Coffee with Ida

From a huge online fan base to sold out dance classes, plus the glamour of performing with Sapphire Dance…one would think life is a bed of roses for Ida Ghatge. But as the saying goes, everyone has a story! Equally passionate about dance and mental health, read on to find out about our Bolly-Kathak queen’s journey.

How did you get into dancing?
Since I was a baby, I was always hopping around. I would make everyone sit and watch me perform. My parents saw how much I loved to dance and decided to enroll me into something. They had an argument over whether it should be Bharatanatyam or Kathak. Obviously mum won, and I was enrolled in Kathak when I was four. I still remember my very first Kathak dance class. I wore a pink suit with white flowers and had 2 braids, and my Harry Potter glasses.

When did you realize it was more than just a hobby?
We had classes twice a week, but I wanted more. My parents arranged for the instructor to come to our house for private lessons. And then something miraculous happened. I auditioned for a children’s musical theatre at age 8. It was for a dance production of Pinocchio at the Indira Gandhi auditorium. Zakir Hussain did the music for it and Gulzar wrote the lyrics. It was a huge show and I was chosen as the lead puppet.

I used to travel for 2 hours one way for the rehearsals. We had multiple shows, over three days. And on the first day of the show, I got a fever and everyone thought that I would not perform. But with a 104° fever, I went on stage for every show. That’s when I realized that I am very passionate about this and nothing can stop me.

Tell us about your Kathak training.
Kathak has three major gharanas (styles) – Jaipur, Lucknow and Banaras. In Delhi I had started with the Lucknow gharana, but then we moved to Gurgaon. This is where I found my last guru, Shri. Harish Gangani, and with him I transitioned to the Jaipur gharana. I trained under him from age nine to eighteen, and I completed a six year bachelor degree in Kathak!

You talk a lot about mental health. How did dance help you get through it?
When I was younger, I had a lot of mental health issues. At age 12, I developed anorexia and started losing a lot of weight. I was 5”7’and weighed only 30 kilos.

It was a very tough time back then. At school I was being bullied a lot and had to change schools. I didn’t have any friends left. I felt that everyone looked at me differently. But the one thing that was a constant in my life was dance. The doctors advised me not to do any physical exercise because my weight was so dangerously low. I fought with them to let me dance. I kept on performing, kept going to class. It was the one thing I had to look forward to.

My parents had tried everything – counselling, healing, past life regression, yoga, hypnotherapy, colour therapy, you name it. But nothing worked. One day, my mum’s friend, who is also a yoga teacher came to our house and asked me what’s the one thing that I love. And I said dance. He asked me to put on a blindfold and dance to any music. He said that no one is watching you, no one is judging you. Just express yourself.

It was such a big emotional release, because instead of hating my body I started to feel grateful for it, because my body was the only way in which I could express myself. From that point on, I started getting much better. And that’s why I want to do dance therapy; to integrate my passion for dance and psychology because I think it’s such an amazing way to help people.

Is that why you decided to study psychology at uni?
100%! I didn’t get the right kind of help as early as I could have. I was really stigmatized by people and called all sorts of names. Having gone through this experience, I can empathize with people. And I want to take away the stigma against mental health. I should be able to go to a psychologist without feeling like it’s something shameful.

What’s been your most favourite performance?
My first Shiv Tandav when I was 15 years old! I was recovering from anorexia, so my guru started giving me more challenging stuff. It was an intense 20 minute routine. I could see my dad sitting in the front row, sobbing his eyes out. My friends were whistling from the audience. Everyone I knew came. I felt I could connect to God, connect to myself. I felt I was finally on stage again as only Ida, and not as somebody who has anorexia.

How did you come to Melbourne?
I was graduating from high school and decided that I needed to get out of India. I’d been offered a full scholarship at a local university, but I needed to be independent. Being an only child, I had been spoon-fed since birth (I’m such a brat). I really wanted to experience living on my own.

It was too late to apply to the USA, so I had two main options – Singapore or Australia. Singapore is only five hours away from India so it felt perfect. But I missed out by half a percentage. I was devastated! I had six months before I left for Melbourne, so I enrolled in the Terrence Lewis dance academy.

Over six months, for five days a week and five hours a day, I trained in Jazz, Hip Hop, Dance Hall, Bharatanatyam, Gymnastics and Aerial Silk. At the end of this course, I was awarded a scholarship and invited to join their 2-year diploma in Terence’s professional dance company. That’s huge you know! I wanted to stay and maybe become a professional Bollywood choreographer. But my mum said no! Get your degree first and then you can do whatever (laughs).

So how did you end up with Sapphire Dance?
I really thought I wouldn’t be dancing in Melbourne. It was very depressing. But while in India I researched online and found Sapphire Dance. I thought oh my god, they are all so hot, and look so professional, and I messaged Jaya immediately. I landed in Melbourne and the very next day I went to their rehearsal and auditioned. Jaya said, let’s trial this for three months and then we’ll have a chat. It’s been four years since then and we still haven’t had that chat (laughs).

Tell us about your Bolly-Kathak dance classes at Studio J. Is it your favourite style?
I’m a bit of a diva, as everyone knows! I love the glam, I love the dressing up, the flirtation. I’m obsessed with Madhuri and have watched Devdas a hundred times. I have always been inspired by her style. But now having this platform at Studio J, I feel I am discovering my own distinct style which I want to nourish.

How would you describe ‘the Ida style’?
It’s very playful, happy, and fluid. Underlining this is a lot of sharpness and strong footwork. I balance this with the overall fluidity of the choreography.

What’s your future plans for dance?
I’ve come to realize that dance has to be my second priority, after work and family. But I want to train more, and in different styles. I admire Gerard Pigg and love doing his Bolly-Heels and Bolly-HipHop classes! I also want to create dance projects addressing mental health, women’s right and south asian representation.

What’s it been like, teaching at Studio J?
Studio J is the best! I had never thought of teaching as I only saw myself as a learner and performer. But then Jaya decided to open a dance studio, and asked if I would like to teach. I was so nervous, but I am so glad she pushed me to do this. Now it’s such an integral part of who I am. I’ve developed close friendships with my regular students. I love the fact that I can spread my culture and love for Kathak here.