Meet Paayal Sookdeo, the young Indian dancer who’s working to empower women

XX: Tell us about yourself! Who is Paayal Sookdeo?

PAAYAL SOOKDEO: I’m 21 years old. After attending Parvati Girls’ Hindu College, and Shiva Boys’ Hindu College for CAPE, I graduated in 2016, with dreams of becoming a pilot someday. I needed a stepping stone into the aviation industry, so I did my Certificate in Aviation Technology at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, where I continued on, pursuing my Bachelor’s of Applied Sciences in Manufacturing and Design Engineering degree. I am also a member of staff of the Aviation Department at UTT.

Since the tender age of 14, I have always dreamt of becoming a pilot, but being more involved within the aviation field, I have developed the liking of becoming an aircraft engineer. I hope to achieve both goals one day in the future. I will always keep fighting for my dreams and ensure that it becomes a reality so that I can become a role model to the younger generation. Aviation is a male-dominated field, and I hope to encourage more women and young ladies to strive for excellence within these fields and let the empowerment of women be shone across the world.

XX: WOW! And besides that, you’re a dancer! How long have you been dancing?  

PS: Since I was  9. I started dancing at my primary school where we entered the Maha Shabha’s Baal Vikaas Competitions every year. I continued dancing in school even at Parvati Girls’ Hindu College where we had a designated period every week for many different sports and activities, where of course I chose Indian dancing. I have been doing basic Indian classical dance for the past 12 years and I enjoy every minute of it. I was taught Indian classical dancing from different tutors at my schools.

XX: Are they certain styles of dance that you practice or enjoy most?

PS: I am also trained in basic ballroom and salsa. I do enjoy both types of dancing; ballroom and Indian dancing but I enjoy practicing Indian classical and Indian Bollywood dancing, mostly because it allows me to express myself in a different way than any person would on a normal day. It gives me that sense of freedom and relaxation and it serves as a stress reliever for me.

XX: Tell us about your Indian dancing!

PS: My form of Indian dancing touches on a little of the different forms including kathak, Bharatanatyam and Indian Bollywood. I would not say it’s easy nor would I say it’s difficult. It becomes complicated at times but my passion for it never allows me to see it as anything difficult. There are challenges along the way but I get over the hurdles and enjoy the rest of the journey.

XX: The word “kathak” derives from the word Kathake, which means “the one who tells a story”, do you feel that your dancing allows you to be a storyteller? What story do you tell?

PS: I do think my dancing tells a story. A story and expression of love and unity. When I dance I can feel the love being expressed through the graceful movements, when I dance with my colleagues we dance and unite together as one. There is more to dancing than what society imagine it to be; a combination of movements that a person or group do with the timing of music. Dancing gives the individual the opportunity to tell their own story and not be judged by society.

XX: How has dancing such a special form of Indian dance make you feel closer to your Hindi roots?

PS: I feel blessed to have such a talent that was brought to us here by our very own ancestors straight from India. Dancing gives me the opportunity to showcase my talent and allows me to keep lifting my culture to the highest level at all cultural events. With the modern generation that we live in today, it feels great to still have something that reminds us and society of what our ancestors gave to us, ensuring that we never forget them.

XX: So you dance with a group? Tell us more!  

PS: I am a proud member of the Khalnayak Academy of Dance led by the very popular and most talented Mr. Brian Mangaroo. I have been dancing with my group for the past 4 years and it has been the best experience thus far. I have gotten so many wonderful opportunities and experience with my group. We have danced throughout the country as well as the Caribbean. I’ve been to the lovely country of Grenada representing our Indian culture, while the other members were at several other Caribbean countries. We were the reigning champions of the NCIC Dance Contest in 2016 amongst other titles placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd on different occasions at the Prime Minister’s Best Village Competitions.  My group wishes to carry on this legacy for as long as we can to ensure that our culture never dies.

XX: It’s almost Divali, it must be a crazy time for you! What’s Divali season like every year?

PS: Although it is an extremely busy time, Divali season is the most joyous occasion for me. I get to meet new and famous persons, I learn more about our culture and I am extremely happy to be part of the entertainment industry.  With the NCIC Divali Nagar taking place as well as Divali celebrations throughout the country, annually, my group and I are totally booked. There are times we are hired to perform at more than one venues on one day but it gives us great recognition and more opportunities to become well-known throughout the country and hopefully worldwide to represent Indian culture and Indian dancing.

XX: People say that dance is an art: do you agree?

PS: Yes, dance is an art. An art which both you and I have, the only difference is that some choose to share it with everyone while others don’t. However, with the many different and new talents I see today, I can definitely say that dance is more than just a work of art. The creative ideas and productions are limitless and I am happy to see other dancers using this to their advantage to enhance their dancing and making our culture an even more beautiful one.

XX: What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an Indian dancer?

PS: My advice to anyone that would love to become an Indian classical or Indian Bollywood dancer would be, “You should definitely do it! It is the most beautiful and exciting experience you will ever have! The dancing industry is limitless and welcomes everyone on board. Do not be afraid to showcase your talent. It is an opportunity you should never give up. Dancing is creative and expressive, embrace it!”

XX: So what’s next for you, Paayal?

PS: My next step is working towards achieving my set goals of becoming an aircraft engineer amongst others while my dancing career blooms into a more successful one.

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