BENGALURU: In 1998, when a 36-year-old Yana Lewis, a ballerina from London, first arrived in India to be part of her yoga guru, BKS Iyengar’s 80th birthday, she never dreamt that the country will soon become her home. Now 55 years old, she helms The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet, a premier ballet school and performing arts company based in the city. But she is solicitous of her pursuit: grow sprouts of self-respect among destitute children through the dance form.
Although her dance school has 1000 students enrolled and 500 on waiting list, Yana asserts that while her mission is to bring classical ballet to the forefront in India, her heart lies in the foundation’s outreach programme.
The regular outreach programme includes weekly classes at Parikrma Foundation, an NGO, where, in addition to the regular classes, the foundation provides ballet shoes, costumes for biannual shows, and scholarship placements at the school for talented students.
“At Parikrma, we trained 68 students out of which 44 are still with us. I visit the school once in a week and see how I can impact their lives. Today, the bond is huge. Looking at the incorrigible street children performing international style of ballet makes us proud. They gain a sense of self-respect,” she says.
Commenting on how an international dance can inspire underprivileged children when India has several classical dance forms, she says, “Indian classical dance is in its own league. With ballet, I wanted to connect with the children and channel their energy in the right direction. Being in a story and being someone else brought in another way of life for them. It showed them life outside of what they already know. So I started with creative movements and then moved to ballet. There was no language barrier because movements spoke.”
According to her, unlike privileged children, the rawness of energy is easy to channel into performance. “Children who have everything lose that rawness. It is not natural in them since the essence has vanished. Through dance, the underprivileged children are able to express joy which they never felt before,” she notes.
Having come up with a world-class dance studio with India’s first fully sprung dance floor installed by flooring experts from the US, near Ulsoor Lake, Yana mentions that with the studio she has been able to take on further NGO classes, workshops, choreographic competitions and other activities for all students, both from her dance school and from the outreach programme. Ask her about her decision to stay back in India, leaving the comforts of London, and she quips, “India has natural vibrancy.”
Reminiscing her journey so far, Yana observes that after arriving in India, she travelled across the country and felt that Western dance was far removed in the country which made her feel awkward. “The western dance practised here was not the right technique or style. Western dance emulates from the classical form and unless you have ballet training, you cannot call yourself a western dancer. There was a mismatch and I felt uncomfortable and wanted to do something about it and make people understand the difference,” she avers.
Having landed in Chennai and a short stay in Pune, it was in Bengaluru where she met many passionate dancers. “I started injury prevention classes initially and moved to conducting workshops, staying in the city for 6 months. Then I got a five year Visa and later, permanently settled down in Bengaluru. In 2006, I started The Lewis Foundation for Classical Ballet,” she says.
She is now working towards the foundation’s bi-annual show to be held on December 9, titled Belle and the Beast, which will have over 1,200 children from various NGOs in Bengaluru as the audience. “We will be arranging everything from buses to food for them,” she says. Yana now hopes to continue her outreach programme and expand it to cover more children from other NGOs. “After all, for me they are special,” she says.