Life as a (Sutra) dancer and full-time model: Vanizha Vasanthanathan
We had a chat with model Vanizha Vasanthanathan who danced in the Dancing Sutra Series: Serentak (Odissi) at the Sutra Gallery, performed from 27th April till the 29th April, 2018. As there is a lot of focus on Vanizha being a model, we wanted to know more about her dancing career.
What inspired you to start learning Odissi?
I always had this interest in dance from when I was a child, especially Bharatanatyam. I used to watch performances in temples because I didn’t get the chance to watch theatre performances. That’s also one of the reasons why I didn’t join dance at an earlier age.
When I was 15, I watched one of my senior’s Bharatanatyam performance, I think Arangetram by Revathi Karthik, and immediately fell in love. I told my parents that I really wanted to learn the dance. I went to Sutra Dance Theatre with them and I met my Master, Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, there. He let me join one of the Bharatanatyam classes but all the beginners were kids. I was the only adult and was standing there like a coconut tree. It was a very awkward feeling.
After class finished, Master asked me if I also wanted to join an Odissi class. I didn’t know about Odissi before he mentioned it so I agreed and joined that class as well.
My senior Revathi was teaching at the time. I watched a performance from her that really left an impact on me, I loved her stage presence. Even though she is very strict, I really loved her teaching and was impressed by the Odissi class. I loved the movements and since then I didn’t turn back. Until now, I’m still dancing Odissi.
What drives you to keep dancing at the Sutra Foundation while you are still a full-time model?
Dancing has been and always will be my passion, and modelling was more of a gift to me as I never expected that I would become a professional model. I am grateful to be able to keep dancing at Sutra with an absolutely amazing and understanding team. Although it can be quite challenging sometimes, I still manage to get the most out of dancing and modelling.
What kind of challenges did you face as a dancer while being a model and how did you overcome it?
It’s actually quite challenging for me to deal with both of these things (modelling and dancing), even though my time is quite flexible. However, I can alternate between modelling work and dance as I only have dance classes every Monday in the evening. When it comes to performances, like production, what’s challenging is that it’s not only my time that I have to consider but the rest of the team and cast too. To overcome this challenge, I manage my time by knowing what is a priority and choosing what I feel is more important.
Did you ever have to choose between doing a dance performance and a modelling project?
Being a full-time model and a dancer is not easy, because for me both are really important. Recently, I went to China for the China Fashion Week and my Sutra team went to India to do an India tour. I first agreed to join the India tour, but after a few days I got this opportunity to join the China Fashion Week. I know both are equally important, but I eventually chose to join the China Fashion Week since it could build up my career and it would be a new experience for me. I informed my team early on that I wanted to take this opportunity and had to forgo the India tour. They were very understanding and quickly made rearrangements for the performance. They found someone else to take my place and worked things out. That’s how it works in Sutra. If plan A doesn’t work, you quickly need to know what plan B is.
That’s how you should manage things. No matter what, you should know what is the most important thing in your life at that moment. There is no 50/50. You should know at that time, 100%, this is the most important thing in my life. That’s how I balance things out.
Which show are you most proud of?
Definitely Sutra’s Ganjam, because it was my first production and also my first time ever performing on the Istana Budaya stage. I’m really proud of myself and also proud of my team and I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done all this without their support and their guidance. Especially my seniors, Geethika Sree and Divya Nair.
Also, costume wise, we always have Tan Mei Mei with us. She always sought out all the costumes, how the make-up is going to be, how the hair is going to be and all the accessories. From top to bottom, she will decide what a dancer should look like. She’s like an image consultant.
We have been doing this performance for 3 years now and we have been traveling to bring Ganjam all over the place to introduce people what Ganjam is all about, and what Odissi is all about. Some people don’t know about these classical dances. In Ganjam, I have this important role that masters gave me and they thought I would be very suitable for this particular character. I was very nervous at first, because I didn’t know how I would carry the character. But somehow, I managed it with the guidance from my seniors.
What is a typical day in your life as an artist/model?
Lately, I have been very busy with work and dance. Especially work, because I have been traveling. What I don’t like is that I spend very less time with my family and friends. However, when I’m free, I’d rather stay at home and spend time with my mom and dad. I’m the youngest in my family. Both of my brothers got married and my sister is a doctor so sometimes it’s really sad to see that everyone is far away, and your parents are here alone at home. So whenever I’m free, I would try my best and spend time with my family and friends, especially my parents.
Did you ever imagine that you would be the dancer and model that you are today?
Being a dancer? Yes… Being a model? Not so much, I wasn’t very sure about modelling when I was a kid. It only became more serious when I was around 16 or 17 years old and eventually, when I was around 20 or 21 years old, it was really serious for me.
Modelling also made me realize a lot about myself. When I was 9 years old, I watched America’s Next Top Model, and Tyra Banks became my role model. She made me realise that there are dark-skinned models out there who are successful. I used to ask “Why am I the only dark one in the family”, even though my dad was also dark-skinned. It still made me feel like I was adopted, because my siblings are all fairer than me. I tend to over-think and used to cry a lot because I kept thinking “Why am I like this? Why am I so different from others?” I was the tallest in class, people used to call me names like coconut. All these things made me sad and I felt out of place. After I started modelling, I started to appreciate myself more and started to accept myself for who I am. I never thought about wanting to be fairer, wanting to bleach my skin or use whitening products. Combining modelling with dancing really boosted my self-esteem and I’m happy to be the person that I am today.
If you could give your younger self advice 10 years ago, what would it be?
I never had any regrets in my life. Whatever decision I had made, I am proud of. Maybe the only thing I could do different was that I could’ve started modelling earlier. That’s because most foreign models start modelling at a very young age, like 15 or 16, sometimes even 14. I started very late, around 20 or 21 years old. I feel it’s because I’m born in an Indian family. I’m not sure about others, but in my family, when you are a student, you have to study. There is no room for other things while you are studying. I don’t think I could’ve asked my parents at 15 years old if I could become a full-time model. I think my parents would’ve beat me with a broomstick or something… but maybe they would’ve have been supportive like they are now. I don’t know, because I didn’t ask them at that time.
The reason why I wish I started modelling earlier is because now, I’m rushing into the modelling business. I’m getting older and that’s really risky since the modelling world prefers young models. I really want to go to London and grow my modelling career there. It can be challenging, but I will do my best. You never know what will happen until you try.
That’s the only thing I maybe could have changed, but other than that, I have nothing to regret and I’m loving every moment.
What is your advice to aspiring artists or models?
Whatever you’re doing, do it properly. Don’t just become a model or an artist because you saw someone post it on Instagram or Facebook. You can do what you like, and you can do what you love to do, but you must learn and do it the proper way.
Do it with full of passion and full of love but do it in a professional way, not to seek attention or just for fame. I’m pretty sure most professionals do it because they love what they do, because it’s their passion… that’s their life. So why not get it right, give it 100%.
Written by Sophie Bakx.