You’ve been dancing since you were 3 years old. What keeps you moving?
My body has responded instinctively to rhythm ever since I can remember. When I dance, I forget everything else in life because it is a form of meditation.
Take us through your dance journey…you grew up in Melbourne and have been training in Bharatanatyam since you were a child. What kind of impact has it had on your life?
Rhythm and melody have always moved me. It’s not something that I can explain but I am very lucky to have been exposed to dance and music since childhood. I am glad I had the opportunity to sustain this passion through rigorous training in a classical dance form. Bharatanatyam is one of the most difficult yet purest types of Indian classical dance. It taught me about discipline, humility and hard work.
What do you love more Zumba or Bharatanatyam?
The two dance forms are very different. Zumba is fitness oriented whereas Bharatanatyam is more about performance and form. I find that Zumba is a fabulous instant stress buster, whereas Bharatanatyam is a pursuit at all levels. I would love to be able to practice Bharatanatyam regularly, however it is no longer practiced widely in India and not in the puritanical form which I was privileged to learn.
You are a lawyer by training, an actor, IPL host, dancer, impromptu comedian, motivational speaker, writer… what is that one thing you are very passionate about?
At my very core, I always come back to dance, but in general, I am also passionate about communication and everything I do is a form of story-telling. I believe that telling stories about the human condition is the best way to connect with others. As an artist, I lead a solitary life so talking about our human condition through my art is imperative.
You have a busy schedule and yet you manage to keep yourself active and fit. What’s your secret?
As soon as I get a chance, I put on my runners and start walking, particularly when I am surrounded by nature. I am a huge believer in “Movement Meditation” because it is an easy way to de-stress and can induce positive thoughts. Once your body gets in the habit of moving, it craves more.
Work-Life balance, everyone wants it, very few get it. What about you? And do you think it’s harder for women to stay on track?
I find it very difficult to maintain a Work-Life balance because of my unpredictable working hours. In Australia, Work-Life balance is an intrinsic part of the culture. However, in India, I feel that weekends, holidays and family time are not factored as strongly. Women who work and have the onus of traditional family responsibilities find it very difficult to maintain personal time and space. I often struggle to take care of myself outside official work hours, so I can only imagine what it must be like for women with families.
Women are also often at the mercy of rapid hormonal changes which lead to dramatic fluctuation in mood and physical weakness. The best way to manage it is through exercise, but it can turn out to be a chicken and egg situation especially if one loses the habit of staying fit. Breaking this cycle is very important and it’s critical for women to support each other as we share similar struggles. In India, social stigma makes it hard for women to talk publicly about health issues so I advocate that women look out for and motivate one another.
We are all highly exposed to junk food. It’s convenient and easily available. It’s everywhere. You are on the road all the time because of your work commitments. What is your advice to help fight the urge of consuming unhealthy food?
I truly believe that if we learn to listen to our bodies it will tell us what it requires. This does not mean indulging in junk food due to impulsive cravings. It means finding a fitness regime and allowing your body to dictate what it needs within that state. It’s quite likely that your own body will prefer to eat an orange over a chocolate bar if you’re in optimum physical condition, which of course leads to larger degree of serenity within the mind. So again, regular exercise is the key.
Let us in on some new fitness mantras that you have learnt from your cricketer friends?
“You don’t get to a hundred, without thinking about it first”
“There is no substitute for hard work”
“Keeping the mood light off the field, leads to the best work on the field”
At such a young age, you have already achieved so many milestones in your career and personal life. What is your plan for the coming five years?
The one thing that my journey has taught me, that it is important to plan less and go with the flow in life. I am very proud of how far I have come. Our journeys are very personal and should not be judged based on societal pressures. Although, this is the way a modern society often functions, it is the cause of stress, anxiety and depression which kill the human spirit. I hope to continue building my life over the next five years and find joy intrinsically in everything I do.
We know you struggled with various health issues. Tell us about how you overcame arthritis, especially considering how many of us would use that as an excuse to not be active.
When I was diagnosed with ‘juvenile arthritis’ at a young age, I was extremely deflated by the doctor’s prognosis. After succumbing to their advice for a few years on giving up dance, I came back to Bharatanatyam with determination despite my injuries. I also happened to excel more than before. I had trouble with my knees and repeated torn ligaments in my ankles but willpower and discipline enabled me to overcome physical pain and the practice of ‘listening to my body’ allowed me to rehabilitate struggling joints and muscles. Perhaps the more difficult health issue for me, is auto immunity. I suffer from two auto immune conditions which have hindered my work and challenged my ability to stay strong for many years now. It is an ongoing battle that I hope I can overcome from within. Increasing my level of discipline when it comes to ‘Movement Meditation’ and yoga is going to be a key part of my health recovery.
Pallavi Sharda is an Australian-Indian actress and a trained Bharatanatyam dancer