Finding your rhythm and groove within a supportive dance community is an aim that Rhythm Performing Arts strives for. Whether it’s been teaching members the style of hip-hop to the Indian classical dance of Bharatanatyam, co-presidents Paul Rodriguez and Anshita Khanna helped make it happen. Hailing from diverse dance backgrounds, Rodriguez and Khanna bring a panoply of skills to the team.
Born in 1993, Rodriguez credits his early dance inspiration to the song “Get Down,” by the Backstreet Boys, released in 1996.
“Proper training from instructors or in a studio was not something my parents could afford for me, so a lot of my journey was literally replicating what I saw others do on TV,” Rodriguez says.
It was when Rodriguez turned 12 years old that he began dabbling in his Latin cultural roots. He was introduced to styles like salsa, bachata, and merengue at family gatherings. When he turned 16 years old, Rodriguez began freelance instructing and choreographing group routines in Latin dance styles.
When it came to support for his dance career, Rodriguez admits that he did not receive unreserved encouragement.
Rodriguez explains, “From my family, they were extremely content with knowing I took an interest in the dances from our culture. To them, it was a leisurely appreciation for who we are, but that’s all it meant to them. When it came to wanting to know more, take classes, perform at shows, or take auditions, they never truly agreed that it was the best use of my time. It discouraged me a lot.”
However, Rodriguez noted that as his exposure as a dancer increased—through hosting classes and freelance performances—his personal motivation grew. He credits his biggest support system to his time at UTM where he was able to join Rhythm Performing Arts. The exposure to proper training and classes at Rhythm, along with encouragement from Khanna, has helped Rodriguez further his dance career.
Before entering Rhythm, Rodriguez admits to dancing alone without the appreciation of dancing as a collective.
“Being in the club has also taught me confidence and professionalism since we don’t ever see ourselves as just a band of friends ‘doing a little dance,’ but a hard working unit that outputs the best possible dances we can physically do—and with a smile,” Rodriguez adds
Khanna, on the other hand, has been dancing for 14 years. She began her studies at Shiamak Davar International in India, and then moved over to the dance company’s studio in Toronto for four years. Then, Khanna began training under Rhythm Performing Arts since 2014. Since then, Khanna has been trained in hip-hop, jazz, Bollywood, contemporary, Latin, and Indian classical dance styles. She says she dances as a form of catharsis.
“It is the only time I feel fully in tune with myself,” Khanna says. “Dance has always been there for me to make any day better and to release my bottled emotions.”
One personal challenge that Khanna has encountered while dancing is striving for perfection.
“I have always been a very competitive person and in my early dancing days, I’ve always wanted to be the best in my class. I would tell myself that practice makes perfect; and I needed to be perfect. But I soon realized that that saying is untrue—you can always improve but perfection is a myth,” Khanna says.
Khanna admits that her parents have been very supportive of her dancing career. Her parents have financially and mentally supported her when it came to dance. For instance, Khanna recalls that when she expressed interest to further pursue her dance career, her father helped her sort the means for her to achieve this goal.
When asked about the importance of dance, in general, Khanna thinks it means more than the physical act of moving one’s body.
“The definition of dance is to ‘move rhythmically to music.’ People always see dancing as just that—the act of moving your body—but all dancers know that to means so much than that. It is so physically demanding and mentally challenging. It teaches discipline and professionalism. It takes countless hours of work, many tears, and lots of rejection. But when you love something so much, the good exceeds the bad,” Khanna says.