Orginally Posted: June 12, 2022
By: Briony Smith
“There is something so very special about the preservation and continuity of ancient forms that have lasted centuries, weaving stories using body language that our ancestors used to tell tales of their times.”
Reshmi Chetram remembers dancing her way through childhood.
Her mother, professional dancer Deviekha Chetram, who owned Scarborough’s Tarana Dance Centre, led the family in regular backyard revelries. “There was always music, creativity, inspiration and community around us,” she says. “Being of Indo-Caribbean heritage, our experience consisted of (dance styles like) folk, chutney, nagara, Bollywood, kathak, odissi and contemporary.” Every Friday, the family would go to the video store to pick out a Bollywood movie. “We grew up experiencing it all. Dance didn’t feel like an extracurricular activity: it was, simply, our life.”
At 18, Chetram turned pro, heading to India to study kathak; she then started dancing and choreographing with companies that performed all over the world, and tried her hand at producing and directing. In 2008, she developed BollyFit, an Indian-dance fitness company that grew to more than 150 instructors worldwide and, by 2011, had its own TV show. “Indian classical dance is history in movement,” she says. “There is something so very special about the preservation and continuity of ancient forms that have lasted centuries, weaving stories using body language that our ancestors used to tell tales of their times.”
Around 2013, Chetram’s mother began experiencing dementia due to Alzheimer’s. Even though her career was taking off, Chetram decided to look after her. “Truthfully, much of the time I did not know what I was doing, so I focused on emotions, empathy, structure, routine and joy,” she says. “What would make her smile today? It was the simplest things. It was a spa day at home, it was playing her favourite song, it was playing Scrabble and not paying attention to the spelling.”
Chetram took over teaching at her mother’s school, even bringing some classes into their home. “As a daughter, I told myself to keep her around the things that brought her joy — and dance elicited a response in my mother that I can only explain as pure joy,” she says. “Coming from Guyana, my mother and her sister, Geeta Leo, brought classical Indian dance from South America to Toronto, passing on and preserving Indo-Caribbean culture and arts to many first-generation Canadian artists who now also have their own dance companies and artistic endeavors.”
Chetram looked after her mom until she died in 2020. Inspired by her mother’s advocacy, last March she launched a new tutorial series, DWRLessons, on her website, reshmichetram.com, aiming to make Indian dance accessible to everyone. “Dancers of all ages, levels and backgrounds can participate in a way that suits them,” she says. These prerecorded choreography-lesson videos are $15 each, and she offers free kathak tutorials via her YouTube channel.
She has also launched a mentorship service to help fellow artists with everything from writing a grant to mounting a full-scale production. Her new online lifestyle shop, Reysh Rituals — selling traditional items like incense, Indian jewelry and malas (prayer beads) — will launch at the end of this month.
Continuing her mom’s tradition, Chetram fills her own house with Indian music and dance. “My children and I dance every day,” she says. “My desire as a mother is to provide an environment that is rich in our culture, roots, story and experiences, so that they can flourish and feel connected to their culture in their own ways as they grow up.”
Source: The Hamilton Spectator