An interview with Jaya Karan

This month we continue our “Get To Know Our Teachers” series with Jaya Karan. Jaya is founder of Studio J, director of Sapphire Dance, and has an alternate career as a physiotherapist. We speak with Jaya about how Studio J came to life and how she balances being a dancerpreneur with family life.

1. Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up and what did you study?

I’m Fijian Indian. I grew up in Fiji, came here at age eleven and lived in country Victoria during my teenage years. I moved to Melbourne for university, where I studied physiotherapy.

2. When did you start dancing, what did you learn & where?

I always loved dancing but never had any dance lessons as a child. I started dancing in my early 20’s, performing with various Bollywood dance groups in Melbourne and Sydney. I felt that I’d left it too late to start any ‘proper’ dance lessons, so I only pursued it as a hobby. Ironically, its only after I had children, at age 32, that I decided to prioritise my passion. I started twice weekly Bharatanatyam classes in 2010, with a newborn and a two year old at home. I’ve been attending Bharatanatyam classes for 8 years now. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing things opposite to the rest – most people learn dance as a child and give it up later in life. I started as an adult and find myself dancing more as time goes on.

3. Your Bollywood dance company, Sapphire Dance started 7 years ago. How did this come about?

I was looking for a Bollywood dance group that was a little different, which drew upon some of the technical aspects of Indian classical dance. My sister-in-law Piyali, also felt the same way. She had graduated in Bharatanatyam, whereas most of my dance experience was in Bollywood. So, we decided to combine our two strengths and start our own dance company! That was in 2011. We’ve been going strong for over seven years and still loving it!

4. What inspired you to start Studio J?

The thought of owning a dance studio had never crossed my mind, when out of the blue, someone asked if I wanted to lease their dance space full-time. Once the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I realised that I had been ready for a larger dance challenge to present itself and suddenly here it was! I knew almost instantly what I was going to do with it. Being an adult dancer myself, and seeing how life-changing it was for me, I wanted to create a space which encouraged adults to learn dance. And especially in the wonderful and diverse world of Indian dance.

5. Studio J is 1.5 years old. Are there any highlights?

Every term is a highlight. Nothing makes me happier than watching the students perform what they’ve learnt over the weeks. All the various dance styles, from Bhangra and Bollywood to Kathak and Bharatanatyam, all under one roof. It’s simply awesome!

6. How do you balance your Physiotherapy career, Sapphire Dance, Studio J, plus being a wife & mother?

I couldn’t do any of this without the love and support I get from my husband, Shourov. He’s an entrepreneur, a free thinker, runs multiple businesses, a musician and just an amazing man all round. We definitely thrive off each other, and he understands what it’s like to do things differently. We’re both free to schedule things as it suits us, which makes it easier to juggle the school pick up, dinner together and a bedtime story before I’m back on the computer or at the studio.

7. What inspires you to keep it going?

I’m not sure what inspires me exactly. It’s more like a compulsion. There’s an urge to keep exploring dance and seeing just how far I can go with it, but also the desire to offer dance classes to others in a way which is relevant and enjoyable.

8. Being both a Bollywood and Bharatanatyam dancer, do you have a favourite?

I’m a happy person by nature. And Bollywood dance is so light-hearted and fun, that I have forever connected with this style. Bharatanatyam is the opposite in many ways – it’s grounded, disciplined, structured, and traditional. Yet this dance form has transformed me as a dancer. It’s been 8 years learning Bharatanatyam, and I’ve only just scratched the surface of it. I can’t be without either of these dance forms in my life!

9. What can we expect from Studio J in 2018?

I never make long-term plans. But my vision for Studio J is to keep on exploring dance, collaborating with the best teachers, and building a community around Indian dance which is supportive and encouraging.

10. What does dance mean to you?

I am free when I dance, and when on stage I feel alive. I am blessed to be surrounded by my passion, and through this journey so far I have learnt a lot about myself and others. I hope that it’s made me a better person.

Jaya teaches Bolly-Natyam on Wednesdays 7.15pm. For all queries and enrolments for next term, please contact Studio J.

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