By: Shreeya Indap
“Yes, we are different faces from different places. But we fight the same problem to save the same planet.” Five days later, I can still hear those words ringing in my ears, spoken by the dozens of youth that performed in my nonprofit Dandilyonn’s show Elements. At the time, I hadn’t processed what was happening and now that I’ve gotten the chance to, it all seems so surreal.
My partner Ojaswee and I had wanted to host a dance show fundraiser ever since we started Dandilyonn as we ourselves met in dance class ten years ago. So when last year our walkathon turned out to be a huge success, we were inspired to do something bigger, and we turned to our common passion: dance. Our idea was to spread the message of combating climate change through dance, though later we added multimedia and poetry. The show would take the audience on a journey through the story of Earth’s birth, to display the beauty of what this planet has to offer.
Planning Elements has been a journey of its own, including learning valuable lessons and life skills. I learned to never hesitate in reaching out to people for whatever I needed; the worst thing that can happen is they say no! In fact, that’s how Elements began. In 2017, I attended a Greenpeace conference about how teenagers could install solar panels in their schools and when I approached my principal with this idea, he suggested we raise money for LED lights instead. Ojaswee and I knew exactly how we wanted to do it. That summer, we created the concept of the show, found professional musicians who were willing to create a new piece with us, booked the Firehouse Arts Center, and started reaching out to other dance troops.
It was during this time where we hit the most speed bumps in our journey. I remember this happening one, two, three, four times in a matter of a week; the phone on the counter would lit up and began to vibrate, sending ripples of worry through me and my mom. Was it another group calling to tell us they could no longer perform? It was our mistake that we had booked the theater on Easter Sunday. After multiple discussions and the theater’s inability to give us another date, we decided to stick with the plan, which meant finding more groups. I brought in two groups from my school to perform, Hip-Hop and Tahitian. Later, when I heard my school’s Tahitian group was planning to drop as well, I rushed to talk to the choreographer and helped her find a solution to her time commitments by holding the practices myself. It was this that taught me the importance of a Plan B and being ready to overcome any setbacks.
And setbacks there were. Our first rehearsal with the musicians was extremely unproductive as Ojaswee and I were complete amateurs and had no idea what to do. Over time, we learnt how to collaborate with them the way our dance teacher Antara Didi did, and by the end of it, we were running whole run-throughs by ourselves. The day of the show also had a major setback as two of the light up gloves we needed for the beginning of the dance stopped working. Surprisingly without any panic (I had gotten so used to making Plan Bs), we adjusted our dance so it would look great even without those two gloves. These experiences have taught me a valuable lesson: There have been and always will be challenges that I have to overcome, but while rejections and failures close one door, other doors always open. If not, don’t shy away from opening a window.
Along with these lessons, I learned how to communicate with and appeal to different people. For example, I had to present for sponsorships and grants where I had spoken more about what the other person was getting out of it in a different way than how I talked about Elements at my school’s faculty meeting. I was also forced to prioritize and give up my free time, such as my lunches, to work on Elements.
Even though this was the case, it never felt like work because of how much I enjoyed doing the day-to-day Elements tasks. I had discovered this motivation and drive I never knew I possessed because of the passion I had for my work. I would spend hours creating the concept and final formations, making new social media posts, designing costumes and the program, updating our website, practicing my dances, outreach to sponsors, and doing voiceovers for the background videos. Additionally, I made a mash-up soundtrack for my MSJ hip-hop group, brought in emcees, followed up with head choreographers, and held practices for multiple teams. This hard work put in by everyone working on Elements paid off, as we sold out three weeks before the show, something that we initially thought would not be possible. Every day, Ojaswee and I would text each other something along the lines of “ONE WEEK TILL ELEMENTS!” or “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!” And every night during the week before the show, I would dream about Elements out of excitement or stay up going over the choreography in my head.
The day of the show was everything I had hoped for and more. My two performances felt so short and we hadn’t made any mistakes because of the amount of time we had poured into perfecting them. I also managed to find the time to watch a few dances from the balcony and I experienced a feeling I can’t accurately put into words. My heart was filled with this immense joy, at the realization that the youth on stage were performing in my show, for the cause that I believed in.
Looking back, I can proudly say that every choice I made and everything I did was worth it and eventually led to an extremely successful show. And, I am so thrilled and honored that I had my entire community there to share this experience with me. Seeing the youth come out in the finale and hearing everyone speak those lines was unforgettable because I could feel the power of the words inside of me. Many people in the audience told me they felt the same way and I couldn’t have been happier that our message was really heard the way I had hoped it would have been. And in the end, as my heart warms at how successful the show was and how much money we have raised, I know it’s because of the community we have built around it. Ojaswee and I may have brought it together, planted the seed of climate change awareness, but it’s to them that this success belongs. They are the dandelions that have spread our message and have made our impacts possible.
The Dandilyonn community has accomplished so much since its birth. Exactly a year ago, we hosted our first walkathon and donated $1200. This year, we hosted our first dance show and will donate more than double that. And next year… well, I can’t wait to see what 2019 will bring.