Lata Pada is the Founder and Artistic Director of SAMPRADAYA Dance Creations, a company at the forefront of South Asian dance in Canada. She has lived in India, Canada and Indonesia and has made Canada her home since 1964. She also founded the SAMPRADAYA Dance Academy, Canada's premiere bharatanatyam training organization.
Lata Pada has trained with India's distinguished gurus Kalaimamani K. Kalyanasundaram and Padma Bhushan Kalanidhi Narayanan. She was a recipient of the Order of Canada in 2010. In January 2011, Lata was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the President of India. She has received the 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and was inducted into the inaugural Legend's Row of the City of Mississauga in 2013.
Lata Pada holds a Master's in dance from York University and is an adjunct professor in the Graduate Program of Dance at York University. Her writing on the transformational power of dance in her life has been featured in the 2011 research book Creative Arts in Interdisciplinary Practice: Inquiries for Hope and Change and in the 2011 Spring Edition of the Canadian Theatre Review. She also contributed a chapter to the book Reflections in a Dancing Eye: Investigating the Artist's Role in Canadian Society edited by Carol Anderson and Joysanne Sidimus. Lata has recently been awarded the 2012 Chalmers Foundation Senior Fellowship to research the performance traditions of the Ramayana in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia.
Lata Pada spoke with Carol Anderson August 1, 2013, at Sampradaya Dance Centre, Mississauga, Ontario.
Carol Anderson: I want to ask you about your story of coming to Canada – how and when you came, why you came …
Lata Pada: I was born in India. The year of my birth was a fairly significant one, I think, because it relates to my own inner journey as a dancer and as an artist, and as a Canadian. I was born in 1947, the year of India's independence from British colonial rule. India had just been liberated from what we coined “the shackles of colonialism”. As young children, we listened on the radio to the famous speech made by India's first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on August 15, 1947, where he reminded Indians of the “tryst with destiny” that we had in this new independent India. There was a resurgence of nationalistic identity that seemed to be foremost in the new India that had emerged, a fierce pride of reclaiming our own country.
That history, post 1947, deeply impacted how I have thought of my identity.
My father was an officer of the Royal Navy, the British navy in India. There was a very robust influence of British culture in the way my parents raised me and my three siblings. There was a strong vestigial colonial way of life – going to the club every night to play tennis, or to play bridge. There would be Easter egg hunts and Christmas parties – yet we came from a traditional South Indian family, so our lives were straddling this life that the naval environment provided, as well as strong connections to the traditional cultural values of my parents and grandparents. Summers always meant going back to our grandparents' home in South India – and that was our opportunity to learn who we were, to participate in family rituals and celebrations, and learn to do the things that good little Indian girls were supposed to accomplish. But our education was always in Catholic teaching institutions; we always went to a St. Mary's or a St. Theresa's or the Sacred Heart girls' high school. Our education was very much within the British education system, and we straddled those two worlds very comfortably.
I graduated from a Catholic high school run by Irish nuns. I was in boarding school because my father was often transferred from one naval posting to another. Not wishing any interruption to our education, my sister and two brothers were enrolled into boarding school in Bangalore. Fans of Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew characters, we created a fantasy world within the austere constraints of our school. In a parallel way, we were raised with the awareness that India had great traditions and an incredible culture that we could celebrate, especially as part of our own identity. Our summer and winter holidays were an immersion into the legends of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata – great epic stories that inspired and captivated us with the larger-than-life characters and their exploits – much of which forms part of our classical dance repertoire. They made sure they exposed us to as many performances as possible of the great classical singers and dancers of India, while Saturday evenings were spent at the Naval club where the band would play the popular dance hits and we youngsters learned how to jive and twist – it was really odd … being part of two worlds and fitting comfortably into each of them. Looking back, I think actually all of this prepared me to come to Canada and not feel displaced at all – I had already assimilated the many cross threads of cultures and traditions from the East and West!
I went to university in Bombay … to Elphinstone College; I did two-and-a-half years toward what was going to be a BSc degree, planning to do medical school after that. But then destiny had other plans for me – I was introduced to this young man who had just graduated from McGill University in geology; he came from the same part of India as I did and was back visiting India that year. We got engaged, but decided the wedding would be in Canada.
The wedding was going to be in the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, at a yoga and spiritual institute in Val Morin. The spiritual head, Swami Vishnudevananda, agreed to perform our wedding according to Hindu ritual. It was October 30th, 1964 – everything was ready, friends had gathered, the preparations for the Hindu rituals were made, but the bride was missing…. Waking up that morning, I looked out of the window and was fascinated by the first snowflakes that appeared and impulsively I went out to experience this magical scene, and just lost track of time. After a lot of commotion – hunting for the missing bride, cajoling her back to get her ready – the wedding took place.
CA: Was your family here?
LP: No, they weren't. My husband had had student summer jobs in Sault Ste. Marie, and several other places, but had just started his first job with Inco in Thompson, Manitoba. We flew into Winnipeg, and then made that long train trip into a white wilderness. I will never forget that train ride – both terrifying and strangely welcoming. A slow train – it went on for ever and ever! With every mile that we crossed, we began to see the tree line disappearing – and no signs of habitation, it felt desolate and lonely. Young children would run up to the train and press their faces against the windows to see who was on the train … this passed for their entertainment.
Then we arrived at Thompson. It was a kind of “shock treatment” – if I can call it that – a good thing, because of the urgent need for integration. It did not take me long to find my way around and figure things out. Your need to make connections and new friends was also imperative – so you just did it. Then I joined the IODE. Remember that?
CA: Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire!
LP: I also became a member of a sorority. I think the most important asset was that I could speak English and communication was not a challenge at all. Very soon everyone learned that I was a dancer and I became this interesting little window into India through my dance. I started performing and doing lecture-demonstrations quite frequently. (next page)