To my dearest mother,

You are honestly an inspirational human being. This letter is from me to you, to say how much I love you and am proud of you.

There was once a time when we did not really see eye-to-eye. We had so many differences. Your values were different to mine. Ultimately we just did not vibe, the way I dreamt a mother-daughter to vibe.

I used to look around and be jealous of other mothers and daughters and I wanted that for myself. I started blaming you for me not having that.

I realise how wrong I was. Now, all I do is love you and be proud of you. What has brought about such a change in me? Well it is where I am at right now, and what I see on a daily basis through my job.

You were always a very ambitious woman. You were smart, grounded, knew what you wanted in life and did all you can as teenage girl, living Sri Lanka (amongst all the political stresses against the Tamil community) to live your dreams.

You wanted to be of service to others, and managed to work a great job at one of the top banks in Colombo. Then you got married, and came to London, putting all your faith into a man you hardly knew (my wonderful father – honestly he is such a legend, and can’t wait to write about him soon!).

You had to start from scratch in the UK. You did courses at a local college and successfully got qualifications, and managed to find yourself jobs. You were a girl in her mid to late twenties, trying to navigate herself around the busy London, figuring out tubes, travelling in the late hours on public transport on your own. You proved that you had a courage like no other.

Then I was born! You started to juggle motherhood and working full-time as a mother of a toddler so perfectly. You proved to me again how strong a woman can be. You put your family first and understood the importance of working to support your husband to provide for your small, imperfectly perfect family.

You managed like this for 6 years before my sister was born. During this time, you were blessed with the help your own mother, whom you managed to get London, all the way from Sri Lanka. Grandma’s time in the UK, was short. Two years following the birth of my little sister, your second daughter, grandma was lost to cancer.

Two young children in your hand, a family to bring up, and having lost your own mother. Honestly, you stood strong and became an even stronger woman. At this point you and dad had the ‘talks’ and decided it was best for you to stop working so you can look after me and my sister, whilst dad provided financially for the family.

This time was life-changing for me and little sister. You learnt driving so you could take us to all our classes: dance, music, swimming, tuition; and all our dance and music shows. You sacrificed your evenings waiting in the car whilst sister and I had 1-3 hour classes. You sacrificed your social life so you could be there for us to make us endless cups of tea when we had exams coming up. Your sacrificed couple-time with dad, so you could embrace and comfort us when we were stressed out with life.

When we started university, you sacrificed your weekends: making food for us to take back to university; doing our laundry because we were spoilt brats who did not know how to do the washing; ultimately making sure we had a stress-free time at university.

Basically you started living your life, for us. That became your purpose and that still is.

I have come to the biggest realization. I am able to live the life of my dreams, pursuing my passions in various avenues, because of all your sacrifices. I cannot imagine a life where I am not able to be a doctor, a dancer and blogger. I cannot imagine a life where I do not live independently. I will always want to live on my own two feet. But for me to have the courage to be the person I am now, you sacrificed your independence and dreams. I can only imagine how scary that must be, because the thought alone makes me sad and anxious.

You sacrificed your whole life for me and sister (and dad, but dad is dad! Haha). We became your world, your social life, your passion, your love. You CHOSE to make us your world. Our successes are not ours. They are yours.

Amma, our relationship is not perfect. But it is nonetheless beautiful. I love how we are working on it on a daily basis. I love this new openness we have, and I can’t wait for more of such beautiful memories together, because amma, you are a superhero in my eyes.

So damn proud of myself

I am going to keep this short.

I’m so proud of myself!

Today I went to cinema on my own, for the first time in my life, and watched Aladdin (2019).

Now you may be thinking, seriously is that all Praveena?! Actually this is big deal for me. I have always done things with other people. If there are things I want to do, and no one else is on board, I have not pursued it. I decided a few weeks ago that this needs to change. If I want to do something, however big or small it is, I just need to do it.

I have always been the person to get a little anxious when I have to do things on my own. When I found out Aladdin was coming out today, I literally booked a ticket for myself without a second thought. I just couldn’t be bothered to ask around and wait to go with other people. I wanted to go so I booked it. However, today at work, the thought of going on my own got me very anxious. I was so close to not going to the cinema. I spoke to my boyfriend who said, ‘Praveena, you are going.’ (Gosh I do love him for his tough love). So I came back from work, showered, and then left to go to the cinema. I bought popcorn for myself, went to the theatre and queued outside on my own and sat on my own.

Literally it was the best decision ever!

May this be the beginning of a journey or self-love and self-development, where I grow more and more courage to do things and be present as much as I can. If I have a burning desire to do something, I don’t need to wait for anyone. I should just do it! Even if that means I am on my own.

By the way, the movie was so epic!! It reminded me of my childhood dreams of wanting to become a princess!

Life as a Competitive Dancer

I watched a Tamil movie called Lakshmi last weekend. The day before I watched this movie, I was on stage in front of an audience of 1600 competing in my first ever professional Bhangra competition. Therefore, watching Lakshmi really struck a chord with me. This is why I am sat here right now blogging (after what seems like ages). Lakshmi is a movie which probably hit a chord or two for every single individual who has watched this movie so far. Dancers who struggle to convince their conservative parents of how important dance is to them will really understand the emotions of the protagonist who struggled, as a child, having to face the same issue. Dancers who have experienced stage fright would really understand how the protagonist felt on her first ever stage performance, whilst being blinded by the strong stage lights and immense crowd. Dancers, who have experienced relationship problems as a result of their arduous dance training schedules, will be able to relate to this movie as well. Those who do not dance may want their child to become as strong of a dancer as the protagonist is in the movie, or maybe even not!

For me however, watching this movie really hit home regarding the life of a competitive dancer. This includes: the auditioning phase; getting onto the team; sacrificing free-time/family-time/social life for training; facing failures as a dancer and as a team member; fighting through pain whilst struggling on stage; protecting and fighting for your team-members no matter what; knowing the feeling of having your team as your new-found family and willing to sacrifice anything and everything for this new family. All these factors get amplified 100-fold when dancers are also balancing another professional career or degree as well.

I competed in my first ever dance competition at the age of 9 years old. At that age I had no idea that I would be spending a large proportion of my dance career training for and competing in competitions. But here I am now, 15 years on, having competed in 11 national dance competitions: 3 Bharathanatyam competitions, 1 Bollywood, 2 Gaana/Tamil Cinematic Dance and 5 Bhangra competitions. Of the 11, 8 of them happened in the last 3 years!

I am writing this to showcase the realities of training for a dance competition. It is tough. It is not as glamorous as it sounds or looks. The final product that the audience sees is merely a 5-10 minutes result of more than at least 100 hours of training. The sacrifices competitive dancers make to perform the way they do on stage are terrific.

I am writing this blog as an awareness to those who do not know of what we, as competitive dancers, go through on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Many of us competitive dancers have sacrificed spending time with family and friends on numerous occasions. There have been times when I have not seen my family for 3 months! I have whole-day dance training during the weekends; I have university/work during the weekdays. I cannot jeopardize my team at any point. Ultimately I have signed up to investing my weekends into dance training, so I cannot just turn around and say, I cannot go training because I feel homesick, unless of course something urgent crops up.

The overall lifestyle of a competitive dancer is very different to that of a normal person. Firstly, I have to think twice about what I eat – I do not eat out; I cook my own food which I try to keep as clean as possible; I stay away from Tamil food, even if it is home-cooked. Secondly, I have to be cautious about what social and physical activities I do; for example, I have to avoid going out because I do not want to feel drained for training the next day and I want to feel well rested before training. Finally, competitive dancers have to get used to living with injuries – shin splints, blisters, muscle aches – I spend most of my time outside of training dosed up on maximum pain-relief and walking like a penguin, because of how many injuries I suffer. Even as I write this now, I am typing with my right hand because I pulled by biceps muscle in my left arm during training for my most recent competition I took part last weekend. No imagine this being our normal life for the most part of a year. Yep, that’s our life!

Training to be a competitive dancer means you are training to be an athlete. So yes, it is extremely difficult, but what is worth keeping will not come easy. I do not regret any part of this journey at all, because with every competition I have become more and more of a committed and disciplined individual. Every competition enables me to hone myself into a better dancer as well as a better human being and that is all I care about right now. Onwards and upwards.

Don’t take for granted freedom of speech

Words are so powerful. They have the ability to make or break any situation.

I’ve seen so many use words so powerfully to create such an impact in society. That is what I call inspirational.

In contrast, there are people who use the term ‘freedom of speech’ to talk bad about others and harm/hurt others. This is what I call an embarrassment to humanity.

If more and more individuals understood the power of their words and how to tailor it to meet the needs of society, we would all be growing at an exponential rate!

Medical School, Dance and everything else

‘Praveena, how do you manage Medical school, dance, blogging and everything else you do?!’

I am not going to give you the cliched ‘Time management’, ‘organisation’, ‘commitment’ talk. That is given in life regardless of what you want to pursue.

I am going to tell you how much I struggled. Honestly it was tough. Society prefers me to do one or the other, but not everything. This is because society does not believe that I can do all of it well.

I wanted to prove society wrong. I think it is completely okay to have a passion for multiple things. I think it is also okay to pursue it simultaneously with the right mindset.

Being a medical student (now doctor!), dancer/choreographer, having a small wedding choreo business and blogging sounds glamorous but it involved a lot of sacrifices at different stages of my life.

To pursue my medical studies, there were moments in my life that I had to stop dancing. To pursue dancing, there were moments when I had to put dance over medicine. When I wanted to establish my business, I had to sacrifice my health and well being and travel more between cities (driving two hours from Birmingham to London and back doesn’t sound as strenuous but imagine doing that nearly every weekend for the past year!). To blog, I had to invest so much more time into reading.

To pursue it all at the same time, I had to sacrifice my social life big time…and I still do. I couldn’t go out as much because I would have to be awake early the next day to drive back to London/Birmingham. I stopped watching TV shows for a whole year, because I genuinely did not have the time. The big reminder is, this is the CHOICE I made. Others may not be like that and that’s completely fine. Just remember to make a choice that is true to what you want.

During each stage of this process there were failures and disappointments I experienced. As a result I was constantly being judged for my choices. By several people, but I put that all to the side because I knew exactly what I was doing. It may have not been the way others may have done it, but that’s okay because I am slowly getting through it.

Sometimes the balance has tipped and I have made mistakes. It was not all as smooth as it looks. My health, my education, my dance career, business, blogging have all suffered at some point or another. Nonetheless, finding the drive to get through and find the light at the end of the tunnel was key.

Moral of the story – be ready to sacrifice. Be ready to commit. Be ready for criticism. Make the choices to pursue what you love. You do not need anyone’s permission except your own to do good. So just do it!

The journey has only just begun. Being a student did make it a lot easier to pursue everything I wanted to and establish a strong foundation for my passions. I will start working in a month and a half. Therefore, work life is going to present to me a whole new set of challenges, so I do not know what is going to happen and how difficult it is going be. That’s the perks of life though right…ready to take on the next set of challenges to further establish my profession, passion and everything else.

Judgements – A Default Weakness

We have judged, and remain to judge. This may come in the form of judging others. However, more often than not we judge ourselves, and we are not even aware that we are doing it.

We judge ourselves based on the judgements others pass on us. Let me give you an example of this from my own life. I have several relatives who have made sweeping judgmental statements about me. This, at one point, tore me apart. One day I looked in the mirror at the girl staring back at me and told her, ‘You are not a bad human, your way of approaching life maybe different to many you know, but that’s okay. You do not have to conform to another’s norm. You need to find your own norm, for which you need to find yourself and be comfortable in being the person that you truly are.’

I have also had moments where I have not had the confidence to say ‘No’ to certain situations, just because of the fear I had of being judged. This brought upon me a lot of mental clutter because I did not know what I truly wanted out of life, I was just floating around and getting by life. I started losing focus on my goals and passion, and most importantly myself. This began to change for me when I separated myself from my own judgments. I accepted myself for the person I am. I am an introverted person, who is very task orientated. I do have a social life and that social life for me is dance rehearsals/training – I am not ashamed of admitting it anymore. Yes I do take time to just not think about anything medicine or dance related: once in a blue moon. I do it to re-nergise myself when I do get back into Medicine and Dance modes the following day, and not to escape that life I have chosen.

Anyone can be and do whatever they want. I will not judge, neither will I judge myself. By witnessing my judgement and taking control of such thoughts, I am one step closer to being judgement free.

This blog is platform via which I am making this promise to myself:

I am me. You are you. I define who I am and who I want to be; you define who you are and who you want to be. Life truly is simple.

Daily Musings

Social media has helped me a lot with my professional dance career. I do not of course depend on it, but it has for sure given me a portal through which I can interact with fellow lovers of dance which I never had before. 

I use my social media now not just to post about my dance work, but to also to use it as a way to convey my thoughts about general life, in the form of inspirational, motivational, thought-provoking quotes. Everything I post has a reason but I never share it so here goes with some of my favourites. 

‘Are you really happy or just really comfortable?’

This is the deepest question one can ask themselves. Do not settle for a life that looks good on the outside. Do not settle for a life where a roof over your head, financial security and everything materialistic are set out for you. Work for it. When you work for it and can say to yourself, ‘This is something I have built’, that is when you will feel truly happy and accomplished. Until then keep hustling. 

‘Success does not come from what you do occasionally; it comes from what you do consistently.’

Especially in the scene of performance arts I’ve come across many who pursue something for a short while and call that success. For me, success is a journey and there is no end point. You need to practice something consistently to really unleash your potential in it!

‘You can speak spiritual eloquence, pray in public, and maintain a holy appearance…but it is your behaviour that will reveal your true character.’

I call such people hypocrites. I say this very confidently because I used to be one myself. Until 2 years ago I realised I need to own up to what I really feel and act on it. It is no good saying that ‘I am this…I believe in this…’ when your actions say the complete opposite.

There are several people who just act in a way to seek public approval. With social media, the number of likes and followers seems to be used to quantify whether you are being approved by society or not.

How many of them will, including myself, actually practice what they preach?

‘Generally people like to bring up your past, when your present and future appears to be better than theirs.’

I dislike people who bring up another’s past. But now, the more they do it, the more I am like ‘Is that the only thing you have against them?’

Some people are so stuck in their bubble they refuse to accept another’s success in any way, shape or form. Therefore to bring another down they use their past.

Just think. If I did that to you? How would you feel? How ‘clean’ is your past? I can guarantee that those who act in such a way do not have the best of pasts. So if you believe you have changed, then give others the benefit of the doubt that they have changed as well. It’s that simple.

‘A private life is a happy life.’

Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of people who use social media to post about there private drama and unhappiness.

Question 1: Is posting on social media going to resolve that problem? Will it give happiness?

Question 2: Are you the only one in the world who is going through problems?

Question 3: What is the purpose of you posting your personal problems on social media? If you feel like that is giving your control over the situation, look at yourself and your attitude towards life.

Question 4: Do you actually think people care when each and everyone one of us is going through our own problems? I mean some may acknowledge by liking your post, but what does a ‘like’ mean? If a ‘like’ is the validation you need, then go ahead and keep posting. But I am secretly feeling sorry for you for reasons other than for the ones you wanted me to feel sorry for.

‘A lot of people want to make the institution of marriage a substitute for a real relationship.’

Marriage is not something which should not be a result of convenience.

Do not enter marriage because the current situation you are in warrants a marriage, so it is considered socially and culturally acceptable.

A marriage is a process which should occur at the right time, with the blessings of the right people, for the right reason which is nothing but true love!

Final thoughts:

Each of these thoughts are ones which I started to think more about based on the events which were taking place around me. I am not perfect, but I’m working on myself to think bigger and wiser so I can constantly reflect and grow myself. That is what life is about. Have a reason for every action and make sure you do not hurt anyone!

Music has no language

Those who know me will be aware that I am a massive fan of Indian music, whether it be Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam, or Punjabi, to name a few. Those who know me very well will know that AR Rahman is my favourite music director to date.

I was born in a decade when AR Rahman’s music was (and still is to be honest) reigning the Indian music charts – I was born in 1993, if anyone was curious.

Growing up as a toddler listening to songs from Duet, Jeans, Love Birds and Muthu for example, had a massive influence on shaping my taste in music. Growing up being exposed to multiple cultures and languages at school, and appreciating AR Rahman’s top notch work regardless of which state or country he produced for, made me appreciate music from different cultures that much more.

I am saying all of this because the AR Rahman concert which happened in July, in London, caused a lot of tension amongst the audience, and especially the non-Tamil audience, because apparently not enough Hindi songs were played. I was not present at the concert in July because of other commitments, so I am just stating what I heard and saw across social media.

What I wanted to discuss in this blog, however, was the fact that recently AR Rahman announced the dates for his concert in Canada in October. What I found shocking was that he will be hosting two separate concerts, one for Hindi music and another for Hindi music.

We can take this positively. AR Rahman has created so much music in both languages and it can be difficult to cover the best of both in one concert; so this separation might be good. However I see more issues than positives here.
Before you start thinking why I am writing about this, I realised there being an issue when I saw the responses on social media in response to this announcement of two concerts.

The one quality about AR Rahman is that he has been able to create music and touch the hearts of several cultural groups. To have all those cultural groups under one roof in the name of music is what music should be about. Creating a divide between Tamil and Hindi music puts several people in limbo: what about Tamils who enjoy his Hindi music and want to hear that, or vice versa? What about people from other cultural groups who love AR Rahman for both his Tamil and Hindi music and wanted to hear both (and seriously what are the chances that such individuals will buy tickets for both days)? Basically, by getting such individuals to choose between Tamil and Hindi, more of a rift is being created. Is this something that real music-lovers would want?

No one knows the reasons behind why such a decision was taken. If in the slightest, however, AR Rahman’s Netru Indru Naalai concert in London had a role to play in this separation, then we all should be worried. Why? Because we should be working towards breaking down cultural boundaries and inter-cultural barriers. Just when I thought we were taking a step in the right direction, we are taking two steps backwards.

The Lone Soldier

Do you know what it feels like to feel empty?

I feel that right now. Empty. Helpless. Hopeless. Weak. Vulnerable. Useless.

It is irritating. It is irritating to know that I cannot even understand what, why and how I am feeling.

I’ve been wanting to do so much for the past few weeks and I have not done any of it. Something is stopping me.

I am not happy with something and I cannot put my finger on what it is. My ability to think creatively has been slowly declining.

I am scared to get up and dance because I’m scared that I am not good enough.

I look at all my dance videos from over the past year, and I cannot associate with that girl on stage. I feel like I am looking at someone else.

As I write this, I have tears rolling down my eyes. I don’t know why I am crying but I am. I am going to let the tears flow as long as it takes for my eyes to dry up.

It always helps me to take my mind off all of this clutter by watching a movie, so that is what I am going to do now. After which I will make myself a cup of tea, sit down with a piece of paper and make a list of things which I need to accomplish in the next 2 days.

I am writing all of this down as I think it through because this is what I have learnt over the past few weeks during which I spent time reading all sorts of spiritual and motivational books.

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to put all my emotions down on paper. It’s okay to use all of that as a fuel to pick myself up from this emotional mess.

PS: I am not being an attention-seeking drama queen – because I know many of you may be thinking this. I am a human with emotions and insecurities which I am working to address.

Solo or team?

When I started my journey as a Bharathanatya dancer, solo performances were heavily encouraged. I took part in dance competitions on my own, I obviously sat my dance exams on my own and of course I did my Arangetram and further professional training on my own. Yes I did perform in groups as well, but generally the whole training process was very individualized.

Therefore, since I was child I was very much used to dancing on my own and having the total limelight to myself when I performed. My stage fear started to decrease gradually. When I was on stage, I did not have to think about anyone else. All I had to make sure was that I did my level best and if I forgot choreography, I trained myself to be confident to improvise. Easy stuff.

This started to change a lot when I started doing team performances as university. As both a dancer and choreographer, I started facing massive challenges. The biggest challenge I faced was that I had to think for each person on that team, whether it be for Bhangra where I was just a dancer, or for Gaana performances/TDC where I had to also think as a choreographer.

As dancer, I had make sure my chemistry with every dancer around me at any one point was strong, reflecting the positive team dynamics. As a choreographer, I had to ensure that every dancer was comfortable with the routine, and understood the individualized feedback I gave them.

Every performer is different, has a different skill-set, has different stage experiences. My job was to understand all of this and ensure these differences were not shown on stage – ultimately the team had to function as one, rather than 15 to 20 separate dancers. Yes, this was a HUGE challenge. I am still in the process of improving these skills, but I know for sure I would not have been able to hone these skills if it had not been for me dancing on teams.

So would I chose to do solo or team performances? I could never choose between the two because at the end of the day, performing is performing. However, team performances give me an opportunity to develop a skill-set which I would not have had the opportunity to do as merely a solo dancer.