Rethika Ravi is a singer and dancer who lives in Wyndham and is part of Wyndham Cultural Centre’s Ghost Light series. She is also the Founder and Artistic and Creative Director of School of Dance, a dance school located in Wyndham that teaches classical Indian Dance.
Who is Rethika Ravi? Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work as an artist.
I came to Melbourne from India in July 2000 as an International Student to pursue My Master’s in Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology at RMIT University. I have seen Melbourne grow and have loved every aspect of this beautiful city which in every way is now my home. I have lived longer in Melbourne than I lived in India and I am very blessed and humbled to say that I have experienced the best of both worlds.
While my education in India gave me a strong foundation, my education and work experience in Wyndham gave me self-confidence, life-skills and the realization that Wyndham will always accept people who are ready to work hard with integrity and dedication. I work in the Education and Training Industry which is what I always wanted to do.
I am also the Founder and Artistic and Creative Director of School of Dance that I established in March 2019. When I lived in India my parents encouraged me to get training in Classical Dance (Bharathnatyam), Music and Painting. Melbourne gave me the opportunities to explore the world of arts and dance and contribute to cultural awareness through these art forms.
Having pursued Bharathnatyam, since the age of 5 (Smt Geetha Saraswathy of Geethalayam (Tanjavoor Bhaani, India and Smt Savithri Balasubramanium (Kalakshetra Bhaani, India), I have performed across various platforms both in India during the Reputed “December Margazhi Season 2017” and since 2003 in Melbourne. Apart from being a passionate dancer, I am well-trained in Carnatic Vocal Music and perform regularly in Melbourne.
What is your connection to Wyndham and how does it inspire you and your work?
Wyndham has been my home since 2006. Over the years, I’ve observed with admiration and respect about the way my culture is slowly but surely expanding and making a grand entry here. It’s amazing to see the most significant Indian festivals being celebrated at President’s Park for the last few years. Living here has helped me build relationships both professional and personal, including my current association with your wonderful team at Wyndham Cultural Centre and Wyndham City Council. It has facilitated me in shaping my long-standing dream of commencing “Shakthiswaraa” School of Dance and establishing my identity here. “Never say I can’t, say I will try and give it your very best” would seamlessly describe my life in Wyndham so far.
Inspiration prominently for me comes from the accessibility to Hindu temples where arts and culture are strongly encouraged throughout the year, the opportunities that has come my way which has helped me take my dancing and singing to the next level through performances and events that are offered in Wyndham and Melbourne. I am also inspired by my enthusiastic groups of students, and of course my family who have been my pillars of support every step of the way. It gives me immense satisfaction to see my students perform, to see their confidence grow, and enables them to develop a deeper connection with the rich Indian heritage. With every performance, I learn, I improve and I find the self-motivation to keep going.
You are a singer, dancer and have a doctorate in oncology which is an extremely impressive portfolio of work. Does your experience as a dancer ever help you in your studies of oncology or vice versa?
Thankyou! That’s a very interesting question. Indirectly it does almost on a daily basis. Dancing keeps me grounded and music and painting makes me find inner calm and peace. It has taught me self-control, time management and work-life balance which are values that I take into my practice as an oncologist and lecturer. I recently taught my toddler the importance of handwashing and we would sing a song for a minute, or I would say – “thaka dhimi tha” (the rhythmic beat) for each action of hand washing. This is an example where both the Microbiologist and the dancer and singer in me was brought out! It’s very thrilling to share and impart my knowledge and it’s even more satisfying when there are eager students at the receiving end at work and at the dance school.
What do you hope to communicate through your work?
There is strength, grace and perfection in Bharathnatyam. It’s not just dance as it also allows you to connect with your roots and express yourself truly which is inherent in its deep meaning and complexity. Through Bharatanatyam you connect with the audience and yourself on an emotional level. It improves balance, flexibility, concentration and stamina by making the body and mind agile. It’s a combination of music, poetry, movement and lots of storytelling. A performer needs to remember steps, different moves and the beat and rhythm of the song. It’s a beautiful art form that is centuries old. For me personally, Bharathnatyam is sacred, it helps me connect to the divine.
How has the current COVID-19 situation, if at all, affected your work? What are your fears and hopes throughout this time?
Any form of art, music, dance and painting heals…for five weeks, I did not have any classes and my fear was that the students may lose their interest and without any practice or classes, it would be difficult for them to remember what they had learnt. As uncertainties increased, I decided to switch to an online teaching mode which of course was not as easy as it seemed but after several virtual classes, I was convinced that I bring my classes online. Of course, we miss being on the stage as a lot of events have been postponed or rescheduled, few even cancelled. A couple of my students have even participated in an online solo dance competition organized by Nruthyapadma in India We are all in this together and we will overcome this together. This has taught me to convert challenges into opportunities.