Ipsa Mohanty, Consultant, Manager, and Indian Classical Dancer

What I love most about dancing is that it brings space, time, energy, and movement into a single domain. For me, dance is just as immersive as meditation. It is another way for me to stop time and truly be present in the moment. When I am dancing, the space around me becomes irrelevant. I am engulfed in a cocoon of energy that I experience at that time. The energy may not always be positive, but dance provides an excellent medium to express it in a harmless and cleansing manner. Finally, dance is about movement – movement of every inch of your body from the eyes to the toes. It brings every part of your body to life.

My name Ipsa Mohanty – I am an economist by training, a consultant by profession, and a creator at heart. I am originally from Orissa, grew up in Bangalore, and moved to North America in 2012. I am currently a Manager in Deloitte’s Supply Chain practice in Toronto. I work predominantly in the area of supply chain planning and have worked extensively on large transformation projects both in Canada and in the US.

I have lived in Toronto, Canada since October 2015. Through a series of decisions, some planned and some unplanned, I moved from my hometown in Bangalore to North America. I moved to the US to get an MBA at Penn State in 2012. I then moved to Boston for work and instantly fell in love with the city; I left a piece of me there when I moved to Toronto a year later. Work motivated the move to Toronto. After five years of exploration and discovery, it has begun to feel a lot like home.

Dancing is my first love – I enjoy watching it, learning it, teaching it, and performing it. I started dancing at the age of 10. My training began in Bharatnatyam, the traditional dance form of Karnataka. I truly became interested in dance a few years later when I was introduced to Odissi, the classical dance form of Orissa. From the graceful “bhangis” (tribhangi is one of the postures in Odissi, that translates into three bends – one at the neck, one at the waist, and one at the knee), to the mellifluous music, to the rhythmic footwork, to the jangles of the ankle bells – I was hooked. Since then, I seized every opportunity to learn as much as I could about the dance form. I enrolled in weekend dance lessons, watched stage performances by notable dancers with curiosity and intrigue, visited residential dance schools, and attended intensive workshops to immerse myself in the art form. Dance had become an integral part of my being. While I was an undergrad, I pursued my learning of Odissi, and also performed with a contemporary dance ensemble called Nritarutya and a salsa dance company called Lourd Vijay’s Dance Studio.

There are several dancers I admire and draw inspiration from, starting with my gurus (teachers) from back home in India. Their dedication, discipline, and devotion have been a source of strength and inspiration. There are too many to name, but Guru Udaykumar Shetty, Sharmila Mukherjee, and Sujatha Mohapatra come to mind. It has been an honour and privilege to learn from each of them. Outside the world of Odissi, I admire Aditi Mangaldas, Pina Bosch, and Madhuri Dixit. Each of them brings remarkable honesty and an inimitable personal style to their work, which is very inspiring.

While my teachers taught me the discipline of dance, it was my father who introduced me to the world of dance. He was a connoisseur of art and encouraged my brother and me to take up different art forms from a very young age – playing the harmonium, learning Hindustani classical music, painting, and classical dance. Some of these hobbies stuck and some dwindled over time.

Finally, I draw inspiration from everyday sounds and movements around me. There is so much rhythm all around that I find myself tapping my foot to.

Odissi is my favourite type of Dance – I practiced Odissi for nearly 10 years under the tutelage of renowned gurus in Bangalore. My practice included yoga, music, and the dance form itself. I graduated to performing on stage and performed extensively across India. A year before I left home for the US, I had the opportunity to teach Odissi to budding young dancers, which was an incredibly gratifying and enriching experience.

In my opinion, the qualities that make a good dancer are also the qualities that one develops through the medium of dance. I have gained a lot from dance but I would boil it down to these three qualities:

Patience/Perseverance: It takes time, dedication, and a lot of practice to perfect a move, an expression, a segment, and eventually an entire piece. It is very easy to give up or get complacent with “good enough”. With perseverance and patience, one can take their art from good to great and, ultimately, to transcendental.

Discipline: I remember one of the exercises we used to do at every practice was holding the posture Chauka for 300 counts. Think of it as holding a squat for 5 minutes. Every single one of us moaned, complained, and absolutely detested this exercise. We often labelled it “torture”. Our teacher patiently explained that this exercise is not meant to be torture but was meant to cultivate discipline. Discipline helps build concentration, focus, and endurance, all of which go a long way in dance.

Humility: It is so easy to be wound-up in the sense of self and to be consumed by accolades. Humility allows a dancer to shed arrogance and pride and slip into the emotions that dance is meant to convey with grace and relatability.

I have done several live shows, performing Odissi across India. I was also part of a massive collaboration with a Bangalore-based contemporary dance company, Nritarutya, and performed with a group of 60 dancers on a stage outside the Gateway of India in Mumbai. Outside of this, I have competed at the college level in western dance during my undergrad.

There is also a vibrant dance community and culture where I live in Toronto, from Kathak, to Odissi, to contemporary, and Bollywood dancing. When I moved to Toronto, I learned Kathak from a teacher in downtown Toronto and took a few Bollywood dance master classes. While I have not been able to keep up with my Odissi practice as much as I used to in India, these classes and communities have helped keep the dancer in me alive.

My short-term goal with dance is to continue to practice and teach Odissi in whatever way I can and spread its beauty and mystique to the community in Toronto. My childhood dream and future goal has always been to start a dance school where students come to learn Odissi, but stay for the community.

The biggest similarity between dance and my current occupation is learning to adapt. In the world of consulting, we are very quickly made aware that one size does not fit all. We often tailor our approach and solution based on the industry, client preferences, geographic location, and (most recently) serving clients remotely. Performing is very similar. Your audience is never the same. The stage and setting are never the same. Sometimes, we perform for a large audience in a well-lit auditorium with excellent acoustics. Other times, we perform outdoors on a makeshift stage, with atmospheric lighting and sounds. While the medium is the same, we often have to adapt as dancers – to project differently, emote differently, and adjust movements depending on the area of the stage. What remains unaltered is the essence of the choreography and the signature style of the dancer.

My experience with dance has served me well in my career. Firstly, it taught me discipline and perseverance. Our technology projects typically span several months, with constantly evolving requirements. Delivering on this successfully requires perseverance and patience. Secondly, dance has taught me to acclimatize to my situation. This has helped me serve clients across different industries and cultures successfully. Lastly, my practice as a dancer has given me the fortitude to treat failure and critique as a part of the journey, to take them in my stride and use them effectively to continually evolve.

My advice to anyone interested in taking up Indian Classical Dance is to just start. It is never too late to start learning, to start performing, or to start teaching. Classical dance exposes one to a host of disciplines, including music, yoga, meditation, and the practice of mindfulness. Dancers, knowingly and unknowingly, cultivate knowledge and experience in each of these disciplines through their practice.

There is always more than tech – one cannot deny the importance of technology in the current world. It is a part of our personal and professional existence. That being said, every individual is more than just work. As Toni Morrison said, “You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” There is so much more to technologists than the work we do. Our creative passions fuel the people we are just as much, if not more, than our passion for technology. It is so important to keep the creative passion alive by providing creators with a platform to express, share, and inspire through our work, experiences, and collective wisdom.

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