Well, you can always spot the impassioned souls with a look into their eyes.
Puja Amin’s are sparkling and alive when she talks all things dance.
I think it may also have to do with the fact that as a Yogi, Puja’s mind and body are in sync with her spirit and that inner calm radiates outwards as well.
Coincidentally, as a child, Puja’s dad bribed his daughters to sit through the yoga sessions at home. The girls were understandably restless and did not care much for promise of enlightenment, but they stuck around.
Today, Puja, 37, can’t thank her dad enough because having an intimate knowledge of Ashtanga Yoga, classical dance and human physiology (she has a degree in physiotherapy), has allowed her to help students and clients find relief from pain, depression and other ailments relating to the mind, muscle and joint.
Dancer, choreographer, yoga teacher and volunteer, Puja’s hat rack is crammed. Her life, much like the dance she choreographs has had ebbs and flows, but right now, there’s just serenity.
“I have never looked back,” Puja says about her life’s journey. “I never regretted anything that has come my way. Every single thing in my life–whether right or wrong– has made me who I am today. I live in the moment. I don’t tend to look too far into the future.”
The student who loved to dance
Puja, the artistic director/founder of Sanskriti Arts Ensemble (SAE), a dance and yoga academy with over seven branches across the GTA, has a coveted spot in the competitive “dance school” market in the GTA.
If her dad inspired her to pursue yoga, she credits her mom Daksha Shah with instilling in her the love for arts–both visual and performing.
As a young girl, Puja balanced the rigours of dance training and academics well. She excelled in both. Years ago when a six-hour dance session and a crucial exam fell within days of each other, Puja sought her mom’s permission to skip the rehearsals.
Daksha looked her daughter in the eye and said, “you knew about the dance and exam in advance and committed to both. So, now, you have to handle them both. No excuses.”
That’s why Puja’s students know better than to beg off from classes because of schoolwork. It won’t fly. She expects nothing but 100 per cent from them and in return she gives them all.
“By God’s grace, the path has come to me,” she said of her life as a dancer/yoga teacher. “I have never gone chasing anything. Life has led me to what I have become today and I accepted what it offered…”
Having worked with Bollywood heavyweights like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a creative maverick with a Midas touch, Puja understands the demands of the profession.
“Working with creative minds is not easy,” she said. “When I worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, we would work for hours on a project and he would scrap the entire thing in a second to come up with something entirely different. He’s a creative genius.”
An uncompromising attitude towards work and a thirst for learning are not just traits, they are her signature. Puja who’s currently pursuing her master’s in Kathak hopes to attain an Alankar (PhD) sometime.
Through dance, she equips her students with empowerment, confidence and life skills.
“I tell my students they have to be something (pharmacist/doctor/accountant) and a dancer because you need a backup,” she said. “Degrees give you lot of insight, experience and knowledge and that never goes waste.”
The SAE (Sanskriti Arts Ensemble) has performed in concerts and music videos for Falguni Pathak, Boman Irani, Lisa Ray, Jonita Gandhi, Sukhwinder Singh, Lata Mangeshkar, Priyanka Chopra and Shahid Kapoor amongst others.
They say, your travels define you. At 16, a young Puja embarked on a 90-day trip to U.S. U.K. and Europe, alone. It was both frightening and exhilarating. The trip would prove to be significant in other ways too. When she returned, she made up her mind to pursue physiotherapy. All through her undergrad and work life, dance chugged along on a parallel track.
When Puja Shah became Puja Amin through marriage and moved to Canada, she worked in the field of Kinesiology for a year, but decided to pursue something that was fulfilling – teaching dance. She set up her school in 2003.
In a new venture, SAE has collaborated with Imagebuilderz to launch Dance Diaries, a workshop with Bollywood choreographer Saroj Khan.
Starting March 25, Saroj Khan will be leading a couple of half-a-day workshops in Mississauga and Ottawa including a special one-on-one sessions with SAE students. The Toronto workshop will take place at the Sanskriti Arts Dance and Fitness Studios, 2249 Dunwin Dr. in Mississauga. The four-day sessions will end with a show on Monday, March 28 at the Maja Prentice Theatre in Mississauga.
“The main motivation behind this (workshop) is to provide a cross-cultural dance platform for kids and adults in Canada and learn from the best of the best in the industry,” said Renu Mehta, president of Imagebuilderz. “And who better than Saroj Khan whose name is synonymous with choreography and Bollywood, to provide that training.”
Puja’s excitement about the upcoming Dance Diaries is palpable. Saroj Khan’s contribution to choreography will go down the history of Indian cinema as path breaking, she says adding the inimitable Khan contributed to the success of actors like Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi, Kareena Kapoor and others.
“I want my students to have the real experience,” she explained on why she was bringing Saroj Khan to Toronto. “Most people just dream of Bollywood. I want the students to know the process, the madness and the hard work that goes on behind the silver screen. And that’s where SAE is different. I don’t want us to do the technical stuff. I want them to dance to express.”.
Interested in taking part in the workshops? Visit here.