Vanessa Bell Mumbition the Podcast


The Podcast By Mums & Co

Episode 59: Dance like nobody’s watching

Deepa Mani

Founder of Chandralaya

March 7, 2023
Daily dance uplifts the soul to spiritual realms. That's just one of the beautiful proverbs on Deepa Mani’s Instagram page, and it sums up the ethos of this Mum's & Co member’s unique business. Based in Melbourne, Deepa is the founder of Chandralaya, a dance school for Indian classical and contemporary art forms. Deepa joins us in Mumbition today to share the story and journey of her business. Deepa, big welcome!

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Chandralaya | School of Dance


Produced & Edited by - Morgan Brown
Interviewers - Carrie Kwan and Lucy Kippist
Guest - Deepa Mani

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Episode 59 Transcript

00:01:02:07 - 00:01:31:08

Carrie Kwan

Daily dance uplifts the soul to spiritual realms. That's just one of the beautiful proverbs on Deepa Mani’s Instagram page, and it sums up the ethos of this Mum's & Co member’s unique business. Based in Melbourne, Deepa is the founder of Chandralaya, a dance school for Indian classical and contemporary art forms. Deepa joins us in Mumbition today to share the story and journey of her business. Deepa, big welcome!

00:01:32:19 - 00:01:35:12

Deepa Mani

Thank you, Carrie and Lucy, for having me.

00:01:36:02 - 00:01:47:08

Carrie or Lucy

We’re thrilled to have you here and we're very passionate about telling and sharing women's stories; we'd love for you to share yours.

00:01:47:18 - 00:03:31:19

Deepa Mani

Sure. I think dance has been an integral part of my life from the very get go. I'm saying this right from when I was five and a half. My story is pretty much like any other person’s, finding the true purpose in life comes in different chapters, but every one of us and dance was always  a parallel for me.

During school, college and at work, it was always secondary because I was working in the corporate sector. So dance never left my soul and I had my little one a few years back and I realised the 9 to 5 or the 9 to 9 doesn't really give you some times of true purpose in life. I was trying to understand what else I can do? I realised I have this knowledge that I've gained over 30 years and it's time to start emitting that knowledge out to people and communities so they could get the benefits that I received all the time, and that's when Chandralaya was born. 

It's definitely a tribute to my late mother, who has been a very integral part of me becoming an artist, because she was the one who influenced me to join dance classes at five and a half, so it was really named after her and I'm always having mum's energy around when I dance, in other ways, that's close to me and that's my story in a nutshell.

00:03:32:12 - 00:03:37:09

Carrie Kwan

Can you please tell us, there's a beautiful meaning behind the name?

00:03:39:13 - 

Deepa Mani

Yeah, so my mum's name is Chandra, so I was really hooked on to this name. When we go to find a business and when we try to find a name for the business, some things really are very deep and meaningful for us, and that sticks to you and this name really stuck to me.

Chandra in Sanskrit means moon, and Alaya in Sanskrit again, means house or home. So Chandralaya means the girl who's dancing on the moon, and that's just the icon that we have as well, so that’s special.

Lucy Kippist

Such a beautiful explanation and such a special name. Deepa, you wrote a wonderful article for us at Mums & Co about the mental health benefits of dance. I'm just wondering, what other tools have you added to your belt since becoming a business owner that helps you feel grounded in dance? 

Deepa Mani

I definitely think dancing in itself has been a great tool for me, both mental, physical and spiritual well-being. I'm a big advocate for that across all ages and all genders.

The other thing I think that has really expanded my ideas is marketing. I was lucky to have a corporate background, but still marketing is a big ocean of knowledge. I was so fortunate to work with one of the Mums & Co members on the marketing side, who is helping me in developing the strategy. That was a really good relationship we’ve had in building that knowledge. I've learned so much about my marketing, how to really market the business and make people understand the bigger picture of a movement, not just dance, the movement. 

So that's one of the things, and I'm also trying to expand, how do you expand the business?

I think that's another thing to understand the different horizons. What else can you do apart from just having a class? I think that was really an eye opener and that’s a big drive for marketing as well. 

The two other tools, I think networking is a tool, it's a great tool and it's something that I think all business owners have to develop, like getting comfortable to get uncomfortable, meeting new people every day and having those conversations. I think that's a really helpful tool and I feel like I’ve really learned a lot from that. The other tool, and I know it's a skill or a tool, it truly depends on how people look at it, it's the art of collaboration. It’s really not thinking just one  sided and really understanding how you can take this art to different levels? The best way is to work with people. I always believe that truly relevant work exists when people collaborate with multiple genres. I think collaboration is one of my key attributes in my life after I started a business to understand how we can create magic on stage by working with different artists and genres.

00:07:13:24 - 00:07:47:00

Lucy Kippist 

That’s such a phenomenal answer because it touches on doing three really big pieces on our membership offering here at Mums & Co. But I wanted to ask you a bit more about the networking element, if that's okay. So, obviously over the last couple of years, we have developed digital networking skills because we haven't been able to be out in the world or certainly in an actual dance class. So, I was wondering how you approach the digital networking side of business?


00:07:48:03 - 00:09:58:08

Deepa Mani

With welcoming hands! I think that was one of the eye openers in my life as soon as we hit COVID, because I was at a stage where I really was like, I've got to jump on this, otherwise I'm going to have to close my business.

It's transitioning everything, the curriculum, everything into the online space was a challenging effort, but it was so worth it because that is the way to go in a lot of ways, but it’s not the only way, and I think adapting to that is a good thing to have as a business owner, because there are times when you are when you have to play the role of a mother and a wife, and you don't have time to pop in to nearby cafe or go meet another person. Having a digital conversation just like this can still be very fruitful and productive, as long as you can see the person.

Obviously, that's not the only way, but that is one of the ways I think we have to embrace that and make the most of it. That's just how I've seen it and that's been very positive. It has come with challenges because you're putting a seven year old in front of a television or a laptop to be able to learn such a very intricate art form and sort of really maneuvering your skills to make sure that seven or eight year old is able to understand something in a digital environment; being in school is different.

But trying to move your head to toe in a dance form and even trying to get those skills is a big deal for them. I think children have also coped really well, they've also absorbed how to behave in a digital space. I really think it's a welcoming change, as long as we don't overdo it, because I feel now we've come up with a balance of sort of switching gears when we need to and not making it digital only.

00:09:58:08 - 00:11:05:18

Carrie Kwan

When you look at it, we are still quite new to it. We've had such a remarkable change in how we work in such a short period of time, just a couple of years. It's definitely been a watershed moment for how we school, how we learn or how we work. I think it's remarkable how adaptive we are, but I think we're going to make some mistakes and I think we're going to do some things really, really well.

But from a digital networking perspective, I think it absolutely is in the favor of micro-business owners, small business owners, part time work, sole traders and freelancers, like this has opened up a really kind of interesting, innovative area for how we actually deliver our products and services, but also how we can actually reach more people, too. Doing businesses with regional women or someone who's based in a rural area, I think those boundaries have fallen away.

00:11:06:23 - 00:11:38:09

Deepa Mani

Oh, absolutely, so right on that. We've done choreography for our projects sitting in three different countries or continents and working on that and having a goal and a timeline to get to that. It's been challenging, but then it's really opened up another way of thinking. It's also created new pathways in our brain to be able to structure how we look at art, projecting art in a digital environment. So it's a whole new world there.

00:11:39:08 - 00:12:05:13

Carrie or Lucy

Now, speaking of that cross collaboration way of working, you run the business, you hold the role of artistic director at Chandralaya, you also teach the classes. So how do you strike a balance between all these different parts of your working day job?

00:12:05:13 - 00:12:12:11

Deepa Mani

It is hard, I mean Carrie, you do way more than what I do. You guys are the queens of juggling.

00:12:12:18 - 00:12:18:21

Carrie Kwan

I mean, you are jumping from artistic role perhaps to business. 

00:12:18:21 - 00:12:20:07

Deepa Mani

I completely understand.

00:12:20:07 - 00:12:22:00

Carrie or Lucy

There’s different hats constantly.

00:12:23:15 - xx:xx:xx:xx

Deepa Mani

Yeah, I think that's very natural for women to be able to multitask, wearing different hats is something that I feel like is in our DNA, we're sort of born with that, then owning a business just elevates that. One thing I think is really important is time, time is value.

I really understood that once I started the business of time, if you've got certain time, you've just got to make use of it. I think there’s a famous saying, you give something to a busy person, it's going to get done because one values time really well.

One of the things I do is if it's marketing, I work that out at the start of the week and that's already taken care of for the business. The curriculum plans, for example, are already set at the start of the term. So it's all done and dusted to flow on to the students. The admin work, I allocate about 3 to 4 hours in the week and I think it's all about organisation and understanding how to work with the families.

I've got a traveling husband, so I need to make sure that our diaries are really sorted so we know when there's pick up for the child and things like that. But that said, there's always a scope creep coming in and if he’s had to go on an international trip for like a week, we've got to juggle a bit so that it gets a little bit harder, I have to say that.

But I think it's important. I really feel like sitting down at the start of the day and then working out like ten things to do. I don't do more than ten little things because I think our to-do list is never going to end and adding to the list is only going to overwhelm us and make us not so productive on a day and it’s going to cause brain fog.

Just minimising the to-do list to about 7 to 8 things are ten things that can be achieved and then just taking a step back and saying, okay, I've done what I can today, I'm just going to rest up, so you kind of free your mind. I think that helps to sort of move further down and progress both in life and business.

Lucy Kippist

I was only looking at my to-do list this morning because I read something about that too. I think it was that American Gretchen Rubin that came up with the idea of doing a what I've done list at the end of the day, as opposed to a to do list, to sort of change that mindset. 

Deepa Mani

It's actually tough because it is taking me enough practice. There are a few things that come up and I just say nope, push it to the next day because it's just going to impact your productivity and I’ve really had to train my brain to do that. 

00:15:30:05 - 00:15:46:12

Carrie Kwan

You know, it's Friday, Lucy and Deepa, and I'm thinking, can I tick off things like I went to the snack cupboard a few too many times or I got interrupted by my six year old, maybe we can.

00:15:46:16 - 00:15:54:14

Deepa Mani

If not for those distractions.

00:15:55:22 - 00:16:23:09

Carrie Kwan

From a more serious, perhaps, approach, I'm always fascinated. So you've got a service based business and you're working in the physical and online realm, you're creating content. What do you consider to be the biggest risk of running a business like yours? What are some of the processes that you've put in place to mitigate these?

00:16:25:17 - 00:18:10:09

Deepa Mani

Still actually working on that, because one of the risks, I think in my kind of service business, particularly running this sort of institution or something like that, this is a sole trader, and the risk for a sole proprietor is a single point of failure, you don’t have a 2IC or something, so that's something I'm currently working on, to make sure that there are a few more trained people to be able to manage the load when things get a little bit harder. So that's something I'm currently working on. It takes time to train people to be able to take on more responsibilities and doing classes or running the curriculum and things like that, so that's something I'm currently working on. 

The risk I had was actually COVID putting everything in an online environment. So that's something I worked on how to move content, regardless of whether it’s from a paper, to be able to deliver that in a digital environment. I do cater for online versus in person. This is slightly different because I feel like online takes three times more the effort than in person and the content delivery there has to be as effective as in person, it has to be catered for the digital environment. So that's something I've incorporated as well.

I think those are the two things that at the moment that I'm trying to sort of centralise.

00:18:11:03 - 00:19:35:20

Carrie Kwan

Deepa, can I explore a little bit further? You've mentioned that it's a little bit more work just trying to unpack that a little bit, because what I think you're saying is your experience in person is different to the experience that's delivered online and we just held our annual Be Empowered conference and we had hundreds of women dialing in online and we had hundreds of women in person.

Doing those two experiences together, you're actually literally delivering two big products, not at the same time, potentially, but you have to think through those steps and what the frame of mind is for that end customer, going through those very different experiences. So something like wayfinding would be really difficult or not difficult, but it's just you have to think through more processes because people almost leave their brains at the door when they dial into an online experience, they expect everyone to tell you where to go. Whereas if you were walking into a physical place, you'd actually kind of go, okay, I need to take my body here and I'll find the room that I need to be in. Is that kind of what you were referring to in terms of the complexity?

00:19:37:11 - 00:21:23:14

Deepa Mani

Yeah, absolutely, simple things make a huge difference. In person you touch and feel, particularly when teaching an art. So the connection of a muscle group or, or if the person is sitting in a funny way and is going to injure themselves. You get it because you see them and you can help them stop themselves from getting that injury.

But then when you're online, you have about ten or 15 windows and you're constantly lingering around your eyes to see who is doing what. So that puts a lot of pressure on you and the students, so the curriculum has to be slowed down. The pace I take in person compared to online has to be about to start with you, and you really have to break it down into smaller chunks for them, sort of slow it down. But again, you're dealing with a varied age group, that's one of the things I've had to do. 

But children, for example, their sense of direction is very different for them in the online space, the orientation is very different from in person. In training them to understand that, we have a few tools we work with to help them on the right and the left and that took them about two months and even some people took three months, even adults struggle with that. Those are little tools that you have to rewire your brain to be able to do to make the content more easy and interesting. We've also run a lot of fun and activities online, sorry little one is crawling behind me, can you see his head? 

00:21:23:19 - 00:21:28:10

Carrie Kwan

We can see a lovely lot of head curls. 

00:21:28:10 - 00:22:11:12

Deepa Mani

We also deliver content in such a way, for example, if we're giving a test, we do a crossword puzzle online. It's much easier for them to have a more gamey sort of feeling that they're able to incorporate their learning a little bit better. Whereas in person, I could test them physically in different ways, but online, it's interesting.

I've had to think outside the box on every occasion of delivering the content to see how I can make it more interesting. So that's where I feel like it's challenged me and it's really good to do that.

00:22:11:12 - 00:22:30:09

Carrie Kwan

Amazing. I can see a little beautiful head of curls in your background. Welcome to Mum’s podcast, hello. What's your name?

00:22:32:04 - 00:22:37:13

Deepa Mani

You want to say your name then?

00:22:37:13 - 00:22:42:17

Carrie or Lucy

Lovely to meet you. We won't include your name in the podcast, but we just wanted to say hello.

00:22:43:24 - 00:22:53:07

Deepa Mani

He’s so shy. 

00:22:53:07 - 00:22:58:03

Carrie Kwan

He did well.

00:22:58:03 - 00:23:20:02

Lucy Kippist

Which is a perfect segue way because I was just going to ask you our last question, just about the community of support around business, because in our name, Mums & Co, refers to family, friends, spouses and children that support us, can you tell us a little bit about the people in your life that help you grow the business that you're growing?

00:23:21:11 - 00:25:03:08

Deepa Mani

I think the three main people in my life who have been instrumental have been my dad, my son and my husband who just let me do what I do and that's definitely been one of the three pillars for me. In terms of support, I think it's actually everyone, it's the community that I represent in Melbourne and it's also beyond my community. I feel like in the last 4 to 5 years I've taken dance beyond confinement, I've taken dance beyond dance, I call it movement and that's that gives you a more holistic picture about what movement is and how movement can help you. 

I’ve got a lot of support, definitely from Mums & Co, a lot of networking and women networking groups and from the council I live in. It's taken time to get out there and to sort of reestablish myself as an artist and as a teaching artist. A lot of organisations I've got support from, such as Regional Arts Victoria and a lot of other organisations that I contract with to do workshops with them. They understood the need for diversity and the need to expand the younger generations’ mind to think in a diverse manner. So they've really encouraged different genres to come on board and work with them. I think that's been really very instrumental.

00:25:35:09 - xx:xx:xx:xx

Lucy Kippist

Thank you so much, Deepa. Thank you so much for joining us on Mumbition today. If you'd like to find out more about Deepa, you can find her on LinkedIn, and if you haven’t already, join the thousands of business owning women just like you at mumsandco.com.au

00:26:07:06 - xx:xx:xx:xx


How have you encouraged me to dance when nobody is watching?

00:26:07:06 - 00:27:20:00

Deepa Mani

I think it's a great question, thank you for asking me. How will you encourage people to dance while no one's watching? I think dance is something that is deeply felt inside one’s soul. It's the best way to cut out all the reservations in all of those things that stop you from doing things.

Imagine you are in a space and you set on the best music that you would listen to. Close your eyes and start to move your body, getting that music into your body. In about 10 to 20 seconds, the person who is trying this will eventually forget about the surroundings and the music will take over, and the body will take over and they'll start to enjoy the movement.

I think that's an easy way to start making music movements, because all of us naturally have a sense of movement. A lot of us don't trigger that because we're so busy in our everyday life. I always say to people who I come across saying, you should move your body at least 2 to 3 times a week. It doesn't have to be in your class, it can be with your child, turn on the music and dance your lungs out, your heart out, and that is so good because that kind of bonding with yourself is the best bonding that you can get for the world.