BENGALURU : As you enter The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet in Bengaluru, you will find little girls learning the basic postures, slightly older girls trying to balance on their toes, glide across the platform and bend their bodies.
And the person teaching them is Yana Lewis, a ballet teacher of four decades, whose goal is to teach this graceful dance to Indian children while understanding the Indian ethos. India doesn’t have a national academy and Yana is working towards creating The National Ballet of India.
Barbie is a symbol of ballet for children in India. There are so many versions like the Barbie and the Swan Lake and Barbie and The Twelve Dancing Princesses, which popularised ballet here. For lots of girls, the “pretty dress” is their inspiration to learn the dance form. But Yana Lewis has changed this perception. Her ballet school, started in March 2006 in Bengaluru, laid the foundation for classical ballet here.
Yoga brought Yana to India. Despite having a ballet school back home in the UK, she said it was soulless. She connected with India spiritually, and made it her home 22 years ago. Yana has an RSA in anatomy and physiology which helps her integrate Indian classical forms with ballet.
She took some time off to travel the country to understand the culture and settled in Bengaluru which she was always drawn to for the space, trees and people. Finding good teachers was difficult. “Teaching is a gift. One can be an excellent dancer but be unable to inspire students and pass on skills. I tried hiring qualified teachers who were also good dancers from abroad, but the cultural differences made it hard. One needs to understand and respect the culture of a place.
I cannot work with people who don’t. The best teachers are the ones I have trained myself.” Initially it’s a lot of coordination which children find difficult to focus on while moving, they find it hard to keep their toes pointed when they are standing still. As they go up the grades, they learn to use their feet, strengthen their toes, ankles and other muscles in the legs before they get into Point shoes which are introduced only in grade 5.
Yana who has been dancing since she was two, says, “While it is easier to teach adults to point their toes and flex, they don’t have the strength to maintain the form when moving – they take longer in the beginning whereas children pick up faster. Muscle control comes to kids as they grow. Adults have built muscles from all kinds of things they have done in their lives, which are not necessarily the right muscles for ballet.” It is a misnomer that ballet is only for girls.
People look at the cute tutus and connect it with Barbie, and say “it’s only for girls”. It’s not just about being able to lift dancers gracefully that makes boys eligible for ballet, the gender itself is an integral part of the dance form. On challenges she says, just like yoga, ballet has classes mushrooming everywhere. It takes years of training to perfect the form and people take a two-month course, and decide to open their own studio. On her students’ future, Yana says in a country like India where it was unthinkable for parents to let their children consider the arts as a career option, people are slowly opening up to the idea.
FOCUS ON STRENGTH
Ballet is used all over the world across different professions – ice skaters, rugby players, footballers, gymnasts and more for strengthening their feet, ankles and other muscles
Yana also works with children from marginalised communities. She and her teachers work with Parikrma students who love this programme, and Born Free, an organisation which rescues children from child labour