Shivani Singh, who is a commercial lawyer by profession, has danced for the last 30 years and is a master in the Indian traditional dance regime called Kathak.
She recently performed in Naach -The Nature of Dance at the Playhouse under the leadership of Iqraam Rahim of Rampage Dance Company. She delivered a piece that spoke about strength, determination, victory and celebration with her daughters Anjali and Neelam. It was a very special moment for her.
The arts have opened up avenues for Singh. The highlight of her career has been performing for various dignitaries, including the late Nelson Mandela on three occasions and gaining the lead role in playwright Ronnie Govender’s musical, The Great R31 Million Rand Robbery, which played to capacity audiences in the Playhouse Drama theatre in 1997.
“Dancing transports me to another world and is a channel through which I can express energy and emotion. Kathak is close to my heart because it is the style that I spent the most time on. It is fantastic when, as a dancer, you get to a point of having muscle memory where you don’t have to even think or focus on the steps, your body just does it automatically,” said the mother of two.
While 30 years in the arts is a long time, and could get tiring, Singh said she remains driven by continuously gathering inspiration from her childhood role models.
“Dance is food for my soul. From my childhood days I always tried to emulate the finesse that Madhuri Dixit displays in her dancing. Also, teachers and choreographers along the way have inspired me to do different things and create visually appealing pieces, getting technique and form right.”
She also helps young and upcoming dancers realise their potential and dreams by teaching dance.
“I try to assist younger dancers to help guide their journeys. I love using the opportunity in class, for instance, to help someone with a hand gesture or classical dance pose, and even advice on how to disregard negative messages Your love of dance just needs to be stronger than that.”
In 2008, Singh was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. What followed was the most challenging chapter of her life.
“I had to undergo surgery. I lost the use of one of my vocal chords for three months. I could not lift my right arm after the surgery and lost sensation in part of the right side of my face and neck because of the damage to the tissue and nerves. The physical effects are only part of the ordeal that a cancer warrior has to endure. The mental challenge is the truly testing element,”she said.
“To cope with the trauma and physical pain, I visualised myself dancing again. I swore to myself that I would dance again and that I would not allow dance to drift away from my life. That was my happy thought and it was a solid commitment. It steeled me to deal with the cancer and the physical effects it had wrought on my body. When we returned to Johannesburg in 2009, I immediately resumed class and started preparation for my Rang Pravesh (graduation). Dance was my salvation,” Singh said.
Her message to all women: “It is not easy juggling the different roles we may have: mother, daughter, wife, worker - I know this first hand and I had to fit in rehearsal time as well. Ask for help where needed, don’t whine, do your best and have faith that things will be fine. Just know that the power is within you.”