Giving a new twist to the phrase: wake up and smell the curry, a former Indian journalist who is now based in Bournemouth (England), Dr (PhD) Chindu Sreedharan and his dance partner Dr (PhD) Janine Nicole Desai have yet another feather in their ballroom dancing caps by winning the UK Closed Senior 1 Ballroom Championships on July 28 this year. In November 2012, the duo had won the British National Championship.
With this win, Sreedharan and Desai have won both main titles and are the reigning UK champions. There are two prestigious national titles that UK dancers compete for. One is the UK Closed (which takes place in Bournemouth, the town Sreedharan lives in), the other the British Nationals (in the well-known Winter Gardens, Blackpool).
More left than deft
Sreedharan would have tripped over his two left feet laughing, if somebody suggested that he would have taken ballroom dancing seriously a few years ago.
This former associate editor of rediff.com who began his career in Delhi before moving to Mumbai and then overseas (to work for India Abroad) undertook a PhD in conflict journalism. “This is what brought me to England in 2003,” he says in an e-mail interview, adding, “England was a logical choice as it would give me the distance I wanted.”
Sreedharan also grew up in the pre-Harry Potter age, on a diet of Enid Blyton books like so many of his generation, who felt a strange lure for the England of Blyton’s books -- gentle, rolling hills, green countryside, ginger beer and the neighbourhood tea shop serving hot scones ‘n’ milk.
Says Sreedharan, “I grew up on Enid Blyton books, so this place has always held a fascination for me. I came to England essentially to pursue a PhD, and then after it was done, I stayed on.”
Sreedharan, who is married to Svetlana Urupina from Belarus, elaborates about the title, “Dancesport is the term for competitive ballroom (which is very different from social ballroom). It can be divided into Standard/Modern and Latin. We only compete in the Standard category. That means: Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Quickstep and Viennese Waltz. There are categories like, Beginners, Novice, Intermediate, Pre-championship and Championship. We compete at the Championship level (the highest amateur level). We compete in the Championship Senior 1 (over-35) category. The titles we won are in that category.”
The titles (Sreedharan insists there is still much to achieve) are the culmination of what began, “when I started training for dancesport in December 2008.” He says generously about his dance partner, Janine, “She is the more experienced dancer, and makes me look better than I am! She has been the national champion with her previous partner thrice, before we got together. She lives in London, and is married to Coolin Desai, a British Indian.”
Never at office dos
In fact, Sreedharan says that his first tentative steps, literally, with dance were in India, “In India, I tried to dance a little bit. I was terrible. It was not ballroom, though. I tried one of Shiamak Davar’s classes. That was my first-ever brush with dancing. Later, I also tried salsa, with Anand Majumdar. Anand also introduced me to social ballroom. This was the first time I had actually seen it done, and I went, hmmm... I really like that. I must pick it up when I get to England.”
This self-confessed hard worker, saying, “Hard work does not scare me,” adds that the “discipline and structure of dancesport worked for me. Otherwise, I could not dance to save my life.” If anyone thought that people would be shouting: Chindu put on your dancing shoes at office dos they were mistaken. “I was the guy who avoided office parties and social dos,” he says.
weights and workouts
Talking about fitness standards required for serious competition, Sreedharan says, “Competitive ballroom is deceptive. One is supposed to make the dances look easy and seamless, but they do require a tremendous level of fitness and endurance. Janine and I work on our fitness quite a bit. I have always been fairly fit, but a few months before our first competition, I did some intensive training to build my endurance. I think I lost about six kilos. Mainly it is cardio work, quite intense circuit training. I put in approximately four gym sessions (high intensity work on crosstrainer, treadmill, etc) every week. This is in addition to the actual dancing, which would be six times a week. So all in all we train about 15-18 hours a week.”
Whizzing ’tween venues
Out of the studio, there is plenty of hi-octane energy required to juggle jobs, dance and quickstepping between two venues. Sreedharan explains, “Janine lives in London. I live in Bournemouth. Both of us have very demanding day jobs, so finding time to practice is our biggest challenge. I have a very challenging fulltime job, which incorporates research, teaching, and journalism practice. Janine is the HR director for UK for an international hotel chain. She also has a five-year-old son. We train both in London and Bournemouth. So there’s a lot of travelling involved.
“On an average we train together twice a week. In the run-up to major competitions, we do more, at least three times. In addition, we train independently, Janine in London, me in Bournemouth. We also have to compete regularly, every second week or so. So there's a lot involved.”
Boy of the Ball(room)
In the end, he says, “It is the challenge of doing something that you couldn’t do before. There is great pleasure when you see the improvement in yourself. Competing is the best way to find out where you stand. I am quite competitive, I guess.”
On that contemplative note, Sreedharan, originally from Kerala (India), signs off. He, along with Janine, is eyeing the Internationals in London in October, where he hopes to put his best dancing foot forward while representing England.
Bournemouth is a large coastal resort town in the ceremonial county of Dorset, England. It is also the largest settlement between Southampton and Plymouth. Founded in 1810 by Lewis Tregonwell, Bournemouth’s growth accelerated with the arrival of the railway, becoming a recognized town in 1870.
Historically part of Hampshire, it joined Dorset with the reorganization of local government in 1974. Bournemouth’s location on the south coast of England has made it a popular destination for tourists. Bournemouth is located 105 miles (169 km) southwest of London.
Ballroom is quite different from other forms like salsa, or ballet, or street. In ballroom, you have Latin ballroom and Modern/Standard ballroom. Latin ballroom includes five dances (cha cha, samba, paso, rumba and jive). Standard ballroom includes Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep. We focus on Standard ballroom. Social ballroom and competitive ballroom/dancesport are different. Social ballroom is a very relaxed form and you hardly break a sweat.
Eye on India
India now has a slew of dance competitions on TV, with celebrity choreographers as jury and enviable prize money. Says Sreedharan: “I have watched only what has come through on FB, in friends’ newsfeed. Mostly this has been salsa, street, etc, and some of it has looked amazing! I have seen tiny bits of ballroom choreography creeping into some Bollywood songs, though -- which is nice!”