‘Don’t stop chasing the dream’: Karin Wijeratne on her passion for dance
Karin Wijeratne has been on her feet ever since the tender age of three, and nearly three decades later, nothing has changed.
When she’s not heading the Senior School at the Deanna School of Dancing, she’s putting her blood, sweat, and tears into a venture that she started three years ago with two others called Eventistry, which is a 360° marketing company specialising in sports marketing, and its affiliate Eighty Seven, a digital company that is rooted in building digital brand ecosystems.
With experience from a globally recognised international communication network, Saatchi and Saatchi, and the firepower of the well-oiled battleship that is Red Bull, where she headed communications and branding for global campaigns and events, she learnt that she had a knack for putting a local face on a global brand. Wijeratne then moved on to nurturing some of the world’s leading food and beverage brands in Sri Lanka with Favourite Group and Park Street Gourmet.
With everything she has going on with her life, it was clear why she responded to our request to tell us about herself with: “That is a very vast topic to embark on but let me put it in a nutshell. I would like to think that my analytical yet practical mindset was founded in my Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Masters Degree in International Business both from the University of Nottingham.”
Apart from that, Wijeratne lives a very active lifestyle that gives her unparalleled insight into the world of sport and business.
We caught up with her for a chat on her experience with dancing and more. Here’s what she had to say.
When did you discover your passion for dance?
I am so happy that you said “discover your passion” because I think when I started ballet at the age of three, it was my mother and my nan who decided that ballet was one of the many sports (and yes, ballet is a sport!) I would be involved with. The passion or more importantly the love for dance came when I actually stopped dancing at 13. I made the decision to pause ballet and concentrate on tennis and swimming and my upcoming O-Level exams.
However, what transpired was this missing piece in my life, which I just couldn’t fill… and I definitely tried. From joining rowing, to the choir (really can’t sing), to scrabble clubs, to putting in more hours at swimming and tennis, it just didn’t feel right.
Once I had finished my O-Levels at 14, I scrambled back to ballet. That’s when I knew ballet wasn’t just an extra-curricular for me anymore. I had learned to love this art form, the music it gave, and the happiness it brought.
You are also Co-Founder of Eventistry. Tell me about that.
Eventistry is a company I started with my partner, Ifham Ariff. It’s main focus is to highlight brands through the art of storytelling and engage audiences through events and experiential marketing. With sports marketing and events being our focus, we also leverage our skills in corporate events, conferences, festivals and trade shows.
Some key events that we have marketed and managed are the West Asia Baseball Cup, Asia Rugby, worked with the global pharmaceutical company Allergan and developed the marketing strategy and execution for the Dambulla Viiking T20 cricket franchise of the Lanka Premier League. We have some very exciting global events in the pipeline, but they have been pushed back due to the pandemic.
Why did you choose to pursue your dance studies at Deanna School of Dance? What has the journey been like?
The choice of going to the Deanna School of Dance, fondly known as DSD, was purely my mother’s, but I consider it to be one of her best decisions made! I can think of no better school to learn ballet at. DSD provides a complete ballet education in the utmost nurturing of environments which I believe supports students both in and outside of our studio. I have had both the pleasure and honour of learning and teaching alongside the DSD family; Aunty Deanna, Natasha, and Natalie.
Aunty Deanna instilled in me the need to show magic when dancing; something that I feel all students need to strive for – the star moments that you can show both gutsy yet soulful dance.
My journey in the school has always been exciting, from student to teacher, this school has been a second home and has created a rich learning experience teaching me the fundamentals of classical ballet and the focus, poise, and grace required for all of my life’s endeavours.
The last two years, during this pandemic, have really opened my eyes. The beauty of being in a well-lit, wooden floored studio was taken away from us. We were forced to rethink and reimagine ballet at home. From dancing in a space filled with students, we now have a teaching setup which involves a laptop screen, a speaker, a dining room chair, brief interruptions by Chester (my lazy Rottweiler), and the now-familiar illuminated squares of Zoom.
Our principal, Natasha has kept us brimming with ideas on keeping our students and teachers entertained, motivated, and eager to teach. It’s amazing how much us teachers can now glean from little digital squares. For us as teachers, there is nothing else to do but wait and keep training our students with as much or as little space and mental fortitude as possible.
How do you ensure you stay strong and fit enough to perform?
Dancers are nothing if not disciplined. Though I have always been very active, I think as soon as studios, swimming pools and gyms started shutting their doors last year I jumped on to an online app called the Nike Training Club, this paired with some cross-training, and of course dancing and teaching, helped build and maintain strength and stamina. This pandemic has really made me quite creative and improvisation has been key to staying on top of my game.
Do you believe that dance is a form of expression?
Dance is definitely a form of expression. I am the biggest advocate for dance also being considered a sport, but what other sport can exhibit emotion, portray characters, and tell a story?
The greatest dancers are the strongest mixture of both athlete and artist. For me dance is meaningless unless it has some dramatic or expressive content. Though the technical aspects of ballet sometimes tend to take precedence, dance is the most complex communication of emotion.
Have you ever choreographed your own routine? What was it like?
I was never the go-to teacher for choreography and creating my own dances, however, I think that all changed when our online classes began. It forced me to think outside the box, dig deep into previously learned routines, take inspiration from famous ballets, and mix it in with choreography I could find online.
I am so glad that my students respond so well to my amateur choreography, but I can’t wait to have them all back in the studio, where the build-up of arabesques and grand jeté across the room have me smiling and wanting more.
Describe the best performance you’ve ever put on. What did you learn from it?
To be honest I don’t think I could say which of my performances have been the “best”. Every ballet has been different – from Sleeping Beauty, where friends at ballet turned into family and every night on stage was a different kind of fun, to taking the lead role in La Bayadere, where the pressure to deliver technique, artistry, and telling a story through movement was something completely new.
The list of ballets go on and so do the different experiences had with each. If I was to put it simply, being onstage is an honour that not everyone gets to experience, so whether I wobble one day or miss a step on another, I have learned to enjoy myself and the family that we have created at the school.
What kind of music do you prefer to dance to?
Surprisingly I love dancing, from ballet to old school hip-hop and R&B. My students are quite tickled every time I have a free music day and turn on my playlist, from doing Tendus to Word Up and Grand Battements to Fantasy by Mariah Carey.
In your opinion, what are the most important traits a dancer should have?
Motivation and determination – don’t stop chasing the dream.
Discipline – dancing needs to be one of your top priorities.
Patience – don’t give up. Ballet takes time and effort.
Enthusiasm – if you have the passion to do something, then there is more chance of succeeding.
Have you ever forgotten the dance steps during a performance? What happened?
The countless number of times I have gone blank on stage would surprise you and surprise some of my students. But you just need to swallow your ego and keep going.
Do you have anything coming up for 2021?
In terms of ballet, I know that I speak for all the teachers, and we can’t wait to be back in our studios with our students. However, until then we will be online, getting our students ready for the upcoming Royal Academy of Dance Examinations in December on our illuminated Zoom screens.