Darlene Dhillon – How a dancer got stronger in body and mind to earn her first solo performance
Dancer, self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and all-round brand hero, Darlene Dhillon was already in great shape when she walked into the gym. But good enough just didn’t cut it for this ambitious lady. She had big dreams of performing one of the toughest roles in dance – a dazzling, dynamic Kathak solo.
Hi Darlene. Tell me, why were you interested in personal training?
I was interested in one-on-one training to cover the aspects I don’t get from dancing alone – getting a strong core and upper body, developing more defined and visible muscle and challenging the muscles that I don’t predominantly use during dancing. There are certain sets of muscles I challenge during dancing and the movements are very repetitive. Other muscles are neglected. And we don’t always stretch enough. I needed to take care of these things outside of dance practice. I wasn’t doing that on my own and wanted these goals implemented in a workout routine with a trainer. I also wanted to learn more about healthy nutrition and lose a few stubborn pounds.
Why did you decide to work with me?
What stood out was your focus on strength but also flexibility. As a dancer, I need both. Also, we clicked right away and I felt comfortable in your presence. I liked your energetic and positive personality and knew we’d make a great team. You’re super-organized, too. I love that you keep a detailed spreadsheet of my workouts and food intake, and knew that I needed this systematic approach in order to see results.
You were pretty fit already. What kind of results have you gotten from strength training?
I am an adrenaline junkie – it’s why I get so much out of dancing. Kathak is highly cardiovascular. Our feet move at a crazy-rapid pace with ghungroo weights of 5-7 pounds on each ankle (ghungroo: brass bells). It’s really intense cardio. I like running, too, for the same reason. I get this high. Working out in a gym has never given me the same feeling partly because I didn’t know what to do or how to push myself safely. So I couldn’t find the motivation. Now, thanks to you, I know exactly what to do in a gym — and I’m seeing awesome results. It’s amazing to see the transformation, the changes in my body. And it’s changed the way I dance, too — quite dramatically. My legs and core have become stronger and I have an even better sense of coordination. My dance movements are cleaner, crisper, and much faster. Another happy side effect, my butt has filled out and lifted! I finally understand the appeal of training and get excited about going to the gym.
I’m so happy to hear that! Anything else?
I’m challenged when I train with you. Let’s face it, I like a good challenge. I trained with one of the world’s foremost Kathak dance masters, Pandit Chitresh Das. When you learn with someone so dynamic and skilled and professional, you come to expect that high level of training and fine tuning. I’m inspired by you and your motivation to always push yourself. I’m always impressed by people of that caliber. Working with you, I learned to do things I didn’t know how to do and that I would never have attempted before. Thanks to your encouragement, I can now add these skills to my list of accomplishments.
Your passion is Kathak dance. Can you tell us more about it?
I started dancing 16 years ago at San Francisco State University. I needed an elective, Kathak sounded interesting, so I signed up. I used to choreograph Indian folk dances at my college culture shows and had a real love for dance. This felt like an expansion of my skills.
The first class, I met my teacher, Pandit Das. He asked me if I knew the names of the 10 Sikh gurus. I didn’t. The Master challenged me to look deeper into my culture and to take pride. To learn about my heritage and to understand my history better. It was eye opening. I couldn’t wait to take the class to learn more about my culture, myself, and Kathak dance. I took the class for three semesters in a row before enrolling at Chitresh Das’ dance school, the Chhandam School of Kathak Dance.
Kathak sounds pretty intense, like it encompasses more than just dance.
Essentially it’s storytelling, honoring the legacy of Indian culture and heritage as well as the pure and abstract elements of the dance. We describe it as four elements:
“Tayari” describes the readiness of the dancer, her strength and stamina. This one comes first — without strength and stamina through systematic training you will not get to the other elements.
“Layakari” describes the deep understanding of rhythm and timing. You have to be in harmony with yourself and the outside world at the same time to understand the rhythmic play of the dance.
“Khoobsoorti” describes the beauty of the dance, the way it flows.
And “Nazakat” describes the delicacy of that beauty, characterized by the subtle movements of the neck and eyebrows.
I’m beginning to understand why strength and flexibility were so important to you! Tell us about your upcoming solo performance.
The traditional solo is considered an important milestone the study of Kathak dance. It is partly improvised, and utterly dynamic — the soloist portrays all of the characters in the story. I also do a piece in which I play an instrument and dance at the same time — something Pandit Chitresh Das innovated and called Kathak yoga. He developed the technique to challenge the mind and body. Kathak yoga is the subject of a doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. It combines art and exercise and also brings in elements of history, philosophy, agility, focus and fitness.
The solo itself is a 90 minute tour-de-force performance. Lots of pirouettes, fast footwork, heavy technique. It’s a combination of my personal 16-year dance journey — blood, sweat, tears and breakthroughs.
It sounds utterly captivating. Did you always want to perform a solo?
Performing a solo is something I really wanted to do so I spoke with my teacher about it and got his blessings. Unfortunately, Pandit Chitresh Das died two years ago and was not able to guide me through the solo. But I’m working with one of the senior mentors, Seibi Lee.
I’m guessing you have a lot to prepare.
I’m practicing 3-5 hours per day. Up at 5am, go to the gym, practice footwork for an hour, practice some of the pieces I will be performing. Then work, then back to the gym. It’s a really difficult process but I am fortunate to be receiving the coaching and guidance from Seibi and from you, Anka.
It’s certainly been an incredible journey. So, tell me where you’re at now, and what you want to accomplish with your personal training.
Right now, I’m busy preparing for the solo and spend my time either at the gym or at work. Lack of time means I’ve had to drop our sessions to once a month and put personal training on the backburner. But as soon as my solo is over, I will get back to a regular schedule with you. I still have goals – master the handstand, for example and further improve my flexibility, get stronger, leaner, healthier…..You’re helping me to fine tune my body which as a dancer is my instrument. I’m not giving up!
But you’re right about it being a journey. I woke up this morning and realized there is no giant hole in my life; there’s only love and energy – this intense energy that wants to come out. I used to feel this incredible sense of loss, losing my teacher, losing my parents, losing opportunities. Frustration when the dancing wasn’t great. It all leaves a hole. Now, I don’t feel that anymore. I’m ahead. I have so many gifts to give and so much to offer, I’m so blessed. I’m just counting my blessings. My job is great, my dance is going incredibly well, my upcoming solo! I’m in the best shape I’ve been in my entire life. That’s what I want to bring forth in my dance – my body and mind are stronger from all the work you and I have been doing together.
Thank you, Darlene, for telling us a little about you and your passion Kathak. I can not wait to see you shine at your solo performance and I look forward to continue our work so you can set new goals and celebrate new achievements.
Darlene Dhillon is a senior student of the late Pandit Chitresh Das. She presents her debut traditional Kathak solo – a captivating performance highlighting the depth of the art form from intricate footwork and brilliant turns to nuanced expressive gestures and dramatic storytelling. To learn more about her upcoming solo performance click on below flyer.
Inspired by Darlene’s story? Curious about how fitness training could help you reach your fitness goals? Get in touch for a free and friendly consultation today!