25 May 2016

My dance with the Big C By Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant

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I am #AnandaShankarJayant, a  #BharataNatyam & #Kuchipudi dancer , from Hyderabad, India.

My passion for dance began early in life – a chance meeting at a temple , when I was 4 years old – a comment that ‘This child has large eyes – you must teach her dance’, saw my mother #SubhashiniShankar enroll me  into dance classes.. And thus began my tryst with dance
My dance training continued in Hyderabad, until I won a gold medal at the age of 11 and was invited to join Kalakshetra, to take up dancing full time.

my-dance-with-big-c-by-dr-ananda-shankar-jayantTrained by brilliant gurus, I spent six years at Kalakshetra, learning Bharata Natyam, Carnatic music, Veena, dance theory, philosophy, Sanskrit, etc., and acquired a Diploma and a Post-graduate Diploma in Bharata Natyam

Even as I was busy, with a full time career of performing, teaching  and choreography , I simultaneously , and went on to  receive a Masters, and a Doctoral Degree , in Arts
I had been in dance for more than 4 decades, I had trained with the best in the field, performed across the globe, taught young and old alike, created, collaborated, and had woven a rich tapestry of artistry, achievement and awards – the crowning glory of which was receiving the Padmashri in 2007.

But nothing, nothing whatsoever, prepared me for what I was to hear on the 1st of July, 2008.That day I heard the word Carcinoma.  As I sat numb struck in my Doctor’s office, I heard other words – #Cancer, Stage, Grade.

Until then Cancer was a Zodiac sign, stage was what I danced on and grades were what I got in school.
But that day they took on an ominous meaning.

As a dancer I know the Navarasa –(Shringara, Hasya, Karuna, Roudra,Veera, Bhibatsa, Adhbhuta, Shanta and Bhayanaka) -  I thought I knew what Bhayanaka was, that day I learnt what fear was. That day I also realized that I now had an unwelcome, uninvited, new life partner.
On July 1st 2008, I was diagnosed with #breastcancer. As my husband Jayant and I drove home, I shed copious tears. Overcome with the enormity and the complete loss of control I asked him, if this was the end of the road? The end of my dance? But Jayant being the extremely positive person that he is, said “No, this is only a hiatus and after treatment you will be back to doing what you most love.“

I realized then that I, who thought I had complete control of my life, had control of only three things: My thought, my mind -- the images that these thoughts created -- and the action that derived from it. So here I was wallowing in a vortex of emotions – anger, fear, frustration, misery.., with the enormity of the situation, wanting to go to a place of healing, health and happiness.

I wanted to go from where I was to where I wanted to be, for which I needed something. I needed something that would pull me out of all this.

Drawing succor from my husband’s positive energy and words,  I dried my tears , pulled myself together, and declared to the world at large that:
  1. I will ride this out, and I won’t allow the cancer to ride me
  2. b) I will not say Why me? (I didn’t say why me when I received all my awards. So why should I say why me now? ☺
  3. c) Cancer is only one page of my life and I will not allow this to impact the rest of my life
Further, I unburdened myself from the secrecy associated with cancer. I myself told the world about it.

I refused to be limited and cramped by cancer .I decided not to allow something as transient as a health setback, takeover me and my mind.

I had to move from   fear, misery and sorrow to health, healing and happiness. I needed to simply shift my mental gears from where I was to where I wanted to be And so, I got ready for the surgery like I go about staging a new choreographed production !

But to go from where I was to where I wanted to be, I needed something. I needed an anchor, an image, a peg to peg this process on, so that I could go from there. And I found that in my dance, my dance, my strength, my energy, my passion, my very life breath.

my-dance-with-big-c-by-dr-ananda-shankar-jayantMy husband Jayant  Dwarkanath ,my biggest source of strength,  bolstered my moods, which were swiveling in a eddy of emotions, by saying that “the therapy even chemo therapy was like Amrutham or nectar, for it is healing you, and whoever said that nectar had to be easy and sweet!” He has never allowed me to lose faith.

And so I made my most important decision - Not to focus on cancer and its attendant visitors.

The only way I could escape focusing on the cancer, was to focus on something that animated me and moved me and touched me. And that, I found in my dance. Dance is really who I am. Dance is really my life’s breath, in that sense of the word. I then — consciously, with a whole lot of visual and mental cues — pulled myself out of the thought processes that send you into that emotional whirlpool that cancer can push you into. It does that. But, because I had something else to focus on and something else to shift my mind to, I found that I was able to cut this whole cancer focus, out of my mind. I was able to take my thoughts and push them into my dance. I retrained my mind to think, that the cancer was not a big deal. I would go and get my chemo, take the three days’ rest that my body needed, and then I was back in the studio dancing, teaching or doing choreography. Your mind is really your final frontier.

Sure, it wasn’t easy, for me.

How does one do that while dealing with a body ravaged by chemo therapy and radiation, my emotions yo- yoing and my mind cluttered with half truths and half baked information?
How do you keep cheer when you go from beautiful to bald in three days?
How do you not despair, when climbing a mere flight of stairs, was sheer torture, that too to someone who has always been commended for my high  energy dancing ?
How does one focus and stay the course, while the misery overwhelms and overpowers you?

All I wanted to do was curl up and weep.

But then, I had told myself that fear and tears are options I did not have!

And so, I would drag myself everyday into my dance studio, and practice   as much as I could. Every time, the cancer clutter invaded my mind, I would regroup and rework my mental frequency into dance. It was excruciatingly painful,. Difficult. I focused on my mudras, on the imagery of my dance, on the poetry and the metaphor and the philosophy of the dance itself. And slowly, I moved out of that miserable state of mind.

Just stepping into my dance studio, cut the mental static as   my footwork drowned the negative emotions, and my prana was recharged with the poetry of movement and expressions.
And yet, I needed something more, to go that extra mile, something that would lead me, goad me and keep me on the path.

I found it in a shloka I had learnt at my mother’s knee when I was four. Jaya Jaya He Mahishasura Mardini.

my-dance-with-big-c-by-dr-ananda-shankar-jayantDurga – World Mother, Mother Goddess created by the pantheon of Gods, who invested in Her,their every power – to destroy Mahisha.

Durga –, resplendent, beautiful, bedecked, Her eighteen   arms ready for warfare, as she rode into the battlefield astride Her Lion.

Durga – The embodiment of Shakti, of Creative Feminine energy.

Durga – The fearless one.
I owned that image, and made Her every attribute my very own.

And, Durga rode into the battlefield astride a lion. She was Simhanandini.  My lion was my own inner strength, my inner resilience — that all of us have. I just decided that I was going to tap into it, into this extraordinary source of energy and strength.

Powered by the symbology of a myth and the passion of my training, I chose an alternative   state of mind.

I brought laser-sharp focus into my dance, laser-sharp focus to such an extent that I danced a few weeks after surgery. I danced through chemo and radiation cycles, much to the dismay of my oncologist. I danced between chemo and radiation cycles and badgered him to fit it to my performing dance schedule.

And so through 2 years of  cancer treatment, I danced  professionally through it all, even as I continued to teach, train and choreograph, curated National dance festivals, and ground breaking Dance conferences, and toured Nationally and internationally.
What I had done was, I had tuned out of cancer and tuned into my dance.
What I had also done was:

  • I refused to play the blame game! – I didn’t blame some unknown or perceived cause for my cancer.- On the other hand I looked cancer in the eye and said ‘Hail Fellow! Well met, but now you be on your way’
  • I did not seek reasons for why cancer visited me or remonstrate with a personal God as to how He/She had let me down!
  • I did not EVER say ‘Why me?’ Did I say why me when all the wonderful experiences of life happened? J
  • Instead of reacting to the cancer and making it larger than it really was, I chose to deal with it as Just one page in my life. I refused to give cancer the importance it was begging of me J
  • I told myself, that cancer was no excuse to stop getting on with a beautiful life.
  • I kept my mind and my emotions on my dance – Dance is why, I am on this planet – so no cancer was going to stop that journey!
  • I chose I CAN over I can’t.
  • Most importantly, I chose not to take cancer too personally or too seriously.
  • By removing the lid of secrecy that surrounds cancer, I saved myself from the toxic victim mentality that cancer has come to be associated with, and also kept the theatrics and melodrama that usually accompanies cancer firmly at bay.
  • I had made the choice of Dance and Happiness over cancer.

    In our lives, we are always given multiple choices to every situation – from the mundane and the inane to the sacred and the sacrosanct. The  wonder of being human,is being abreast with a million choices, every moment of the day, and these choices we make very well, truly making our mind the final frontier. And yet, in times of crises, we abdicate this facility, we give up this felicity that is so uniquely human – we surrender ourselves to every lame excuse, every perceived problem and every unwarranted doubt, and give unconditional authority to the visiting crisis to lord it over our life for a long time to come – sometimes permanently, leaving a lot of scars on our psyches.
    But we allow it to happen to us. We, who profess so much independence, give up and give in, at the first whiff of a looming crisis. We react to it . We invest the crisis with feelings, emotions, attitudes and stereotypes and then suffer by it!
    We have the Power and that Power is CHOICE
    • Choice not to succumb to negativity
    • Choice to ride out any crisis
    • Choice to actualize your every dream
    • Choice to live the life you want
    • Choice to be positive
    • Choice to be happy
    My story is the story of overcoming setbacks, obstacles and challenges that life throws at you
    My story is the power of thought,
    My story is the power of focus
    My story is the power of the mind
    My story is the power of a passion
    My story is the Power of a metaphor
    My story is the Power of Choice
    My story is the power of Dance – power of choosing Dance

    As artistes we are uniquely coded to push the envelope of artistic endeavour in our search for that one perfect creative moment. In being creative we extend into the Universal Consciousness. We take that leap of faith to help change an existing paradigm or create a new context.
    Any art form or passion, for that matter, balances our core energies, and allows us a peek into what can be; helps us overcome our limited beliefs and becomes our sheet anchor, and veritable life support, of a beautiful life.

    my-dance-with-big-c-by-dr-ananda-shankar-jayantThe business of life is to challenge us and thereby help our learning curve. It is during such times that our passion -  in my case my dance – becomes the super conductor that taps into the Life Force of the Universe and the Supreme energy of the Divine, to become one’s Prana.
    My challenge was cancer.
    Cancer may have chosen me, but I have chosen my passion, my dance
     Yes, It is always a matter of CHOICE.
    As my favourite author Wayne Dyer says, “Heaven on earth is not a place you must find but a choice you must make.”
    And today, with this experience behind me, I once again understand the true import of what my Guru Rukmini Devi Arundale said: "Culture is neither performance nor entertainment but life and art is an expression of life".
    To me, to dance is to be, to dance is to be happy, for I dance with joy (Ananda) to reach that permanent state of bliss (Ananda) I dance in frenzied action to seek that stillness of the soul.

    ♦ Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant, is a celebrated, respected and highly acclaimed   Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer, choreographer, Guru and scholar.

    ♦ She is the recipient of the the Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar for Bharatanatyam in 2009 and was  conferred  the "Padma Shri" in 2007.

    ♦  She trains students in Bharatanatyam at her institution Shankarananda Kalakshetra, in Hyderabad.

    ♦ Ananda holds a Masters degree in Ancient Indian History (where she topped her university), a M.Phil in Art History and a Ph.D in Tourism.

    ♦  A highly rated and much viewed TED speaker, Ananda’s is a sought after motivational speaker, and lectures on art  and  breast cancer support and advocacy.

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