An excerpt from a speech by Neila Sathyalimgam as she received an award, where she recalls the genesis of the name, Apsaras and raises a toast to the future of Indian arts, in Singapore.
“It was in the year 1977 and there was a competition. The competing groups had to come up with interesting names for their group, and I asked my husband to think of a name and it was he who came up with the name Apsaras. My husband was very smart while choosing that name and said to me, “Neila remember, you have the dancing angles in Chinese dance, Apsaras like Urvashi, Rambha, Menaka in our tradition. So I think it is a universal name in that sense. In south east Asia, this name would definitely go.” That’s how the name Apsaras was born!
The Ceylon community here was very strong in the projection of all the arts like music, instruments, et al. They jumped up when they knew that my husband knew music and I knew dance and that’s how I started teaching and began my basic classes under the umbrella of the Ceylon Tamil Association at Handy Road.
We are very very influenced by South East Asian culture. We do a lot of amalgamation with different dance traditions. In fact, in Angkor Wat, we had the Malay dancers for the warriors. I thought that was an excellent platform for us, to create a new idea in Indian dance where we collaborate with South East Asian traditions.
I still enjoy those invigorating experiences on how to teach and it really keeps me occupied. My mind is always working on new choreographies, and what would I do next. In fact, I look at new fashion magazines, to get the latest material in terms of costumes and their trends; everything that surrounds me, you know. For a teacher to be successful, it is not only the teaching that matters; you must have every essence of every part of dance, from lightning to sound to music. So many things that you have to choose perfectly to perform an item.
So I think I have done an extremely good job. Today, I find, I have at least 40 students who are already teaching and propagating dance. Singapore has a great future where the Indian dance platform is concerned, because the interest has grown. Singapore now is known for a platform of good standards and good knowledge and I hope we are going to continue with that trend in the years to come.”
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