Classical Indian dance is an art form unknown to many, but it is obvious even to those not in the know that it requires not only talent, but practice and concentration – luxuries new parents rarely have. January Low, classically trained Malaysian artist danced through her pregnancy – literally.
You started dancing at the age of five. Can you briefly tell us about your dance journey?
My mother first took me to ballet classes at the age of 5. That’s when I developed an affinity towards dance. One day, my father who grew up watching Bharata Natyam (Indian classical dance) at a temple near his house, came home after seeing Ramli Ibrahim and his troupe perform and asked me if I was keen to join. I was 8 at the time. I remember sitting in for a rehearsal session by a group of senior dancers. I fell completely head over heels with what the dancers were doing. I joined Sutra Dance Theatre immediately and was there for 17 years.
After leaving Sutra, I went to Seoul for a 6-month residency and got married (in that order!). A year after, I had twins. I continued dancing, with performances at the International Odissi Festival in Orissa (2014), ASWARA’s Dance Festival – Tari (2014), Tepak Tari (2015), Georgetown Festival (2015) and the Shantanand Dance Festival (2015).
Your last major performance, ‘bloom’, broke many barriers about women and dancing. What made you decide to go ahead with the performance while pregnant?
I am a firm believer in the universe, the power of intention and that things that happen are usually meant to happen. I was scheduled to perform a solo at but as life happens, I found out that I was pregnant for our third child and pulled out of the performance.
Fellow dancer Rathimalar Govindarajoo was given the slot. The ever generous Rathi immediately called me and asked me if I would be open to performing a duet with her instead. I told her that I would have to think about it because I would already be in my 3rd trimester. So I asked my obstetrician and she told me a story about a woman who completed an entire marathon in her 3rd trimester – if the body is already used to a certain degree of activity it would be fairly safe to proceed. And proceed I did!
Bloom was one of my most memorable productions – I performed an Odissi duet while 7 months pregnant. Odissi is one of the classical Indian dances, where facial expressions, hand gestures and body movements are used to suggest emotions.
My children have always watched me dance. I tried to rehearse with Rathi during their naps but sometimes they don’t nap as long as you’d like them to – so I’d place them in their play pens and we’d continue our rehearsals. So I could say that they are very used to me dancing and performing. However, because they were and still are a little too young for performances, they didn’t watch the show.
How do you think we can encourage children to enjoy art, particularly performing arts?
My mother used to bring me to everything. I watched musicals, ballet, theatre, dance and music recitals from a very young age. I think it is important for children not to just attend dance classes but also be exposed to the actual shows because it will cultivate their minds and develop the next generation of thinking audiences. We have so many arts related events happening in KL with no dearth of talent. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough discerning audiences to appreciate the richness of what we have to offer. I can’t wait for my children to be old enough to start going to performances with me.
What is your advice for mothers who want to pursue a career in arts? Do you think it is possible to juggle both family and the pursuit of art and a career generally?
There are so many mothers who are pursuing a career in the arts, and those who dance before, during and post pregnancy. These women continue to be my inspiration – like Lena Ang, Aida Redza, Judimar Hernandez, Loke Soh Kim.
No doubt, it is difficult to strike a balance between family life and career but I think it is the same in any field. There are indeed a few more challenges like financial stability and opportunities when you are in the arts, but I believe that where there is will, there will always be a way. If you want something badly enough, you will focus on solutions and not the problem at hand. I am still a work in progress! It has taken a lot for me to even get this far and yet I feel like there is so many things that I need to do. But with love, perseverance, family support and the right intentions, anything is possible!