Thursday, 10 September 2020

Hi Soumee, could you tell everybody more about yourself?

I am the founder of a dance collective of Indian Classical dancers called, ETHOS: Exploring the Odissi Spirit with the vision of creating awareness and appreciation of traditional dance forms across boundaries of generations, nationalities, race and ethnicity.  I regularly teach dance and storytelling programmes at The Artground for children and also teach Odissi at Apsaras Arts over the weekends. During the weekdays, I’m busy building a better working world as a management consultant in one of the Big Fours.  I am also passionate about diversity and inclusion, arts and in building a stronger future for the next generation.

Could you describe your journey of starting ETHOS and the importance of it, 
while balancing that with your day job and family?

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

While working on an organisational culture change initiative one morning with a corporate anthropologist, I was inspired by this quote by Margaret Mead. The dual dimension of pursuing dance over the weekends and working hard in a bank during the weekdays presented to me a unified vision. The vision and responsibility of passing on the gift of traditional classical dance forms that I have lovingly received from my teachers; the vision of contextualising the traditional art form to our everyday lives; the responsibility of making these traditional treasures  accessible to a larger population and the next generation – These contributed to the purpose behind the passion that I had for dance. That was the day when I started acting on my purpose-led vision. ETHOS today is a community of dance performers, teachers, students, mentors, speakers, parents and well-wishers. It is an initiative to keep the traditions alive in a contextual, sincere and meaningful way.
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Were there any anecdotes / stories from some of your inspiring and memorable sessions 
with your children on dance or other fun activities.

As I reflect on my work and life, I see multidimensional qualities of multiple hats I wear each day as a mother, a dancer, a teacher, a consultant and a human resource advisor and these have shaped the identities of my work and personality.

While developing the “Dance-telling” programmes for children at The Artground, I actively seek feedback and inputs from my sons who are five and nine years old. Their curious, honest and creative suggestions help me improve my creative concepts. These child-centric activities are designed in a way that never failed us when we meet the roomful of spirited preschoolers at The Artground’s Whitebox.

Early this year, we had the privilege of celebrating the festival of colours “Holi” in March, before the circuit breaker period. We used sensory materials like multi-coloured flower petals to colour up our friends with our favourite colours. While we read stories of the Holi tradition, what inspired us most were the celebration of friendship and harmony through the art and dance activities.

On the weekend when circuit breaker was announced, we challenged ourselves to think of how we can connect with our little friends digitally. With the help of my sons, Sahir (5) and Armaan (9), we were able to write a screenplay and record an audio read-aloud book from scratch. Mei Fei contributed to this team effort by sketching the characters and adding the dance hastas (hand gestures) digitally to create our first dance-telling activity as part of #TAGathome series.
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How has Covid-19 impacted your dance practice and what positives have you taken from it?

The optimism of technology, the faith in healthcare workers and care for our community, kept us going in this period. Our objective at home was to continuously learn and express gratitude for being safe and united together. As the children rapidly adapted to their home based learning tools, devices and assignments, we initiated a play based learning activity to learn about a country a day. As traveling is not likely to be safe  in these challenging times, we worked as a family to savour traveling from our living room. As Sahir, chose a country on his wall-mounted map every morning, we spent the rest of the day reading an e-book on it, cooking a local cuisine meal for dinner (with a few amended ingredients), learning a few simple words of the local language spoken, solving a word search or completing an artwork. Sahir diligently completed his diary entries everyday practising his spellings, grammar and handwriting. While home activities kept us busy, the boys also played badminton and cricket with Daddy in the same living room while I worked on client proposals and projects from home!

 I have been in awe of several things that have rapidly adapted to the new normal, during the circuit breaker period. The performing arts industry dropped a few tears when the theatres and classes closed down late March, but I am amazed at the resilience of the artistes in the community. In these two months, I have managed to shift all my lessons to a virtual classroom, developed materials that will support the online experience; performed in an insta-live channel and initiated a weekly webcast session called ODE : Odissi Dance exchange to enable learning from global scholars and researchers, and now preparing to return to the studios embracing social distancing norms.

There are many more new works being developed, screened and launched digitally than there has been over the last few years. Many of these are technologically enhanced, edited artistically and produced with the online audience in mind (not recordings of a live performance). I am certain that artists will prove that they are indeed “essential” in times of crisis and in the new normal. The new works that are in the making – are future proof and digitally savvy and mentally resilient. As a techno-optimist, I am certain we will emerge stronger and better!