CHENNAI: Dancing was in the genes but the determination to hold on to the passion during difficult times was all her. Kokila Hariram, co-founder of Academy of Dance shares her life journey with City Express that began with dance and still twirls around it. Excerpts from the chat follow…
High School Musical
My dad was a flamingo and a tap dancer and my mom was a Bharatanatyam dancer. Yes, she was Indian. Obviously as a child, I was pushed into Bharatanatyam. But by the age of six, I started ballet and I loved it. I had to stop ballet when I was 14 because my teacher had left. Meanwhile, Japanese pop was getting bigger and better with the young folk, and break-dancing was popular too. All the hip hop and b-boying came from break-dancing. Only difference is that now there are more stunts and movements. Back in the 80s, we’d take our cassette player to the streets and break-dance until the cops came and chased us away. I was the only girl in the gang of boys and I loved it!
I went to London when I was 17 to pursue Law. Living with my Welsh aunt who was a ballerina herself brought back ballet in my life. I went for classes and would do some part-time job to pay for the classes. One of my jobs was at a hairdressing salon as a flyer distributor out in the cold. I am a small person so it was difficult to convince people that I was 17 and that I deserved the normal wages. I had to keep pulling out my passport for age-proof. Dance classes made up for everything and I lost interest in Law which showed in my mark sheet. My dad found out and was furious but my aunt made him understand.
A Ballerina from Abroad
When I first came to Chennai in 1990, it was very difficult. The language barrier, the way people stared at me for wearing jeans and finding something dance–related to do was a problem. Within two weeks, I found a studio at the Russian Cultural Centre where I met many dancers and like-minded people. I was called to choreograph fashion shows as dancers were also a part of the ramp those days. Soon, I became a part of different dance groups performing in corporate shows and in clubs like Gatsby and a disco called Down Under. In the 90s, it was a surprise to have a specific crowd that actually attended such shows and partied in discos. I was having the time of my life!
Though I wanted to stay in Chennai, my mom was very sceptical. My parents moved out and told me this wasn’t London and I can’t stay alone but I was determined. My father accepted to pay the rent but the rest was up to me. I got a flat for `2,500 in Thiruvanmiyur. I continued to work, started learning Tamil, and even made friends with a local auto driver and a maid. Though the shows were going great, the money I earned was still not enough to pay my expenses. So I started taking aerobics classes. Meanwhile, I met Gowtham, (dancer and choreographer), fell in love and we got married.
We wanted to start a dance school complete with levels and examinations. We were looking for corporate sponsors. But they laughed at us. They only considered Bharatanatyam and mocked the idea of jazz being taught as a course. It took us a year to find a space at the Russian Centre. We started with a few dancers and now, there are hundreds. It has been a heck of a ride but I’m having fun. Like my mother, I’ll continue to teach. I always knew I inherited the knack from her. It makes me happy!