I have yet to come to terms with my dance practice or identify myself as a dancer. I cannot. It was easier in school, as a child, I had more confidence. I started learning bharatanatyam at the age of 4 or 5 two blocks away from my house in Jodhpur. I didn’t choose it; I went since my mother took me. Growing up, I also played squash, went swimming, and was comfortable using my body in different ways, curious about asanas; trying to stand and walk in padmasana; pliable and formative; and oh! the joy of running, running across our little garden with my sister to press palm down into a handstand, still using that velocity to walk on our little hands for two, three, sometimes four beats and toppling onto our backs and laughing. This was a ritual, sacred as they come. My brother and I also played golf intermittently with our small clubs and daata with his big ones. It didn’t suit me. I loved swimming. Bubbling. Moving. Smooth and shiny like a mermaid. Going from one end of the pool to the other, over and over, without exhaustion, pure joy, like fish, like dolphin, like whale, like shark. On land, dance is the closest thing to the full-bodied experience of water, next is running. I loved the mathematics of it, one lap, two, three, four, still fluid. To be a shape and yet, to spill, to groove, to be and become, that is the magic of water. I loved mathematics. Addition, subtraction, assumptions like movement, assume ‘x’, imagine a moon, move towards it. Make attempts, false attempts, bad attempts until ah, there you are. Draw a triangle in the air, make an arc with your body, again and again and again, swimming, reaching, lapping, gasping, now and forever in love, contained within a rectangular pool, a rectangular notebook of signs and lines, and bodies, reaching, trying, crossing, making, falling, believing. It was in school that words got me, by the neck. We didn’t have a pool there. At 9, I joined a small, beautiful, ‘traditional’ (the website says) boarding school in dehradun, W.G.S.. I was confident, I had my body, I was happy. I didn’t miss home. I was home in me. We didn’t have a pool in school. But we had to choose a sport, and I chose basketball, a cult at Welham. Over the years our coach guided us and scolded us. We meditated over the ball with our eyes closed, bouncing it on the floor with one finger, index, middle, ring, little, thumb then the other hand. He told us to be true to ourselves and ‘don’t sham’. I wished for more sports, variety, I got that in bharatanatyam. My teacher was a kalakshetra-trained bharatanatyam dancer from Kerala, her mother too had gone to Kalakshetra. It was a different kind of hereditary dance for her, not that of the devadasi but one still related to blood and being—a lived history. She loved us, loved me, we loved her. She was strict and giving. Every year we formed a team in our houses to compete in annual music and dance competition. I did not know anything about the dance’s history then. Those house teams are part of my best memories of school, camaraderie and teamwork. I was in love with gestures, postures, movement of treating my body as a psycho-somatic, spiritual and aesthetic entity all at once. The goal was to be and it seemed more rewarding than putting a ball in a hoop. But still, I was as taken with other activities and dance had not taken precedence yet. I loved coding and art. In class 9, we had to choose and I chose dance. It was probably because of my teacher and the house dance teams. Back home, my experience in rajput society was completely different, an alter world. In weddings the women sat together, danced drank laughed. I’ve seen nothing like it– jewellery ghoomar embroidered poshaks (the traditional ceremonial dress). The men sat separately; I don’t think they had as much fun. With family, I attended hindustani classical concerts. I remember watching Zakir Hussain in a courtyard of Mehrangarh fort, and Shiv Kumar Sharma in Udaipur. I heard the sitar, shehnai, sangeet, over time I was exposed to qawwali, ghazal and kabir. In school, we sang shabads, shloks, and myriad songs of land and rain, and hymns, and carols. We had a ‘secular’ education and we celebrated all festivals. In our dormitories, we heard rap, pop, bollywood and punjabi music and everything in between. Growing up in an all-girls school and learning from and with these beautiful strong brave and naughty women was a blessing, I did not know I had. I thought the world would be supportive like them. Growing up as a girl in Rajasthan, was full of etiquette, niceness and restriction. Luckily I did not have any intellectual restrictions but every woman knows that unknowingly or knowingly we are taken in by the culture and start performing our bodies as we are taught to or as we think we are supposed to. We started worrying about our shapes more than our feelings. Growing up in post-colonial India that had become even more british, we ate on tables and chairs with forks and knives and followed ‘proper table manners’. We spoke english well. Meanwhile, I attended dance class and started getting introduced to the history of dance in India. I learnt about the devadasi ban and lamented like one is supposed to. There was a line in the essay we read which said something like, ‘It has become fashionable for dancers these days to say they would’ve liked to be a devadasi.’ I did not know what it was, but this made me extremely uncomfortable. My exposure to carnatic music was limited to my teacher singing in bharatanatyam class or the recordings that we sometimes used and the taalams and raagams we were taught about in class. But every year during the competition, we had a live music crew who travelled from the south. The sound of the mridangam was intoxicating. But I was still not head over heels in love. I fell gradually, year by year, until after tenth, I dropped basketball, to the horror of my coach to focus more on dance. The last two years of school were intellectually stimulating and emotionally challenging. In the summer of 12 grade a few of my batchmates and I stayed back to prepare for a performance in lucknow. With deeper immersion and 2-3 hours of daily dance practice I became more enamoured and enticed. I thought, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to be a dancer. After dance practice I would study Math and economics, prepare for the board exams that were to come. On weekends there were parties with friends. Many 12th graders from boarding schools would stay back in Dehradun to prepare for the upcoming exams.