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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Vegan Kathak dancer Vidya Patel on balancing diet and dance

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Vidya Patel, a classically trained Kathak dancer, talks about her love for dance and her relationship with veganism.

It is strange these past few years, it’s just become so acceptable to be a vegan. Whereas, in the past, if someone said: ‘Oh, I’m vegan,’ they’re just like: ‘What? Are you serious?’”

Immersing herself into the world of dance from a young age, Vidya Patel now freelances in the Indian classical style of dance, Kathak, and she’s also vegan.  Kathak is a north Indian classical dance form, one of the eight Indian classical dance forms that can be traced back thousands of years ago.

Patel was inspired by her sisters, who trained in Bharatanatyam, and later joined when she was the right age to join classes. Her parents thought this would be a way to imbibe her culture through learning Indian classical dance. She later started training in Kathak.

She was part of the Centre of Advanced Training at Birmingham’s DanceXchange. It is a national programme for South Asian classically trained young dancers from the ages of 11 to 18 to learn in a professional setting with a range of guest artists and tutors. This exposure to seeing dance professionals, curiosity to learn more as well as the support she received motivated her to give this career prospect a chance.

 

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Since 2014, Patel has been freelancing and has had endless opportunities. She represented the South Asian Category in the Grand Finals of the inaugural BBC Young Dancer 2015 competition. She has also performed at the renowned dance theatre, Sadler’s Wells, which was broadcast live on BBC. She has been nominated for many prestigious awards, and has worked and toured nationally and internationally with artists across the dance industry.

Towards the end of 2016, Patel decided to go vegan after watching Cowspiracy on Netflix during Christmas. “It was just quite an abrupt and drastic change,” she says. At this point, no one in her family was vegan, and they were surprised at Patel’s decision, especially during the festive season.

veganism dance
Photo: Indy Sagoo

As she transitioned, Patel was very strict with her diet and finding what works best for her on her journey in veganism. Throughout her Kathak training, Patel would live at a teacher’s house or travel around to different places and so, regarding hospitality, it was challenging as a vegan. She adds: “This is a journey for me in terms of how and at what levels I can be vegan.” During a stay in India, she was sticking to a vegetarian diet and made a choice to be as she was, “accepting the love that’s been put into the food” whilst staying with her lovely artist hosts, who were like a family to her.

Patel has even inspired her family to either try vegan cuisine or transition to the lifestyle. She explains: “My mum makes chai with oat milk and uses coconut oil for mithai [sweets].” Their Gujarati food is also vegan, as they have minimised the use of dairy products and have found it easier to access vegan products in supermarkets.

 

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In terms of dance, the transition towards a vegan lifestyle helped Patel with her energy levels. Kathak, despite the grace, also requires a lot of stamina and thus I was intrigued to see if the lifestyle affected the way in which she dances. Before transitioning, she found that yoghurt made her feel lethargic, but now as a vegan, she puts more thought into her food and ensuring she obtains the correct nutritional values.

As a dancer, especially in Kathak, when it comes to performing, makeup plays a huge role. Patel says that, with the help of her sister Jaineesha, she has become more aware of the different aspects of veganism. “When I’m performing, I’m using makeup so much. Lipstick, foundation, etc., and so now, I’ll just ring up my sister and say: ‘What do you think of this?’”, she tells me. This has helped keep up the notion of being as sustainable and ethical as possible.

Read our interview with Patel’s sister and vegan makeup artist, Jaineesha.

She adds: “I think people are just waking up to the reality that if we don’t stop being so consumer-led, then the end of is just going to be the end of the world in a way. I will never inflict my views on anyone else, that becoming vegan is something everyone should do. I know it’s made a huge difference to me and has been really beneficial.”

Even in terms of costumes, since Patel performs a lot, she tries to be sustainable and use the same costumes regularly, rather than constantly buying new ones. She explains: “I used to use old sarees made from silk to make costumes, so they don’t go to waste.”

 

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Patel touches upon the similarities of dance and veganism, and the stance that they are both a lifestyle. She says: “I think dance, in itself, always has a spiritual side to it. I think it is similar to veganism. It’s a lifestyle.” However, the Kathak dancer adds that she can be described as a “flexi” vegan rather than a strict one.

Over time, Patel has been able to grow in her vegan journey by implementing it into the world of dance. She adds: “I think both of them, even though they’re not directly linked with one another, are very parallel to how they stand. They’re both lifestyle choices and to implement it well, they need to be practised on a day-to-day basis.”

Mansi
Mansi Vithlani
Mansi Vithlani is a journalism student at City, University of London. A vegetarian her whole life and a massive foodie, she enjoys discovering more about veganism and eating vegan cuisine! She enjoys investigating social media based stories and how its influence has made a significant difference in the last few years.