Reshmi Chetram remembers dancing throughout her childhood.
Her mother, professional dancer Deviekha Chetram, who owned the Tarana Dance Center in Scarborough, led the family in regular backyard revels. “There was always music, creativity, inspiration and community around us,” she says. “Being of Indo-Caribbean descent, our experience consisted of (dance styles like) folk, chutney, nagara, Bollywood, kathak, odissi and contemporary.” Every Friday, the family went to the video store to choose a Bollywood movie. “We grew up experiencing all of this. Dancing didn’t seem like an extracurricular activity: it was just our life.
At 18, Chetram turned professional and traveled to India to study Kathak; she then began dancing and choreographing with companies that performed all over the world, and dabbled in production and directing. In 2008, she developed BollyFit, an Indian dance fitness company that had over 150 instructors worldwide, and in 2011 had her own television show. “Indian classical dance is history in motion,” she says. “There is something so special about the preservation and continuity of ancient forms that have spanned centuries, weaving stories using the body language our ancestors used to tell stories of their time.”
Around 2013, Chetram’s mother began to suffer from dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. Even though her career takes off, Chetram decides to take care of her. “Truthfully, most of the time I didn’t know what I was doing, so I focused on emotions, empathy, structure, routine, and joy,” she says. “What would make her smile today?” It was the simplest things. It was a day at the spa at home, she was playing her favorite song, she was playing Scrabble and not paying attention to the spelling.
Chetram took over teaching at his mother’s school, even bringing some lessons to their home. “As a daughter, I told myself to keep her around the things that brought her joy – and dancing elicited a response from my mother that I can only explain as pure joy,” she says. “Coming from Guyana, my mother and her sister, Geeta Leo, brought classical Indian dance from South America to Toronto, transmitting and preserving Indo-Caribbean culture and arts to many first-generation Canadian artists who now also their own dance companies and artistic endeavors. »
Chetram cared for her mother until her death in 2020. Inspired by her mother’s advocacy, last March she launched a new series of tutorials, DWRLessons, on her website, reshmichetram.com, aimed at making Indian dance accessible to all. “Dancers of all ages, levels and backgrounds can participate in a way that suits them,” she says. These pre-recorded choreography class videos are $15 each, and she offers free kathak tutorials through her YouTube channel.
She also launched a mentoring service to help fellow artists with everything from writing a grant to mounting a full-scale production. Its new online lifestyle boutique, Reysh Rituals – selling traditional items like incense, Indian jewelry and malas (prayer beads) – will launch later this month.
Carrying on the tradition of his mother, Chetram fills his own home with Indian music and dance. “My children and I dance every day,” she says. “My desire as a mother is to provide an environment rich in our culture, roots, history and experiences, so that they can thrive and feel connected to their culture in their own way as they grow. ‘they grow up.’