Prosecco with Divya

“When I moved to Australia, I came with all my dance costumes.
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to dance here, but I still brought them, for the sake of happiness.”

An insight into the many facets of our passionate Bharatanatyam Beginner teacher, Divya Shreejit Kumar! Destined to be a dancer, Divya talks about changing perspectives, the importance of a community, and post-natal depression.

How did you get into dancing?
Dance has always been an integral part of me. I started with my teacher, Smt. Priya Dinesan, at 5 years and trained with her for 10 years. Under her guidance I completed my master diploma in Bharatanatyam. My school and my teachers instilled in me a great love for dance. Even now, all my classmates at school remember me as ‘Divya the Dancer’. It’s an identity I feel very blessed to carry.

What made you study engineering?
My parents wanted me to do it. It didn’t come naturally to me and I didn’t enjoy it at university. However, I was enticed the moment I started working and applied it to real life. I find passion in everything I do. And most importantly, my work acts as a support for my dance.

Financially, dance is not my means of survival. The moment that paradigm shifts, I wonder if I would enjoy it the way I do right now. Would it make me competitive? These are all questions for me. But right now, I’m enjoying my training and sharing my love for dance through teaching.

Is it tough to strike a balance?
Always. I have a son, a family, a full-time day job, and my dance. To strike a balance you really need a community. I feel very blessed to have such a supportive network around me. Its pure luck.

My husband takes care of Shiva, while I am dancing or teaching. Together we are building a life in Australia. We are both working towards our dreams, and I really appreciate that he understands my passion for dance.

My manager is also very supportive and gives me some flexibility when I have performances. They are very considerate. My manager and colleagues all came for my arangetram (graduation) performance.

What brought you to Australia?
I came after marriage in 2012. My perspective has changed a lot since then. I used to be very submissive. I believed in conforming to society’s rules. Now, I prioritise what makes me happy.

What brought about this change?
After considering everything that ‘people’ wanted me to do, I ended up being miserable and battling post-natal depression for 3 years. After that experience, I started to challenge society expectations. That’s when I started breaking free.

Do you want to tell us a little more about that time?
After becoming a mother, I felt very low. I experienced a lot of changes at once. I had moved to a new country. I had an unplanned and difficult pregnancy. Many cultural practices were imposed on me, which I found very hard to accept. When you are expecting, everyone says oh this is a beautiful phase. No one tells you what comes after that. About the real-life struggles that you go through.

I had a few close friends who had babies at the same time as me. We all had our own journeys, but one emotion echoed, that no one actually tells you what to expect after the baby is born. It’s not the lullaby romantic phase. You have stitches. You are going through a healing process. You are trying to understand the baby and vice versa. And in that process if you have ten people who are advising you…maybe they are not judging you but that’s how you feel in the situation. What you actually need are family and friends who offer you help the way you need it, not how they perceive it. You need people who don’t judge you or offer solutions, but just listen.

How did you realise that you had post-natal depression?
I used to sit and cry all the time. I was blaming myself for anything that went wrong. I felt I couldn’t relate to my child. I had thoughts of harming myself and my child. Luckily, I had read about post-natal depression previously and realized that I had similar symptoms. I consulted my GP and she referred me to a psychologist.

I created a gratitude journal, listing something every day. I started going for long walks. I got a job at the University of Melbourne. I started learning to drive, and enrolled myself at the gym. But I still hadn’t worked out what was making me feel so miserable. Then finally…I returned to dancing.

How did you get back into Bharatanatyam?
When I moved to Australia, I came with all my dance costumes. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to dance here, but I still brought them, for the sake of happiness. After having a baby, I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know about the dance community in Melbourne. One day, my husband Shreejit suggested we get a Nataraj murti (Lord Shiva dancing statue). I replied that you should not keep a Nataraj murti if you’re not practising dance. Next thing, by chance (or divine intervention) I met Supriya, who was Govind Pillai’s student. That same week, I went with her to Govind’s class in Epping. If you really want something, the universe does everything to make it happen for you.

Around the same time, Govind was talking to Jaya about an advanced level class at Studio J, so I moved there once his classes started. It’s been amazing to have been part of Studio J from its beginning. I’ve watched the studio grow, from that initial idea of bringing all these artforms together, to what it is today.

Tell us the journey about your arangetram?
When I turned 15, my Bharatanatyam teacher moved cities and so our entire student batch didn’t get to do our arangetram. It was a dream I held onto for the next 18 years.

When I met Govind, I told him about this this. I don’t know why I wanted to do it so much. It doesn’t make sense, because the word ‘arangetram’ means going on the stage for the first time, yet I had already performed on stage multiple times. But it was important to me. I thought maybe I would do it after training under Govind for several years. I was totally surprised when I received Govind’s message saying, “Let’s do it. The universe has conspired it. You were miles away, I was miles away, you crossed a long journey to be here, and so did I…If the universe has done so much, then we should do it. And I feel I have a responsibility to do it.”

A year later, I performed my arangetram, at age 32.

How did you start teaching?
I always wanted to keep learning. I never thought I would become a teacher. But, I started teaching some of Govind’s students in his Epping batch. And then Jaya started getting requests for a Bharatanatyam beginners class at the studio, and Govind recommended me.

The beginners class started with 3 consistent students, and others dropping in and out. There was a time where the class didn’t seem feasible, and we almost cancelled the class. But there was someone watching out for us, because we got 2 new enrolments in the nick of time, and then 4 more, and after the 2019 showcase, I walked into class and there were 12 students standing there.

I feel strongly that there is no absolute right and wrong in terms of technique, that is always debatable. But being able to share the love is what matters the most. Getting somebody excited to learn! Every little improvement that I see in my students, the joy on their faces, it makes me feel excited like a little child. I have become so passionate about being able to share the love and the little that I know about my artform. It has truly been a rewarding experience and I look forward to the continuing journey.

Interviewed by Joshinder Chaggar
Photo credit: Anandh Bala

More details about Divya’s Bharatanatyam adult beginner classes at Studio J:

Bharatanatyam Beginner 1: Suitable for adults with no prior Bharatanatyam experience

Bharatanatyam Beginner 2: Suitable for those with up to 2 years past experience

Divya and her students in ‘Swalla Jathi’: