Dance is the hidden language of the soul. – Martha Graham
On January 26, 2017, over 50 children from Thayi Mane Orphanage performed in Fulfilling A Dream, a dance programme held to help underprivileged children pursue their talent and passion for the art form. Held at Bengaluru’s famous Chowdiah Memorial Hall, the event was the brainchild of Manisha Mehta, a 46-year-old chartered accountant with a dancer’s soul.
The founder of Dancekala, an institute that teaches different forms of dance to kids, Manisha strongly believes in following your heart and this is her way of giving back to the society. Here is the inspiring story of this amazing woman.
Born in Udaipur, Manisha spent much of her childhood in Mauritius. She was passionate about dance from a very young age and loved matching her steps to the beats of music. During her formative years, she trained in several dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Jazz, Jive and Ballet. However, her favourite dance form was Rajasthani folk, especially Ghoomar, which she used to learn when she returned to Udaipur every year during her school holidays.
“I had a lot of free time and I wasn’t interested in sports, so I tried dancing and fell in love with it. I also have my dad to thank for the wonderful training I got throughout my growing up years,” says Manisha.
Noticing her developing interest in dance, Manisha’s parents ensured she had access to a good teacher who would teach her dance for three to four hours every day. The talented youngster bloomed under expert guidance and was soon performing on stage and in TV shows.
Years passed, Manisha grew up and became a chartered accountant. However, she never lost touch with dance. Even after she married and moved to the USA with her family, she continued to perform professionally. She also began teaching dance to a few children and women of the Indian community.
“Initially, it was a way for me to socialise and get to know new people. Gradually, it struck me how much I loved performing and teaching dance. Also, I realised that I was good at it. So, I began taking a month off from my job every year to teach dance to interested kids. That was 11 years ago, when I had two little children at home,” she says.
That was the beginning of Manisha’ journey. When she returned to Bengaluru to start her own software company, she continued to teach dance to kids whenever and wherever she could. The turning point came just before she was about to turn 40.
A few days before her 40th birthday, Manisha read somewhere, “life starts at 40.” And that’s when she decided to not just follow her passion, but also to utilise her skills to give back to society. She founded her own dance academy, Dancekala.
“My first class saw over 45 students and presently, there are about 115 of them. Interacting with them and watching them pick up a new skill is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had,” she smiles, deeply happy to have followed her dream and to be helping kids follow theirs.
Manisha had been thinking about collaborating with an orphanage for some time but had not found an organization willing to send kids to her dance academy. When she went to Thayi Mane, an orphanage that educates and rehabilitates destitute children, she was pleasantly surprised to find a former student in charge.
“I had initially thought about teaching 15-20 children from the orphanage. However, when I saw so many children there, looking at me with all that love and hope in their eyes, I couldn’t restrain myself from offering to teach three times that number for free. Dance shouldn’t be just for those who can afford it,” says Manisha.
In a heart-warming gesture, Manisha decided to have the kids from the orphanage perform with her other students at Dancekala’s upcoming event on Republic Day.
She also decided to make it a fundraiser, with all proceeds going to the orphanage. All the expenses for the preparations came from her own pockets but Manisha says that it was totally the worth the hard work to see the kids from the orphanage take to the stage for the first time.
Manisha plans to teach as many kids from the orphanage for as long as she can.
“While I will be glad if a few of them pursue dance as a hobby, I hope to help the kids, at least some of them, make a living through dance. That would give me the greatest happiness,” concludes the kind woman who has shown that it’s never too late to follow your heart, live your passion, and give back to society.
Manisha Mehta has been honoured with Bengaluru’s Urban Achiever award and the Public Relation Council of India’s Shining Star award for her service towards promoting performing arts while helping underprivileged children.
To contact her, click here.