license.

So you did have family support? 

Lakshmi: I have a ton of family support and my brother was the one who advertised in the early stages and took so much interest and helped us take off the ground. Even now, he is the brain and strength behind our business and of course there is immense support and encouragement from the rest of the family – my husband and children.

Aruna: We have an excellent support system and husband is very encouraging and helps when I am busy. Kids also were supportive and stayed home with us while we worked with the clients. There was no need for a day care or sending them anywhere else while we worked. So, they did not feel left out, and I think that helps a lot.

Am sure it must have been hard juggling home, kids and work? How do you handle that? 

Lakshmi: Shut one door, wear another cap, open another door! Open garage door, enter kitchen and start cooking! Literally that’s what happens. No time to think, just have to switch roles and continue. Yet, in my head am always thinking on what next for our business!

Aruna: Preparation ahead for the daily activities goes a long way. So making lunches and dinners ahead of times saves stress.

My typical day starts off early with getting the kids ready and having hot breakfast for them and once they leave, I take care of the house and leave to the spa at 9.45. Am here, multitasking with clients, pone calls, reception staff, scheduling, inventory, paper work up until 7 pm. Then I get home, get dinners going and spend time with family, cleanup and hit bed by 11pm! It’s a long day! Same on Saturdays as well, except that we wrap up by 5.30 pm. It’s a good thing that I am also occupied and enjoy what am doing. That way, everybody in the family has their own thing to do.

Why and what made you take that step to open a place instead of staying home-based business?

Lakshmi:  We were home because of the kids and our clients were scheduled according to our time. Once the kids grew older, we were able to focus on the business and take it to the next level. Now, we are free and able to concentrate on the business for a good chunk of the day.

Aruna: There was always a goal to open a more professional place for our business and we are glad we could do it.

How do you keep current with what’s happening in the aesthetic field 

 Lakshmi – We attend seminars, get new certifications yearly, and make it a point that we re-take it again once every two years so we are current with the technology and happenings in the business that can improve aesthetics and knowledge towards our service to the clients. This is also to be able to answer the clients’ questions and explore if we are able to offer that service or not at that moment.

Aruna – Things change really quickly and needs of the customers change, so we need to be on par with the latest! For instance, how I did skincare back in 1989 is so different and refined to what I am offering now.

What’s the best part of your job?

Aruna – The happiness! The content and the happy eyes once we are done with working on the client. It makes us happy!

Lakshmi – We get to be with so many people and we are always social and happy being social because the job is that there is instant satisfaction and gratification both ways. So, the clients also love the positive energy we give out and they in turn also help us stay positive by their reactions and because we meet so many people in a day! We do a strenuous job being on our feet all day, but somehow our energy levels are the same throughout the day, because we enjoy what we do.

 So does your job also have its challenges? 

Lakshmi – We thrive on referrals, so when a client walks in, they already come with a positive recommendation, and that helps. Difficult clients do come in occasionally but there the challenge is that they can make it only at certain times and insist on being accommodated, and we try.

Aruna – Staying right on time on appointments is a challenge too, because if a client runs late, then it cuts into the next client’s time (on certain days) and that is probably the only stressful part. We do accommodate as much as we can.

Where do u see yourself in 5 years time?

Lakshmi: I am a licensed and certified instructor in aesthetics, and now managing the beauty school and spreading the joy of beauty around! So in 5 years, that is how I see us (both Aruna and me), managing and running a successful skincare spa and academy!

Aruna – What she said. 🙂

 Parting shot to others who are debating on starting on their own in this field? 

 Lakshmi – This business is perfect for someone who is a people’s person, who can multitask and be dedicated to your clients with respect to time. You will need to spend time getting the right certifications and education in the field, before you are taken seriously, at least in this country.

Aruna – Also, you should love doing this and be comfortable to touch and be allowed into your personal space. Also, communication skills are hugely important, own up when you make a mistake and learn to fix it! Goes a long way in building trust.