Asian Music and Dance

Apprentice Dancer

Hiten Mistry, 20, performed his Arangetram on 21 February 2010 at the Peepul Centre, Leicester. Thousands of students complete their training to this level but only one in a thousand will make dance a career. Kavya Kaushik quizzes Hiten on his dreams and motivations for the future.

Why did you start learning dance?

I was 8 years old at a Diwali show at my community and I saw Smita Vadnerkar (my first teacher) perform. There was something in her performance, it was beautiful. So I approached her afterwards, I was really small and I pulled at her costume and said “Please teach me, I want to learn!”  My parents spoke to her and I was in class by the next week.

What are your earliest memories of dance training?

I was a fat little boy going to class every Friday at 7.30. I had lots of fun. Smita aunty was very motivating. She was a great teacher and made it fun whilst really working hard. I was a shy, quiet boy and bharatanatyam made me a loud and confident person.

 Why did you choose bharatanatyam?

I’ve been to both kathak and bharatanatyam classes. But there was just something about bharatanatyam that really made me feel at home – the geometry and its structural perfection. I feel it’s a lot stronger and dominant for a man to perform. When I walk down the street I walk in bharatanatyam. I recite jatis in my sleep. I like kathak, but it’s just not for me.

At what point did you realise that this was your career path?

Much later on. After going to Kadam’s summer camps aged 16–17 and seeing V.P. Dhananjayan and C.V. Chandrasekhar perform, I decided that was it. I was really inspired and taken aback by C.V. Chandrasekhar, the way he taught it. I felt…this guy is 73 years old and dances beautifully. I love dance and I’m so passionate about it. Seeing other people ignited the fire I had inside me. I thought…I can do this.

Do your family know you want to be a dancer and do they support it?

Yes. They’re 100% supportive. My mum had her initial fears regarding money. Obviously, dance is not a financially viable career, and money is a big part of being Gujarati! And as the only son the pressure is a bit stronger. My aunts would occasionally make comments to my mum, my other cousins had gone to uni and I wanted to go to India. My mum felt a bit apprehensive about it but my dad… Everyone else seems to have a supportive mum and apprehensive dad, but for me it was the other way round. My dad has been the backbone of all my training. He took me to classes when I was younger and had full confidence in me. He believed in me, and my mum eventually went along with it. They’re now both accepting after seeing the responses of other people when I dance.

Who are your heroes?

That’s a hard question…First and foremost I have to say it’s the Dhananjayans. I’m inspired by them a lot. They have such an intense energy when on stage. Especially V.P. Dhananjayan, his abhinaya is absolutely amazing. I could watch him for hours. There’s also C.V. Chandrasekhar. His physical strength, his stamina, every movement is pure. He’s absolutely amazing. I saw Mythili Prakash perform in 2006. She’s had a huge impact on me. I absolutely adore her and she’s one of the reasons why I went to Chennai to do my training. I also have a mentor in India called Shijith Nambiar with whom I am taking my training further. He’s another great inspiration and I hope to follow his career path.

Any non-dancers?


What are you doing to prepare yourself for the life of a dancer?

I do a lot of reading. I think it’s really important to open your mind to a lot of new ideas. I watch a lot of dance in auditoriums and on video. Obviously, I do a lot of practice which you have to do. I attend Mavin Khoo’s weekly classes and I’m also continuing my training with Pushkala Gopal. She’s a true inspiration to me. I came to learn from her in 2006 after meeting her at the summer school. I really liked her teaching style, technique and her abhinaya. I travelled down during my school holidays to learn. I owe a lot to her and I’ve just touched the surface of what she has to teach me. We have a long way to go.

Are you scared of failure?

No. I dream of success and don’t ever think about failure.

Do you think that as a man the failure rate will be relatively lower than one for a woman?

In the UK, yes. In India, no. They don’t like to see sweaty male dancers. There are definitely opportunities for men there, but they are very limited. Men usually perform in husband-wife duets. In the UK I think I do have the advantage. Pushkala aunty has really encouraged me to become a solo bharatanatyam dancer. There’s a lot of contemporary floating around but I’d like to work as a classical soloist. 

How important is beauty for dancers?

Very. It’s always a bonus if a pretty dancer appears on stage. The best dancers are very pretty women: Malavika Sarukkai, Priyadarshini Govind. The most successful male dancers are successful because they are manly. Sadly, often there is a perception of a male dancer being effeminate and not strong because of what the audience sees with other male dancers. That’s why V.P. Dhananjayan is such an inspiration to me. He comes on stage and dances like a man. I would love to be like that. 

Is it an aesthetically-driven career? Do you also have to be a good-looking man to dance?

Yes, definitely. Aesthetics are so important in dance as you’re working with your body. You have to be presented beautifully. First of all, the audience has to want to look at you. It has to look good for someone to sit and look at it for two hours. I don’t mean to be pompous, but thank God my parents have good genes and I look OK. Of course, this is all part of a bigger package. The dancer also has to dance well! 

Is dance a ‘proper’ job?

For me personally, yes. But it’s definitely a difficult job. There’s a lot of prejudice behind male dancers but I guess you just have to eliminate it. If I’m performing and people are talking about it then I think I’m doing my job. If people don’t talk then I’m not doing it.

What other options are you keeping open?

Well, I want to dance, that’s my plan but otherwise…In 2007 I won Boogie Woogie International Dance Championships which opened the whole world of Bollywood to me. I got a few offers for a couple of short films which sadly never got released due to various reasons. But there is the avenue of Bollywood if things don’t work out with bharatanatyam but I try not to think about it. Let’s see how it goes…



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