By Devishi Jain, ISW Youth Reporter
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your background in dance? When you started dancing, if you received formal training, when you started your dance school, etc.?
My name is Ekta Jain and I am from Delhi, India. I started my dance journey when I was ten years old. I joined Kathak classes in Lucknow Gharana as a hobby, but soon, it became my passion in life. I performed in various events at college. But, dance became my second priority after I got married and began pursuing a profession. I worked as a computer teacher for about 4 or 5 years. Dance was nowhere in my life at that time. I was the mother of two beautiful daughters and to take care of them, I quit my job and started staying at home. But the passion for dance was always in my heart, no matter how suppressed. Even though my kids were still small, I wanted to start dancing again, so I started teaching dance classes at home. And this is how it all started. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I began teaching and got a fabulous response from my students. Then, to update myself, I took formal training in salsa and hip-hop. The name of my dance school was Kids ‘n’ Dance and I had more than 100 students. I taught more than 1500 students in India and we did more than 200 shows and my students won many dance competitions. My annual dance events were even telecasted on local news.
When we had to move to America, I had to start over from scratch. I had to build up my school again in a whole new country. From 5 students to 10, then 15, and so on. I opened Ekta Dance Academy here and it has been going strong for 7 years. However, I did take a break when we moved to Florida for 2 years because I did not really teach consistent classes there. But after coming back to Massachusetts, I started teaching professionally again and I had 100+ students from ages 3 to 60. COVID-19 has definitely affected my business, but not my zeal and enthusiasm. After 17 years of pursuing my passion, the journey is still continuing and I am still teaching dance. I am very proud and satisfied with what I have accomplished, but I want to continue dancing and being creative for the rest of my life.
What motivates you to continue dancing and teaching even after all these years?
When I see the tremendous amount of love, support, and encouragement from my students, I get very overwhelmed and touched because that is my biggest achievement. I see the happiness in the eyes of parents when they see their kids dancing. I feel very appreciated, especially because of the ladies in my dance class. There are many ladies in the classes who haven’t danced before and have never been on stage, but they have had a hidden desire to dance. But now they’re performing and receiving so many medals and certificates, which they proudly show to their families and friends. All of these things really encourage me to keep on going, trying new things, to keep innovating my choreography.
How do you differentiate yourself from the competition?
Whenever I choreograph any dance number or act, the first thing I keep in mind is the aim, the reason. Why am I choreographing this dance? What’s the reason behind it? What are the emotions hidden in the song? I create a story. I always try to show some type of message so that people don’t just watch a medley of a couple of songs and forget about the dance. They should feel what the performers are trying to say through their dance. The audience should feel the emotions and message of the song. That is why I think my style of dance and choreography is different from others because I always try to tell a story through my dance.
What do you think motivates your students to continue dancing and coming back after every performance or competition?
The first thing I tell my students before they perform on a stage is that they are dancing for themselves. First, they have to enjoy the dance, and only then can they entertain anyone else. They have to completely express the emotions and story in the song and choreography. The biggest thing they find in my dance or after doing any performance is happiness, satisfaction, and a way to express themselves on stage. They are doing something for themselves and that keeps them going. I don’t pressurize them. I don’t scold or criticize them because everyone is different. I don’t expect everyone to do things the same way I do them because everyone has their own abilities. This is why they have to first enjoy the dance and that enjoyment and fun is what they find in my dance classes. They can express themselves through dance without any judgement, so they keep coming back to me and keep looking forward to the next performance.
Over the course of your teaching, what are some trends you have noticed among younger dancers? Do you have a message or piece of advice for young aspiring dancers?
As the years pass by, I feel as though kids are getting very impatient and get bored quickly if you keep teaching the same type of dance and choreography to them. So, I always try to include variety and innovation in my dance. Sometimes they’ll do a dance drama, sometimes they’ll do a folk dance, or contemporary, hip-hop, classical, a happy dance, a sad dance, etc. The variety in the dances is what fascinates them.
A piece of advice I would have for young dancers is that they shouldn’t just follow the herd. They should set their own trends. Be the trendsetter. Dance is a vast field and it has an ocean’s worth of space for innovation and creativity. So, when you hear a song, don’t just copy the steps that have already been done. Make your own steps and show your own emotions through your dance. The most important thing missing in dancers currently is that they don’t feel the dance. You should feel the soul of the dance and instead of just dancing with your body, dance with your entire soul and heart. The dance should first be expressed well on your face, and then your hands and legs. So, the message is just that they should dance with their soul because dance is supposed to be about expressing yourself.