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Woman Of Influence - Jothi Raghavan

Ranjani Saigal

Jothi Raghavan , is the artistic director of Nrityanjali where she teaches Bharatanatyam. She is a highly trained professional Bharatha Natyam dancer who has trained under Shri Rajaratinam Pillai.  

Jothi Raghavan has performed extensively in India and the United States. As a performer and choreographer she has received many awards which includes the prestigious Choreographers Fellowship from The National Endowment for the Arts. She has several choreographies to her credit.

The dancers trained under Raghavan become highly proficient in the art form, go on to performing with Jothi Raghavan in her concerts. Many of them have taken part in The Academy productions of “Kanya” and “Siva Leela”. 

She was one of the earliest dancers to bring Bharatanatyam to New England. Her dedication to the art is unparalleled. She talked to Lokavani about what dance really means to her.

What motivated you become a professional Bharatanatyam dancer? 

My mother was passionate about dance but she could not learn when she was growing up due to family restrictions. She started learning after I was born and so I was surrounded by dancers and dance enthusiasts ever since I was little.  After having my arangetram , I performed extensively with my mother in India and far east .  As a solo dancer,  I went on to winning touring  grants and inter collegiate competitions which paved the way to a performing career.

What motivated you to become a teacher? 

Bharatha Natyam is a complete dance form with clean lines, intricate footwork and subtle abhinaya ( interpretative enactment) which need to be instilled in an aspirant from the beginning, building a strong foundation. Otherwise it’s like building a sand castle. I was fortunate to have the best of teachers and mentors in my Guru Sri S. K. Rajarathnam and my mother Smt. Vimala Ramanujam. I also grew up watching the best of performances and attending lecture demonstrations by stalwarts. So, teaching was a natural evolution when I moved to the US.  I wanted to share with my students what I learned from my Gurus . 

You are one of the senior most dance teachers in the area. How has the Bharatanatyam scene changed since you started to teach? 

The community was very small then. Now it has grown leaps and bounds and arangetrams and performances happen almost every weekend – it’s hard to keep up.

What goals do you have for your students? 

My students are expected to practice on a regular basis. They understand that they have to work hard to keep up with the class. Though many start, only those who are able make this serious commitment continue. The reason for my teaching is to teach the art form without making compromises. The students appreciate that and are willing to go that extra mile.  I feel proud when my students blossom into wonderful dancers and passionate about Bharatha Natyam.

What is the secret to your being a successful teacher ?

Nrityanjali  - my dance school is my extended family. 
I decided early in my career that I will hold the standards high and not make my school into a commercial organization. I want the best for the students. We work as a unit to bring out the best in each and every one of them.

What  challenges if any have you faced  in your career path?

Challenge is a state of mind. There have been setbacks. But they make the chosen path stronger and goals clearer.

You have had several creative choreographies to your credit. What is the production that you have enjoyed the most and why?

Every project is a yagam or penance. They consume you. It’s hard to favor one over the other. It’s like getting a degree every time a project is completed and presented. I fondly remember your father conferring a Doctorate  on me after watching “Krishna Thrishna”. I felt so honored and humbled. He understood what goes into producing a work like Krishna Thrishna . “ Kanya” – the multi media production was the most successful as far as the number of presentations is concerned. We had three consecutive sold out shows in Boston over a weekend and I also travelled with the production through out the US and Canada. 

So many young talented children struggle between wanting to be a dancer and yet needing to pursue another profession. What advice would you give these youngsters? Can they pursue a career in Bharatanatyam?

I sympathize with their predicament. It’s hard to make a living as a dancer or practicing any form of art. But, having said that, if their mind is set on becoming a professional Bharathanatyam dancer, I strongly urge them to move to Chennai for furthering their education in dance, learn Carnatic music and nattuvangam (conducting the dance recital with symbols – vocalizing  verbalized rhythmic patterns) . Half baked knowledge will take one only so far. 

What lasting impact do you expect your work to have on the world?

World is a very large place. I will be happy if I have had a little influence in  my students becoming strong individuals and good human beings. 

How important is spirituality to your dance? 

Spirituality is an integral part of Bharatha Natyam. Without spirituality , dance is like a body without life. 

Dancers are often told that at some point they may need to stop dancing . Yet senior dancers continue to perform. What is the secret to that success? 

When you are young you dance for others and when you are older you dance for yourself!

For dance teachers and artists work schedule can be a big challenge for work-life balance.  What is the secret to your maintaining a work -life balance ? 

Our schedules are always different from the main stream as we have to teach when the rest of family members are at home. It is a struggle which can be managed only with the understanding and co operation of the family. 

You have two wonderful and successful children. What is your approach to parenting?  

Once the children grow up , we look back and say.. Hmmm! we must have done something right!  But, I am sure all of us wish that we could have done things better!  Unfortunately, there is no parenting manual. Only advice I can give is to have an open communication and make sure they (your children) are your priority . You do your best and leave the rest to God. I thank God whole heartedly for how our children have turned out.

 What do you do for fun? 

I love spending time with my grand children, travel, read, hike, I love the outdoors. 

Could you tell us about your charitable interests? 

Charity should become an integral part of one’s life. It is the duty of a house holder – Grahastha – to take care of the people in need is what our Sanathana Dharma says.. My husband and my father have been prime examples of this attitude. My husband has started an initiative called AASAI (American Association for Social Advancement of India – www.aasai.org) which helps various causes in India. I just play a supportive role. Try raising funds for the various causes with dance as the platform. Everyone of the concerts helps to raise funds for some charity or the other. Besides that, be there for anyone who needs help. 
Who are the people who you admire and try to emulate?

My Gurus and my parents are the people I respect the most.

Can you describe the influence of any women mentors?

My mother influenced me the most not only in dance but instilling spirituality as well.

What about male mentors?

My father was a great role model. He believed in living life to the fullest. He loved children and nature. His favorite quote was “life is like a river ever flowing, ever fresh.”  He would always tell us to look at life from a child’s eyes with amazement and curiosity. Our home in India was an open place welcoming anyone and everyone wanting jobs or financial help or help of all sorts. He never turned anyone down. He used to make a list every morning and make sure everything gets done.

What kind of support have you valued most from your husband? 

My husband has supported me throughout my life without which it is impossible to have a career in dance. In fact he jokingly says that he should start a support group for dancers’ husbands!  He is also a Carnatic music enthusiast and always looks for songs that are suitable for dance. He has a huge collection of music but at any given time he can pick the song that you want from his collection. He is also tech savvy and if not for him I might still be using my good old cassette player!

What is you personal philosophy of living life

Just be! Cherish every moment. 

What was your happiest moment in life? 

Life is a journey . Not a destination. It can not be divided into moments. There are so many things in life that I am thankful for.

Do you have a fitness routine that you would like to share? 

 Fitness should become a way of life. Doing an hour of this of half hour of that is not fitness. I recently became a certified yoga instructor of Sivananda yoga. Their philosophy is Eating right , breathing right, relaxation , proper asanas and positive thinking and meditation. If one can practice these on a regular basis , it can lead to a life of pure bliss. I am definitely trying! 

Do you have a spiritual routine that you would like to share

I have an alter in my home . I light the lamp in the morning and evening and thank God for everything :)  

Do you have a beauty routine  that you would like to share?
Ha.. Ha.. ha.. I am at a stage in my life when I hope my inner beauty shines through! Not rely on the outer beauty!

Do you have favorite book/author?

Many authors. Many books! Somerset Maugham’s Razor’s edge and 
Of Human bondage are books that I read over and over. Tamil author Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan  , Azhwars’ pasurams , Mahakavi Bharathiyar’s poetry. There’s so much.. I am leaning towards philosophical books nowadays. 

Do you have a favorite song/ musician?
I love music . It’s hard to pick one genre or one musician. MS and MLV are my all time favorite singers. I love MS’s Kurai ondrum illai . I was brought up with Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. I will always have a soft corner for them. 

Would you like to share one fun fact about you ?

Fun or funny? I think life is fun. Funny.. I am sure my children have a lot of “mom” jokes and my students have a lot of “Jothi aunty” jokes.:) 
Words of wisdom

Don’t take yourself seriously. There’s nobody that’s indispensable. Have a sense of humor. Enjoy life. Be thankful for every moment. Health is wealth.


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1.Fabulous Interview! February 28, 2014Shuchita 

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