In 2016, when Ravi Bala’s husband, Mukul Gopal Sharma encouraged her to pursue her long-lost passion for dancing, she obliged in a heartbeat. It had been six years since he was diagnosed with cancer and he didn’t know if he would ever be able to watch her perform. So, she enrolled for a dance competition at the Punjab Kesari Club.
Ravi is not a professional dancer and the last time she did a stage performance was in a college festival in the late ’80s. She began her dance routines and as she improved her stamina and moves, Mukul’s health deteriorated further.
Just a few months before the competition, Mukul succumbed to cancer. Ravi felt lost, unable to accept what had happened. She couldn’t cope with the loss of her partner, with whom she had spent 31 years of her life. She closed herself off from everyone around her and saw no point in going ahead with the competition.
“My sister and children realised that my husband’s death was affecting me mentally and emotionally. They intervened and pushed me to continue dancing and fulfil his last wish. That’s how I ended up performing on ‘Murli Manohar’ song,” Ravi tells The Better India.
Ravi had little idea that this performance was only the starting point of her second innings where she would go on to defy age-related stereotypes to become a social media sensation.
In June last year, the 62-year-old became one among several ‘internet dadis’ to join social media to showcase her skills. Her simple yet graceful dance videos shot on phone have garnered thousands of compliments and views on Instagram and Facebook.
Among the thousand fans who were bowled by Ravi’s dance were celebrities like actor and singer Diljit Dosanjh and director Imtiaz Ali. “By doing Bhangra, you made my day,” Diljit wrote while sharing the video of her dancing on G.O.A.T on his Instagram account.
View this post on Instagram
Ravi shares with us what keeps her going at this age, learning social media operations and how her life has changed since her first video was uploaded on June 25.
How Dance Entered Her Life
Based in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, Ravi’s father was a music teacher and a tabla player. Among all his students, there were Kathak dancers who visited the house to practice for live sessions. Seeing them twirl and tap on the fast-paced beats, Ravi would be mesmerised by it.
Once they would leave, she would go to her room and innocently imitate the moves. A self-taught dancer, Ravi gradually started participating in school annual day functions and subsequently college festivals. Her innate passion for dancing made her keep the stage performances a secret from her family as they were against it.
She completed her B.Ed and got married in 1989 after which she moved to Delhi and in 1993 started teaching at a government school. The school was the only place where she got a chance to reconnect with dance. She would prepare the students for inter-school cultural events.
“I never really got any chance to pursue my dancing after marriage. I was so swamped with work and family, that I forgot to live for myself. I felt more empty after Mukul passed away and I retired in 2019. But life is full of surprises,” she says, adding, “I had no idea my decision to move to Mumbai at my son’s place would bring back dance.”
Social Media Frenzy
“Lockdown is the catalyst for change,” says Ravi, “I had recorded a dance sequence on ‘Bhor aayi gaya andhiyara’ from Bawarchi (1972) for a competition. I happened to upload it on Facebook and people loved it. Many users said they were interested in seeing more such videos. My son suggested I create an Instagram account and the rest is history.”
View this post on Instagram
Whether it is an old classic number like ‘Piya tose naina lage’ (Guide; 1965), or upbeat like ‘Ghagra’ (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani; 2013) or soulful like ‘Moh moh ke dhaage’ (Dum Laga Ke Haisha; 2015), Ravi has not shied away from experimenting with different kinds of songs. This is probably the reason her users instantly connect with her gorgeous expressions and marvellous dance moves. Besides dance, she also uploads videos of herself singing and playing the tabla.
Her day begins and ends with rehearsals as she has committed herself to upload at least one video every week. For steps, she draws inspiration from other dancers and some she choreographs on her own. After rigorous practise, her son shoots the video and uploads them.
View this post on Instagram
After each upload, Ravi patiently sits with the phone in her hand and tries to reply to each comment. She even recently did an Instagram live and interacted with her followers.
“I am loving social media. I can connect with people from different parts of the country at my fingertips. Even though I get age-related ailments like joint pains, these comments make me happy. When people say I have inspired them, it makes me work harder to hone my skills,” says Ravi.
Interestingly her infectious smile and equally stunning videos impressed ace Bollywood choreographer Terrance Lewis who offered her to teach Bollywood dance form and Navras for a month via online classes for free. She says, “I enjoyed the one-month course and learnt so much. I didn’t mind being a student for it was my first ever professional class.”
Ravi’s enthusiasm and penchant for learning at this age truly make her special. Many people like Ravi from our parents’ generation have spent their entire lives between office and home, paying very little attention to their desires. So for those who feel they are too old to resume their hobbies, Ravi says, “Ageism may stop you from doing what you want but in this last leg of your life, wouldn’t you want to do something for yourself? Go prove that age is really just a number.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao