She came, she saw and she conquered. Ballet dancer Yana Lewis arrived in India from London in 1998 and has been here ever since. She says, “I never really left the country after that”.
Yana had come to Pune via Chennai and Bengaluru to participate in her yoga guru BKS Iyengar’s 80th birthday. During that maiden visit, she became aware of various Indian dance forms and traveled all over the country. A trained ballerina, she thoroughly enjoyed all the classical and other dance forms that she witnessed here.
There was however, one thing that irked her.
What people here were practicing in the name of Western Dance had no resemblance to what we practiced in the West,
says Yana. This, she felt, was because all classical dance forms in the West are based on ballet, something not many people knew of in India.
She also saw that what most people were learning in India as ballet was nothing close to the real deal.
Ballet and Yana
Yana started studying ballet at the age of 2, and since then it has been an integral part of her life. She also has over 35 years of experience teaching ballet to students of different nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds.
“When I got off the plane in India for the first time, something clicked. I met a lot of children on the street and the fact that they had so much energy amazed me. I have tried ever since to channelise their energy in the right direction.
Through dance, the boundless energy of children can be tapped and directed positively. They can learn very important life skills like self-respect, self-motivation and develop a sense of responsibility,
says Yana. Believing in the cause, she has even raised money for various organisations and conducted several workshops back in the UK and in India.
Growing up, Yana saw how ballet was restricted to the elite and she knew she wanted to bridge the gap and take it to the masses. India gave her the perfect opportunity to do so. She started teaching in Mumbai. First, she started with lectures on injury prevention in dance and subsequently moved to teaching ballet. She says, “I had made up my mind to come and settle in Bengaluru as a lot of people had expressed interest in learning ballet”. This prompted her to make India’s Silicon Valley her home. The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet was born in 2006 in Bengaluru.
A trained ballerina
While in London, Yana had produced and directed her own TV shows, where she performed extensively. Her work over the years has been extensive – be it solo classical ballet performances modern dance pieces. Her interest in ballet has always been immense, to the point where she took part in documentaries, videos, training films and even commercial advertisements. She has even put up shows in schools. She has also worked on music albums with Elton John, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins and Ray Parker Jr.
Her new life
Yana says she started small and not many people knew about the organisation in the beginning. She also met her husband, then associated with the IT sector, in India, and he is now co-founder of the institute. He is in charge of designing and structuring the courses at the Lewis Foundation.
Dance has now become an integral part of my life. There is no separation of it from my life,
says the 53-year-old.
Mother to a seven-year-old daughter, Yana says her little one is already an ‘authority’ in ballet. “She started learning Ballet at the age of 1 and all her childhood has been spent in ballet studios,” says a proud mother.
For Yana who breathes dance, it does not come as a surprise that she teaches across age groups. With her youngest student being three, her eldest student in the class is 70 years old.
“I love being in India and working with Indian children. It is very much my home,” says Yana. “I love the warmth that I get in India. Whoever I meet invites me to their houses and that is incredible,” says Yana, who first connected to the country through yoga. She has been a staunch practitioner of BKS Iyengar Yoga for more than 25 years now.
“My father encouraged me to take up yoga. As a dancer, one tends to be hyperactive. My long years of yoga have helped me calm down. My yoga guru used to visit the UK to conduct workshops. That is when I met him and was deeply influenced by him. I have always found yoga very useful in more ways than one,” confesses Yana.
Yana has 900-odd students in Bengaluru alone. With an aim to reach out to all, Yana hopes to upgrade the Lewis Foundation into a vocational school, which will be akin to a full-time dance college, and a University, where she hopes to offer diploma courses affiliated to some reputed University in the UK.