30 November 2020

Spreading Universal Love with the Power of Traditional Dance

Traditional Bharatanatyam Dance

Kamini Manikam

Bharatanatyam Artiste, Educator & Choreographer at Tanjai Kamala Indira Dance School
Veterinary Practice Manager at KM Global Animal Hospital
Master of Business Administration

Raised in a house filled to the brim of passion and music – presided over by her animal-loving father and dance teacher mother – Kamini Manikam’s artistic sensibilities began very early on in her childhood in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. 

Enamoured by the art of performance, Kamini quickly followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a significant part of the Bharatanatyam community with her mother’s Tanjai Kamalaa Indira Dance School, the longest Operating Dance School in Malaysia’, even endorsed by the Malaysia Book of Records.

Originating 2,000 years ago in Tamil Nadu in southern India, Bharatanatyam is the graceful and joyous classical style of dance characterised by its highly stylised facial expressions, gestures, postures and body language to convey any mood, and its dramatic storytelling.

performance of dance drama ‘Sri Valli Thirumanam’
Kamini (centre) in a performance of dance drama ‘Sri Valli Thirumanam’. Source.

“Growing up in an environment of dance and music all through my life, arts played a major role in shaping me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” says Kamini.

“Teaching and studying dance can be different from an academic subject, especially with Bharatanatyam, it is beyond a mere ‘teach-the-body-to-move’ process. Dancers are taught to go deeper into their hearts, tapping into their emotions to express themselves.”

“It takes time and dedicated effort for body conditioning and facial expressions, more so when getting a student to fall in love with dance and making them practise willingly. That includes sharing stories with moral values, and pep talks, to make them realise that beauty is inside-out and one needs to dance for love and not for fame.”

As an in-demand dancer and choreographer, over her career Kamini has performing extensively in more than 350 shows locally and abroad in India, Spain, Japan, Turkey, Mauritius, Australia, and Singapore. She’s also steered productions in leading roles and flourished in many highly acclaimed dance drama productions.

Kamini on stage in ‘Dancing With Shiva’
Kamini on stage in ‘Dancing With Shiva’ a thematic Bharatanatyam performance. Source.

She’s enthralled audiences as the leading the role of ‘Sivagami’ in the ‘Spectacular Sivagamiyin Sabatham’; which was the first Tamizh dance drama to be performed at Istana Budaya (Malaysia’s National Theatre). Yet again she captivated the hearts of many by the lead role of ‘Kannagi’ in a mega production, ‘Kannagi: The Wrath of a Chaste Woman’; which toured Malaysia thereafter and winning the BOH Cameronian's Audience Choice Award. Her recent role as the dancing queen Mohanambal in the Thillana Mohanambal Dance Drama which ran for 2 days to a full house crowd, also received much accolades and admiration from art critics.

Her career in teaching and performance has taught her endless lessons about human condition and the importance of community. Wanting to build on this foundation and reach even more people with the power of dance, she was seeking out education and this came in the form of a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Australia.

Alongside her role as Veterinary Practice Manager at KM Global Animal Hospital, the veterinary pharmaceuticals and practice her father built, Kamini is pouring her passion and talents into creative ventures thanks to her business acumen and education where she can teach audiences to appreciate arts, especially traditional performing arts, and propagate compassionate values through dance and music. 

As a result, Kamini founded WOWGA Creativarium, to highlight art beyond entertainment, and LIPSTICK: Celebrating Life as One, a performance platform featuring a series of productions with each chapter annually highlighting a specific social issue affecting the community.

Kamini receiving her Women Icon Award
Kamini receiving her Women Icon Award at the organisation’s 2018 Summit that celebrates and honours the accomplishments and contributions of women who have excelled. Source.

LIPSTICK’s series one highlighted domestic violence in Malaysia, while series two delved deeper into gender equality and sexual assault. The dance pieces from the LIPSTICK repertoire were performed as shows in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mamallapuram and Valencia. Kamini was then also able to take her tour to even more people when a full-length production entitled LIPSTICK Retold was staged in Japan for Tokyo Performing Arts Festival.

“Art has the power to change humanity, and it is the responsibility of artists to use their artistic charms for good in regard to community development. As such, Bharatanatyam is not just a matter of divinity; this art form has the power to make a difference for humanity.

“There is a difference between dancing for passion and dancing for mission. The distinctiveness is evident when the purpose of dancing becomes no longer for entertainment, but for enlightenment. Such dance is truly enrichment for the audience,” says Kamini.

Alongside the many hats she wears – performer, choreographer, businesswoman, producer – and the powerful communities she has both contributed to and built from the ground up, Kamini continues to use art and dance as a powerful tool to spread universal love, create awareness on social issues, sharing the essence of life.

performance of dance drama ‘Sri Valli Thirumanam’

Kamini (centre) in a performance of dance drama ‘Sri Valli Thirumanam’. Source.

However, despite been decorated with copious amounts of recognition and awards, including the prestigious ‘Malaysia Women Icon 2018’ Award for her achievements in the Malaysian performing arts industry, Kamini remains steadfast in her greater goals and humble in her purpose.

“Over my dancing years, I’ve realized that awards, titles, popularity ratings and accolades are just accessories to an artiste. These are neither permanent nor imperative in life. A true artiste never works for recognition but for noble intentions,” she says.

“This fame, the glam, awards and titles are part of the artistic or entertainment world and it does make one’s profile look richer. But I’ve realised a truth that I came here with nothing and I leave without anything. Everything is temporal and so are these glorifications. I'm honoured to be appreciated but I care more for the moments-through-movements."

“To anyone striving for greatness I say, do not get carried away with people’s validation – both praises and criticisms. You are your best critic; so always reflect and ratiocinate. Focus on the process of learning and growing, but not the fruits of action."

“You will be rewarded with what you deserve, not what you desire.”

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