In many things in life, the difference between being good and being great is passion and creativity. In my line of work, and when competing, passion and creativity are the main differentiators. Great mentors can help instill that passion in a mentee, and guide you to finding a fresh perspective and bold creativity. Allow me to explain.
When I decided to make dance my career, I was faced with a harsh reality: a severe lack of mentorship when it came to advancing my career as a South Asian artist in a non-South Asian dance world. Growing up in New Jersey, where big communities of Americans of South Asian origin reside, it is commonplace for most girls to experience Indian classical dance training. The difference is that the goal of her training has been entertaining at family events and having a fun hobby, not a serious, focused dance career.
To be fair, as a five year old when I started learning Kathak (one of eight classical Indian dance forms), a career was not my goal either. However, a serious passion for dance and an encouraging dancer mother gently pushed me to strive for excellence in class. I enjoyed the classes and found that I had developed a passion for it. When I began college, and chose to enter into the professional dance world, I realized people who were at the “top” were not much older than me. I also came to realize that my generation is the one that will make the South Asian arts part of the mainstream culture in the United States. We are part of the, as my friend calls it, Indian Dance Renaissance. The question remains, as it does in most professions, how do we obtain mentorship to ensure we stay on the right path?
Obtaining and receiving mentorship is important in most fields. My Guru (mentor) spent one-on-one sessions with me exploring my dance movement and my expressions. She explained the origin of each step and gently guided me to find my dance niche. Great mentors will adapt their teaching style to what fits their student best.
Great mentors will help the mentee find a path that is not only what society defines as “successful” but that will help them grow, challenge the status quo, and ultimately achieve their dreams.
Professional Indian dancers usually work in multiple South Asian companies to make ends meet, so overlap in dance and style is rampant. As I moved forward from performer to teacher, I asked myself– As dancers and teachers, how do we continue to give our students superior mentorship to ensure they can bloom as beautiful and unique dancers while we continue to expand the South Asian dance world?
Over time, the answer emerged.
The world of dance is slowly moving from competitive to collaborative. As children, we were often part of catty dance competitions where dance teachers greeted each other with tight-lipped smiles and stoic eyes, fearing their expressions would leak out their choreography. This was not an environment that promoted healthy competition.
Now, instead of constantly being head to head with one another and trying to decide who is best, we teach that working together and using everyone’s skills together can make an even bigger and better product. In dance, as in any other field, teamwork is as important as individual skills to truly be competitive.
The New Age of Mentors
As the new age of dance mentors gain momentum, we will encourage teamwork. We have the opportunity to mentor young artists and encourage them to consider a career in the arts, not only dancing for family entertainment. We can dare to innovate, bring fresh perspective, be bold, and dream big by performing as our heart directs us.
We can help dancers balance business with art, and find that sweet spot where commercialization and competition meet creativity and passion. We can collaborate across cultural barriers with artists from all fields, and provide mentorship and be role models for our students.
This idea is not limited to dance. Competition can be collaborative in every field. Why constantly worry about who can come up with the next best thing when instead we can work together to find the best solution.
As teachers and mentors, we need to bring out the uniqueness of each of our students and guide them to combine their talents with others. Whichever career you choose to pursue, we need to encourage working collaboratively to find that sweet spot where commercialization and competition meet creativity and passion. Passion and creativity can make all the difference in the world.
Do you need a mentor? Do you wish to become a much needed mentor? WINGS for Growth was created to inspire, enable and empower talented young women to become leaders of the future through impactful mentoring, coaching and networking with visionary, successful, and caring leaders and role models. Contact us today www.wingsforgrowth.org
Shivani Badgi is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer in NJ/NYC and a volunteer at WINGS for Growth. Visit her website at shivanibadgi.com.