This Is My Family: The Dance Teacher Who Has Become Like a Mother to Her Student
“I have no real family. My teacher is doing everything for wedding that my mother would.”
In This Is My Family, we explore alternative family structures and the institution of marriage in India.
I don’t have a real family. We’re a group of 16 dancers, all orphans, and we met in an NGO. Since leaving the NGO, we’ve been living together as a family for the past eight years.
One of my group members proposed holding dance classes to the management when she was 24. She said she was old enough to conduct them and they agreed. In the beginning, about 12 years ago, everyone was very shy to come and dance in front of others, or they thought they couldn’t dance at all. We wanted to change that perception. From just five of us, we were 20, and then 35, and then 40, from an NGO that housed 70 children.
One day, we saw a poster for a Diwali talent show happening in an auditorium nearby asking for participants to register. We enrolled for it, started practicing, and that marked the beginning of how my family came together. In the days leading up to the show, we were eating, drinking, breathing dance. We got our teachers to excuse us from classes too. We had only one aim — to win the trophy. We got the management to collect funds for our costumes. We distributed responsibilities — costume, music, makeup, hair, and food, to different people. 20 days later, it was time for the performance.
We were very nervous. We were a group of people who had had no exposure to being in big crowds or on the stage. It was time. We went on stage, took our positions and once the music started, I don’t remember what happened. All I remember were claps, and the audience shouting, “once more” when it was over. Our teachers came up backstage and told us that we had put up a spectacular show and that the guest of honor, a school’s principal, had already invited us to perform for his school’s annual day. Since then we’ve not looked back; the group has only moved forward and grown bigger.
We graduated but decided to make a career out of dancing. When we started getting paid for conducting classes and for doing shows, we decided to move out of our NGO accommodation to make space for more kids and also started giving the management some cash for the NGO’s betterment. We rented a studio space and refurbished it on our own. We started living there until we found cheap accommodation that could house all of us. My friend who started with conducting dance classes in the NGO became our dance guru and the leader of our troupe. We continued coming up with new routines, enrolled batches, kept participating and honestly, never realized that we weren’t born in this family.
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We celebrated birthdays, took care of each other when anyone was unwell, ensured the younger ones continued with their studies and took each day as it came. I turned 23 recently and decided to get married to my boyfriend I had met in college. I announced it in the studio and since then everyone has just one aim — to get me married.
For the past few days, we’ve cut down on the number of classes because everyone is busy with the wedding. Somebody is taking care of the decor, some others are accompanying me for shopping, while some others are managing the sangeet dance preparations. But here’s the best part, our guru, is going to be taking the role of my mother to perform the wedding rituals. She’s doing all the big things — gold jewelry shopping, meeting my in-laws, overseeing all the preparations and talking to the priest to ensure everything is in place. Not only did she fight with him for asking for a male relative to perform the kanyadaan but also to scrap it fully because she said she doesn’t believe in it. She even schooled us about how the practice was regressive and that nobody was giving anyone away. I was really worried that she’s going to make my in-laws upset but she’s convinced them too. Together, they’ve both decided to keep the ceremonies simple and short and concentrate more on the fun parts. Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of dancing and singing and I’m having the time of my life right now.
Everyone’s energies are invested in me and the wedding, I couldn’t have enjoyed this more. They’ve even turned my non-dancer boyfriend into a dancer who I am told is going to do a solo performance as a surprise. I can’t wait to get married but I don’t want to leave my home. I have grown up with them, and I’m so used to having them around. I know the only difference is going to be that I won’t be waking up in this house and have these people around me constantly, but what gives me some peace is the fact that I’m going to continue being here to hold dance classes and conduct practice sessions. This is, and will always be, my family.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Anubhuti Matta.
Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she's busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.