A love for dance
By Milan Lu
Ceylon Today Features
Dance is by far one of the most active art forms available. People can express emotion and at times conveying an entire story with nothing but movement accompanied by music. Of the many styles of dance available, hip-hop dancing is relatively new. But it has a large following the world over. One of the many who guide hip-hop dancers in Sri Lanka is 25-year-old Sandarangi Perera, the Head of the Hip-Hop Department at The Deanna School of Dancing. We caught up with Sandarangi to know more about her and hip-hop dancing in Sri Lanka.
"Hip-hop dancing or street dancing are terms generally used as umbrella terms for a variety of styles like breaking, popping, locking, house and krump" Sandarangi explained. Breaking was the oldest style created back in the early '70's in The Bronx, New York. It was a mix of dances in the African-American and Latino communities that were popular during the 1960s and early 1970s. Other dance styles were created and improved on gradually in many parts of America along with the gradual evolution of hip-hop music. Hip-hop dancing grew globally in popularity in the 2000's with popular dance based movies such as the Step Up movie series, Honey, Save the Last Dance, You Got Served and ABCD: Anybody Can Dance.
Sandarangi started dancing at the age of nine years. She began with Kandyan dancing which she continued for 7 years. "My love for dance started pretty early, but of course at the time I didn't realize how much it would eventually mean to me. Apart from dancing in school I went for Kandyan classes, which I remember was on Saturday mornings. Even back then I was very adamant about going for that class. I used to miss out on family trips and other events just so I could go for class. Looking back on that I realize that the obsession obviously started young" she said.
"After my O/Level examinations I couldn't continue on with Kandyan because my teacher stopped teaching for personal reasons. It wasn't available as a subject at school for A/Level's so yeah, that was that. But then I was introduced to Hip-Hop Dancing through a friend, Avindhya, in school. Once or twice she taught me bits of routines that she had learned in class and I LOVED it! Up until that point I was completely unaware that Sri Lanka even had hip-hop classes. I've seen the style on TV, in movies and YouTube but it never occurred to me that I could learn this here.
"As it turned out The Deanna School of Dancing had an adult beginner's class taught by Natasha Jayasuriya, which was where Avindhya used to go for class. Right after O/Level's I enrolled and instantly clicked with it. To say I loved that class would be an understatement. It was just so much fun! And a GREAT workout as well."
Sandarangi says she was obsessed with going for her hip-hop dancing classes once again. "No matter what, Tuesdays meant DANCE and pretty much my whole week revolved around it. This one time I remember there was really bad weather, thunder, lightning, roads were flooded, the works. And you best believe it I still took the bus and went for class."
A way of life
Sandarangi trained for eight years under Natasha's guidance and towards the latter years she got the opportunity to work as a class assistant. Once Natasha felt like Sandarangi was capable enough she was given the opportunity to substitute for her classes on and off.
"Mind you, when I was back in school whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to do career wise, I had no clue. But I sure knew I did NOT want to be a teacher. Mostly because I saw what my teachers had to put up with. Then one day, I still remember this very clearly, I had substituted for Natasha. I took two of her junior classes. As I was heading home after class I realized I was grinning from ear to ear and I was just happy. It sounds corny I know but that's how I felt, and I'd never felt that happy about anything before. And it just hit me, like it was an epiphany; THIS is what I want to do" she says.
"I want to dance and I want to share it with people who love it as much as I do. So I ended up taking on more and more of Natasha's classes and she guided me through it all, sharing her knowledge with me. Eventually when she took on the position of Principal at The Deanna School of Dancing she offered me the position of Head of the Hip-Hop Department" Sandarangi explained.
"My parents have been extremely supportive since day one. They've never tried to fit me into a box saying 'you should become this. Study this. This should be your career'. They've always encouraged me and my passion for dance and stood by my choices. They've been at every one of my performances. I can't thank them enough for all that they've done for me."
I Asked Sandarangi why she loved hip-hop dancing. "Why I like hip-hop basically is because it's SO MUCH FUN! That's why I started it, that's why nine years later I still love it. The energy, the feeling, the music, and the attitude that comes with hip-hop was just something I instantly identified with" she explained. "I've always been a very hyperactive tomboyish person and this was a very positive and creative way for me to get all that energy out. It's just very freeing" she continued.
Throughout the past nine years Sandarangi has taken part in many competitions and shows. Her first competition was as a part of the dance group Variation which took part and ultimately won at the 'Star Studded Rainbow' competition which took place in 2012. She has also taken part in 'Tantalize' in 2014 as a part of the dance team Dynasty which placed second. Among the shows the Deanna School of Dancing have organized, and which Natasha and Natalie Jayasuriya have choreographed, Sandarangi has taken part in 'Kinetic' (2010), 'Unleashed' (2012) and 'Switch' (2014). As a part of the projects which the Mesh Academy of Dance has organized and have been choreographed by Umeshi Rajeendra, Sandarangi has taken part in the show 'Genesis: The Awakening' (2015) and the collaboration project 'Deconstruct the Embody' (2017) with Malaka MP Photography. Sandarangi is currently learning contemporary dancing at the Mesh Academy of Dance under Umeshi Rajeendra.
Apart from conducting classes, Sandarangi is also working as a Business Development Manager. "I hope to continue to train, to grow as a dancer, and to share my passion with those who are just as passionate about this beautiful art form" she concluded.
As dance was to Sandarangi, many youth take part in extracurricular activities. We asked her how important she feels extracurricular are for a person's development. "Extracurricular activities such as dance, music, art, or sports have a unique ability to teach children things that they will never be able to learn from books, or a usual class room. They teach you how to think outside the box, how to express yourself creatively. Especially nowadays there's lot of stress on kids to do exceptionally well in school, to get the best grades, it's so ridiculously competitive. Good grades are important but it's equally necessary that they have something that will act as an outlet for the stress and that's exactly what these extracurricular's do. They are an outlet that helps you turn all those negative energies and stress, into something positive and productive" she explained.
"When it comes to dance, personally, it has taught me so much; discipline, self-confidence, self-belief, to push my own limits both physically and mentally, the importance of being consistent, positive thinking, how to work in a team, how to be accountable for myself as well as my team mates, the list goes on. As much as it is important to know the things we are taught in a class room, it's these other traits that will help a child eventually grow up to be truly successful in life" she continued.
We asked if she could give any aspiring or learning dancers any words of advice. She said that "dance is a lot of fun but it's also a lot of work. If you want to pursue dance as anything more than a hobby it takes a great deal of effort, time, commitment, dedication, sacrifice, self-motivation, and patience. Literally blood, sweat, and tears. Be willing to put in the work. Every opportunity you get to step outside of your comfort zone, to learn and grow, take it!"
"Also, don't compete with anyone but yourself, do the very best you can in every class, at every practice. If you keep on doing that you WILL improve and always be hungry to WANT to improve. Stay passionate and let that passion come through with every movement you make. To get to where you want to get, it WILL take time, years possibly but keep working, keep pushing, keep believing in yourself and you WILL get there."
The Deanna School of Dancing's hip-hop classes do not have an age limit nor does it have a specific class intake date. "Anyone who is passionate about dance can join and as I teach choreography, you can get in touch with me at the school and join when I'm starting a new routine".
(Pix courtesy Malaka MP Photography)
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