6 curvy dancers who will shatter every stereotype you can think of
Your size shouldn't keep you from joining the dance
Anjana Bapat, 28
Programmer by day and dancer by weekend, Bapat had repressed the idea of a full-time career in the performing arts almost as soon as it struck her, back in college. The pressure to look a certain way, she found, was an insurmountable obstacle. “I hated it when people clubbed my dancing with working out; it wasn’t the same.” So she kept her day job and dance remained a hobby. For three years, she trained in Latin American styles like salsa, bachata, rumba, chacha, meringue and jive, until she stumbled upon belly dancing. “I remember that moment: I was standing in front of a mirror and managed the omi (a hip roll). I’ve never felt more at peace. It was like meditation,” she says. A career in performance is now back on the table—Bapat plans to quit her job soon to teach belly-dancing.
Hardware embellished cape, Lulu & Sky. Off-shoulder top, Zara. Dangler earrings, Hyperbole. Knit sneakers, Nike.
In a few weeks from now, a flood of fitness resolutions that start (and often end) at losing weight will take over your social media timelines. It seems like everyone’s ultimate goal is to get fit. Oh, who are we kidding. Thin. We want to be thin. But fit is thin and thin is fit, right? Allow six incredibly fit women to squash that silly notion over the next few pages.
Long before body positivity became a global movement, these dancers have been fighting the good fight, simply by putting themselves out there and choosing to be seen for who they are: a bunch of madcaps with an infectious optimism for life that no gym membership can guarantee. With their vital, graceful and confident presence, they showed us just what the human body is capable of when it’s not weighed down by prejudice.
Dhanshree Mehta, 27
The dance floor has been Mehta’s trusty friend forever. She could stand the cruel playground jibes about her complexion or weight, as long as she could run away to it later. “It’s taken a lot of time for me to talk about it,” she admits. Mehta, too, went through the wringer of self-doubt. She marketed Hindi films while she hesitated to commit fully to dance. “For 16 hours a day, I was doing something I didn’t entirely love. Then I just couldn’t any more. I didn’t know how I was going to dance, but I knew I had to.” Mehta now runs a studio called The Integral Dance in Mumbai and spends her weekends training street kids. “It’s very dangerous to walk with me at Marine Drive; the kids might break into a dance at any moment. I have to be prepared.”
Ruffled top, Lulu & Sky. Lycra tights, Mehta’s own. Thigh-high boots, H&M. Metal earrings, Accessorize.
Flip through the gallery for more.
Casey Sankar, 25
“One life. I have to make the most of it.” Sanker’s appreciation for life is a dogged, infectious thing. One conversation with her and you too might feel the urge to quit your job and follow your dreams. In 2010, the dancer, who trained in Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi and Mohiniyattam, fell hard on her back during a session. She was bedridden for months—a lot of the 35kg she had shed to fit into the mould of a dancer had returned, and so had the snide comments. It hurt till she admitted to herself that her back was never going to be the same again and she might not be able to dance forever. So, she’s going to do it for as long as she can. Sanker now runs her own choreography and events firm, Cadence Of The Soul, where she teaches other dancers that: “As long as you’re fit, no one can tell you you’re fat.”
Embellished bodysuit, Lulu & Sky. Lycra tights and metal hoops; both Sanker’s own. Knit sneakers, Nike.
Photographs: Karan Kumar Sachdev; Styling: Surbhi Shukla; Art Direction: Reshma Rajiwdekar; Hair and Make-Up: Maleka Fatema; Production: Sahej Marwah; Assisted By: Amie Banerjee (Styling); Location Courtesy: The Integral Dance, Mumbai.
Karishma Chavan, 30 (left)
“I was a fat kid, but the moment I walked into Shiamak Davar’s mirrored rehearsal hall, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was 12,” says Chavan, clarity and vigour intact since 1998. Eighteen years on, she is a venerated choreographer and YouTube force to reckon with—her videos rake up more than a million views. After working on several reality shows (Nach Baliye, Just Dance, Zara Nachke Dikha), Chavan has her eyes set on Bollywood, and is letting nothing get in her way. “The industry is difficult. But I am willing to go another 18 years, because I know I am getting there.”
Priyanka Maydeo, 26 (right)
If her ability to move like she’s made of Jell-O didn’t mark her out for a career in dance, Maydeo would’ve made a great motivational speaker. “Pardon my French, but I have no fucks to give,” is the tip she offers critics. After 15 years spent studying under dancers like Shiamak Davar and Terrence Lewis, Maydeo mastered the art of contemporary jazz and salsa. Now she’s a dance teacher in search of a studio for her classes. “Last week, I went to a venue to rent the space and the staff seemed so surprised to hear that I could dance. This can be upsetting and irritating, but I’ve learnt to ignore it.”
On Chavan: Skater dress, Marks & Spencer. Metal bangles, Accessorize. Lycra socks, Chavan‘s own.
On Maydeo: Georgette tunic, Zara. Metal earrings, Accessorize. Leather brogues, Maydeo’s own.
Tanvi Geetha Ravishankar, 28
Ravishankar’s Instagram feed (@ta.nananana.vi) is the place to go for your daily dose of feels, replete with every inspiring hashtag out there (#effyourbeautystandards #bigandbeautiful #bigandproud). At the age of three, when most kids are still getting the hang of gravity, Ravishankar was mastering the complex footwork of Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak. She comes from a family of academics who are also classical dancers, so she dutifully went to engineering college, only to drop out months before graduation. “Thanks to college, I was exposed to other dance forms. I [realised I] didn’t want a career in classical dancing; I liked it because that’s all I had seen.” Ravishankar went on to train in jazz, street jazz and ballet before finding her style in ‘Bollywood-jazz’, jazz-infused moves to masala tunes. “My mentors always said that all I don’t have is the body for dance. But teaching it allows me to continue dancing.”
Cotton turtleneck, Marks & Spencer. Skater dress, leg warmers and sneakers; Ravishankar’s own.