The Dancing Doctor

Art is a medicine. Theories have evolved and practice has proven that various art forms like dance and music are used in curing various health issues. Practice of medicine is divine for its obvious and divine ability to cure. When your profession and passion can have the power of healing lives, it surely is the most blessed feeling!

Meet the Dancing Doctor, Dr. Yamini Saripalli, a passionate Kuchipudi dancer who is professionally a dermatologist. She lives in the DC area (USA). I met her, long time back in 2008 during a dance convention and was awe stuck with the grace of her dance. Later when I came to know she is a practicing doctor too, it was instantly inspiring. Yamini’s way of life surely go to prove that all it takes is commitment and zeal to practice your profession and passion in a balanced way and do justice to both! So here you go! Be inspired in your own ways!

Desktop4How do you introduce yourself?

Though the arts have been a part of my life as long as I can remember, and medicine came along much later, I am both an artist and a physician. From my childhood, I have been very interested in both dance and music. Though on the surface these two fields may seem contrasting, I really do see a common thread between both aspects of my life, because they are opportunities to heal and uplift other people’s lives.  As an artist, I am able to help to raise individuals’ awareness and uplift the human spirit while as physician; I am involved with helping treat patients on a tangible physical level.

Tell me about “Dr. Saripalli. How does your usual day look like?

Until last year, I used to work 4 days a week in the clinic. More recently, I have switched to part time (2 days a week) so that I can have more time to dance and perform. On days that I have clinic, I do half an hour of core strengthening in the morning before going to work, see approximately 35 to 40 patients in the day and then come home to dance. I also attend annual dermatology meetings and read dermatology journals to keep up with the current medical advances in the field.

Now, tell me about “Dancer Yamini”. What is your dance routine like?

The dancer Yamini has been a dancer at heart her whole life. As a child, I would move to any kind of musical melody or rhythm that I heard. I was a student of ballet and later on, western classical vocal and instrumental music. I only got the opportunity to start learning Kuchipudi in my teens and Carnatic vocal music when I started college. I started learning Kuchipudi under the guidance of Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam after seeing his dance drama Hara Vilasam as an impressionable teenager. I practice dance 6 days a week including fundamental adavus (steps) and items. Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam and his son, Sri Vempati Ravi Shankar, have always stressed the importance of doing fundamental steps daily. In addition to my dance practice, I make sure to do 45 minutes of stretching before dancing and at least 10 minutes of cool down after dancing. I believe the body is an instrument that has to be well tuned in order to preserve its longevity.I also teach dance on a weekly basis and love teaching because I learn so much from it. It is also heartening to know I’m helping to pass on this art to the next generation. For now, though, I am more focused on performing.

You are also a Carnatic singer! Can you please tell me about this too? 

I am a student of Carnatic music, but I would definitely not call myself a singer. I feel a lifetime is not enough for one art form itself. From childhood, I have always been very passionate about music. My mother says that I had an affinity for certain ragas at age 2 and would only let my parents play those particular songs on repeat. Unfortunately, I did not have a music teacher until later in my teens. For the past decade, I have been learning Carnatic vocal from Sri Bhagavatula Seetarama Sarma in Chennai. Prior to that, I had learnt from Sri DK Nagarajan and Sri Babu Parameswaran in Washington DC and Smt. Vidya Anand in St. Louis.

Being a doctor, I am sure is a busy profession and you travel a lot for shows etc. How do you balance and keep up with all these activities?

PASSION, CLARITY OF THOUGHT AND COMMITMENT. Though I was always passionate about dance and music, I do not come from a family of artists and grew up in a place where there was not that much activity in terms of the Indian classical arts. My parents and peers often challenged me as to why I wanted to professionally pursue Kuchipudi.  Much introspection led me to realize that dance and music are what give me inner peace. I am happiest in the truest sense when I’m dancing or singing. With that passion and clarity of thought, I have always known that whatever comes my way, one thing is for sure: I will dance everyday with sincerity, quality and consistency. Once you know what must be a constant in your life, everything else falls into place. The physical and mental taxation of balancing two careers becomes secondary. I am also truly blessed to be in the field of dermatology, which offers so much flexibility. My employers have been very understanding about my dual careers. In addition, the field of tele-dermatology is taking off and that allows me to work remotely too.

Do/Did you anytime think of giving up your doctor profession and taking up dance full time?

I have thought about that a lot, but have realized that it is less about choosing one of my two careers and more about finding a balance that works for me and how much time I wanted to spend in each field. In order to do this, I really needed to think about my goals in each of my two careers and the required time commitments in each case. During the past year, I have switched to part time dermatology, in order to make more time for my dance. I wanted time not only to travel for performances, but also to think about my dance and delve into the subject on a deeper level. Since Kuchipudi and all classical Indian dance forms are such complex, multi- faceted art forms, a deeper understanding of their intricacies requires a lot of time for thinking and reflection. I realized that I was no longer satisfied by only doing the sheer physical practice that I had been doing for so long. At the same time, I do want to help people through the field of medicine. One of the most gratifying things is seeing the tangible benefits in patient’s lives as a result of my work. For instance, there have been several instances where I have diagnosed an early melanoma (a form of skin cancer), surgically removed it and seen the patient carry on a normal life. That’s when I really feel that I have made a difference in someone’s life. As I navigate the dynamic balance between my two careers, I have realized that I definitely want to spend some of my time on a regular basis using my knowledge of medicine to help improve peoples’ lives. Most recently, I was able to volunteer in a medical camp for those affected by the recent Chennai floods in December. That was one of the most gratifying experiences in my medical career. I truly believe in giving my full effort and attention to the task at hand, whether it be artistic or medical. As is the case for anyone balancing multiple commitments, I have had to find a balance based on the capacities in which I want to pursue each part of my life.

Arts, they say, mould a person’s mind and personality. How has Kuchipudi helped you?

Kuchipudi has helped me immensely in numerous ways. Most importantly, it has opened my mind to a space that always gives me happiness. As a result, it can get me through anything in life, the good times and the bad. It has also practically taught me the importance of discipline, commitment, perseverance and hard work.

What/Who motivates you the most?

I’m a very self-motivated person. The thing that motivates me most is my passion for art and my biggest inspiration is guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. He was truly a trailblazer who redefined the Kuchipudi art form and spread it throughout the world. He faced so many challenges in his life, but he never gave up or forgot his life’s purpose.

Is there anything big that you want to achieve in your life?

I want to always dance my best and continue to improve my dance until the day I die. I also want to teach Kuchipudi to committed, passionate children to help ensure the continuation of this glorious art form for future generations.

One of the great take away lessons from this interview for me as a Kuchipudi dancer myself , is to practice the fundamentals of the dance daily. Hoping to follow that! 

-Signing off

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