Charles chuckles saying even now people call him “Vellakara Paiyan” (foreign boy). From a meld of cultures, Charles Ma, part-Nepalese, part-Chinese and with Northeastern roots too, grew up in a Tamil community in Bengaluru.
His physical features were not in alignment with what is generally accepted in the realm of classical dance, which led to incidents of racial discrimination when he was categorically told he was not a right fit in the world of classical dance.
“My granddad was ethnic Chinese and he married a Nepali Hindu. My mother was partly a north-east Indian. I grew up in a Tamil neighbourhood and I'm fluent in Kannada and Tamil”, he explains.
Charles’ dance career started with filmy, contemporary dance. He feels that Bharatnatyam happened to him by chance. He has always looked for something to challenge him and he was initiated into the sacred world of Bharatanatyam by Guru Vidya Shimladka.
“I quit my job as a copywriter with an advertising agency because I was in love with dance. There were times where everyone said that Bharatnatyam was not for boys. Only girls can do it. That's when I thought that I wanted to break that stereotype”.
He also overcame discrimination as a non-South Indian male to become a Bharatanatyam dancer. He feels male dancers are increasing in number and breaking the stereotype. “I see a lot of youngsters confident in taking up dance, which is actually nice,”says, Charles.
His initial idea was to become India's classical dance soloist. Because he feels when one is a soloist he will have more time to teach. “When I started a career as a dance teacher in 2011 there were difficult times where parents said, 'We need only a female teacher'. But, now everything has changed”, he adds.
“If you are good at what you do people in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka will look beyond it”, he says. He believes that art reflects life and feels that Bharatanatyam is like a lover who demands generous love, constant attention, single-minded focus, commitment, hard work and importantly, a sense of deepened spirituality.
“My future goal is to become one of the best Bharatanatyam dance teachers. Not just teaching academically but setting an example of how to be a good human being”, Charles concludes....