Mythili Prakash began dancing Bharatanatyam at 8 years and performed for the President of India at just 9. Now 30, she talks to Youth Inc about growing up in California, learning dance under her mother and pursuing a full-time career in dance
Mythili Prakash is a recognised name in Bharatanatyam. Daughter of renowned dancer and teacher Viji Prakash, Mythili was raised in a household infused with dance and music. She is a recipient of the Irvine Foundation Creation to Performance Grant and The Music Academy’s (Chennai) The Spirit of Youth “MGR Best Dancer Award”, among many others.
Q. Born into a dance and music-rich environment, did you always want to be a dancer or was it the naturalconsequence of being the daughter of a dancer?
I think it was the combination of both. I grew up in that environment watching my mom and absorbing everything that went on around me. But it can go either way. Children in that environment are either attracted to it or… well, not. I loved it and the first thought that I ever remember clearly was that I wanted to be a dancer.
Q. Growing up in suburban California, what was it like to juggle school, teachers and friends (who were perhaps not familiar with Bharatanatyam) and your dance training?
Dealing with this juggle was the only time I had doubts about dance. Children don’t like to feel ‘different’. I wanted to be in Girl’s Scouts or play soccer like my friends and I begrudged the time that dance took away, whether it meant performances on weekends my friends were having fun or having to wake up early for practice or have class with my mom before school. It always took a lot of explaining as to why my fingers and toes were coloured red, or why I missed a class because of an out-oftown performance. But as time went on, I performed at school, spoke about my art and culture and educated my teachers and peers who were unfamiliar with it. It definitely made me unique.
Q. Indian parents tend to push their children to do well at school, but since your mother is also your dance guru, did you feel pressured to excel both at school and in dance?
Interestingly enough, neither of my parents ever pushed me in school. The push came entirely from myself. I was very hard on myself and took academics very seriously. I think the discipline and determination to be the best I can in everything I do came from my mom’s dance training. I applied that to everything else I did.
Q. Not everyone in India sees a career in dance, especially classical dance, as a lucrative option. Is it the same in the US?
Yes, it is the same, but I am glad to see a gradual change in the last ten or so years. When I made the decision in 2005 to take up dance full-time, the response (especially from Indian adults) was, “Yes, but what are you going to do about your career?” implying that dance would not suffice. However, now I see many young, aspiring artists taking to the arts full-time. People respect us for doing something that we are passionate about. It may never be a lucrative career option, but it is definitely given a lot more respect now.
Q. Young people in India today tend to think of classical dance as outdated and feel disconnected from it. How much scope for innovation does Bharatanatyam have to change their perception?
Plenty! Bharatanatyam is dynamic and as contemporary as it is traditional. Take it from me, an Americanborn, modern, Indian woman! Bharatanatyam can appear outdated and irrelevant if it is done without clarity of thought and intent, but it is a beautiful, intricate and evocative language. If young people see it done right, they will be blown away. People often underestimate the youth, thinking
they are only looking for entertainment. As technology gives us access to more
things, pulling us farther outward into the material world, the pull to go inward and seek something deep and meaningful increases multifold. Art feeds that drive and reflects the beauty, power, and harmony of the inner Self. It is transformative and elevating. How is that outdated?
Q. Take us through a typical day in your life.
I like to wake up early and work out. In LA, I alternate between spinning, yoga and aerobics. In India, I take a Kalari class. The morning/afternoon is usually spent on the computer (people think dancers dance all day; unfortunately, we spend most of our time doing organizational work – prepping for upcoming performances, applying for funding or keeping up with correspondence).
The late afternoon/evenings are either spent in rehearsal or class. Evenings in India are usually spent going to performances and concerts, while evenings in America are usually spent working a little more, sneaking in some TV time and occasionally spending time with friends.
Q. What advice do you have for young people who would like to be professional dancers?
It is not easy. I wish I could encourage young, aspiring professional dancers and tell them to follow their dreams, but I would follow it up with a warning. Dance is something we do because we love it with our heart, not because it is lucrative and will fill our pockets. However, when we turn professional, we depend on it to earn a living. This puts up many challenges, the biggest being protecting our art in a commerciallydriven, competitive, business arts world. Finding one’s own balance in this world is a challenge. If you are up for it, go for it!
• Favourite subject at school
• University major
• Favourite saying
“One who sees Me in everything and everything in Me, never loses sight of me, nor do I ever lose sight of him.” – Sri Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita
• Outlook towards life
Outlook is a reflection of the Inlook… working towards keeping my gaze there.
Volume 2 Issue 6