We interviewed Nayani (Nia) Rajamohan to see what drives her to pursue her venture, Saakshi Innovations:
What’s your why?
My parents were immigrants from Sri Lanka. I began dancing South Indian classical dance at the age of four and graduated at age 13. I’ve been teaching dance for 10 years and choreographing for 12 years. Along the way, I noticed so many gaps in the system. So many dancers don’t think they can allocate time to the arts and they drop it. Or they are innovative but don’t have a platform to develop new works and perform. They don’t always get solid feedback on their ideas. And for many dancers, once they graduate, they think, now what? I was in that position for 10 years and people always told me I should open a dance school. I thought that was what I wanted, but a few years ago as I looked at the gaps, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to create a space for dancers to continue to learn, innovate, and perform.
I also had a couple of experiences that inspired me to think about the audiences of our performances. At 16, I did a solo performance as a fundraiser. It raised $12,000 for an orphanage. I also began working with seniors. Both of these experiences helped me realize that I wanted the work I did to make a difference in making the community a better place for all people. There are a large number of groups who could benefit from seeing diverse performing arts experiences, but they rarely have the opportunity.
Many seniors, for instance, appreciate classical art but no one ever performs for them. I began thinking about other marginalized and underprivileged groups who would benefit from seeing artistic performances — children and adults with autism or who live with long-term illnesses. A lot of working adults don’t think about how privileged and blessed we are in terms of our health and lives because we are often segregated from people who are different from us.
What’s the problem you are solving?
I’ve been developing Saakshi Innovations (Saakshi means witness in Sanskriit) over the last couple of years with the goal of witnessing and fostering creativity and innovation in south Indian classical performing arts. This summer, I’m working on streamlining the business process, connecting with people, prototyping and branding the organization.
Next year I am putting on a production with eight other dancers and we are trying to reinvigorate younger artists to be experimental and creative, while still following classical rules.
What keeps you up at night?
I really need a team. I’m a dancer but not a musician, and I’m looking for a partner who is skilled in music and community-focused and open-minded to innovation. I’m also looking for funding: We have big ambitions but no funding right now. We are looking for sponsors who will support our artistic vision.
On a lighter note, I would love to have a Harry Potter time turner to add more hours to the day! Once I graduate, I will be balancing full-time work as a consultant with Saakshi.
- by Susan Fish