She moves in grace, she moves in beauty. She tilts her neck and the face is lit up with a smile. Arms twirl like lotus-buds, about to open up and ankle-bells jingle as she takes a step forward, creating an intricate pattern of sound, rhythm and beauty. She fills the stage with her presence.
The performance is, however, not meant to spellbind the audience. It is a celebration as well as an exploration of the meaning of life, personal concerns and social issues.
For Sheema Kermani, dance is a passion as well as a social cause. She teaches dancing and also acts for the stage and television.
She combines this with activism which includes mobile theatre in poor localities of the city. Pakistan’s leading dancer with a social cause, Sheema Kermani talks to Asif Farrukhi at her home in Karachi as the cool evening sea-breeze brings relief after a humid day, and the darkening city prepares itself for yet another strike the next day.
"Well, in my case," she pauses when asked if dancers are born or made and how she came to take up dance as an art form, "I was a fat child and I was not interested in sports and I wouldn’t do any exercise," she says with a laugh.
"My mother thought that through dance I will do some exercise." She recalls that "every year in the summer vacations we used to go to India and I would see my maternal aunts learning dance and I liked it. But I never thought about learning it.
We were living in small towns, there was nobody who could teach us and I never saw a dance performance. When we shifted to Karachi, I was about 13 or 14 and really plump. My mother took me to Ghanshyam’s. That’s where I had my first exposure to dance.
I started dancing and I enjoyed it but I never took it seriously. During my childhood my parents did a lot to encourage art, music and creativity. We used to do small plays for birthdays with a present for the best play.
" She recalls that the house was filled with the music of Beethoven and Bach. "From the age of seven, I learnt the piano and for 10 years I studied Western classical music, passing the exams from the Royal Academy of Music and when I became more conscious, I thought that I should learn Eastern classical music." She trained with Ghanshyam’s Dance Troupe in Karachi and later graduated from Croydon College of Art in London.
"At that time I was actually more interested in art. I wanted to be a painter." Much later when she saw dance performances, she realized that, "this is what I want to do." Sheema pirouetted her way to becoming a dancer.
But she took many twists and turns. In slow and careful words she talks about a personal crisis and how she danced her way out of it.
"I have never consciously thought about this but now, after all these years, I realize that it must have been in my subconscious that through dance you will be able to recover your internal harmony. Actually, it did happen that way. It was the only thing that brought me at a level of sanity. I regained my dignity in my physical being through dance."