Dance and fashion have never been worlds apart, but lately they’ve been more intertwined than ever. Dancer, actress, and Princeton alumna Natasha Kalimada exemplifies the extraordinary possibilities offered by ballet’s union with style.
Classically trained at ABT, Natasha, who goes by “Asha”, has performed in productions all over the world, including Broadway’s The Illusionists and Cirque, and has one of the most stunning and inspiring social media presences around.
Her journey as a professional dancer is a captivating study in modern artistry. It has been facilitated by the 21st century’s most effective amplifier: social media. With over 10,000 followers on Instagram, she has masterfully used digital media as a tool to express her vision and strengthen her career.
In this interview, Asha sheds light on the role of dance and style in her life, what it takes to be a professional artist today (hint: no small amount of persistence), and what it means to use social media as a professional platform.
1. How did dance first come into your life, and what made you pursue it as a career?
When I was four, my mother and father took my sister and I to see the Broadway National tour of “Cats” when it first opened at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. We sat in the second row, house left, and I will never forget when one of the performers crawled downstage to the proscenium, just a couple of feet in front of me, and looked me in the eyes.
From that moment on, I wanted to “live” onstage. From that show onwards, my parents made it a ritual to take my sister and I to the theatre every other month, and before I knew it, my bedroom walls were covered in Broadway and ABT posters of Cats, Chicago, Fosse, Cabaret, Julie Kent, Paloma Herrera, Cynthia Harvey and the Moulin Rouge.
I started attending American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensives and in 2000, I was selected to become an ABT Coca-Cola Scholar in their National Training Program, which allowed me to train in NYC under full scholarship while covering my dance tuition costs at home.
Mind you, I never had the perfect “ballet body,” but I found solace in the emotional release of what dance had to offer and the freedom to express myself without judgment, as ironic as that sounds, because all eyes are on you on and off the stage. Since there is no technical absolute in dance, there is always something to strive towards.
I remember I had an “Aha” moment when I was about 11 in that I realized dance is all about authentic expression, and I enjoyed nothing more than “giving” a part of myself to the audience. That’s when I first fell in love.
The stage will always be my sanctuary…it is my safe place for me to use my emotions a way to empower a goal and tell a story, to inspire others. Dance has also opened up the acting world to me, which I find even more compelling. I consider acting an extension of the dance, and the more you know yourself, the more authentic and compelling you are as an actor, and the more you are living a role.
2. How has social media affected your dance career?
I treat social media as a full time job! Not only has it allowed me to form partnerships with brands, collaborations with a number of well known photographers and connections with prominent influencers in the fashion and beauty circles from around the world, it has also allowed me to explore my other passions and interests which include fashion, beauty, fitness and healthy living.
I’ve also noticed that the more active I am on my social media, the more my booking rates have increased as both an actress and a professional dancer. My Instagram profile is essentially my creative portfolio and it’s a way for me to both showcase and be in control of my brand. However, with increased engagement comes the almost inhuman pressure to stay “on brand” at all times. I love the hustle though!
3. What role do fashion and style play in your work?
Fashion and style play a major role in my work. Art is all about experimentation and making your own choices, so I think it’s so important to stay as much of a blank canvas as possible. Lately, I’m been doing a lot of fitness collaborations through Carbon38 and I always gravitate towards workout apparel lines that are more dance wear inspired, like Aloyoga.
All of my photo collaborations tend to take on a dance vibe and I end up moving in some way… I just can’t keep still!
4. How would you describe your own personal style and aesthetic?
My personal style and aesthetic is definitely a mixture of all that is whimsical, theatrical, ethereal, elegant, bohemian, athletic, soulful, moody and emotional.
I am drawn to styles that have a nice flow and natural elegance to them. Indian fashion and Bollywood have greatly inspired my fashion sense as well.
5. Who are some of the artists that inspire you?
My favorite dancer is Misty Copeland, because not only is she an extremely talented artist with soul and passion, a savvy business woman, but she also inspires the young generation of dancers to follow their dreams by empowering them.
I have so much respect for Jennifer Lopez as an all around entertainer and performer. She has been the only “mega” artist to come to callbacks for a dance audition … she’s wholeheartedly invested in the creative process from beginning to end and I love that about her.
I [also] love Beyonce for always bringing the fire to the stage. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of British recording artists, my favorite being Lapsley and FKA Twigs. My favorite fashion designers are both Indian – Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi Mukherjee.
6. What have been some of your recent career highlights?
One of my favorite career highlights was working with Taylor Swift on her hit single, “Shake It Off.” And despite what any critics out there have said, she and her team did a great job at diversifying the ballerina cast. I can’t help but always take notice of diversity in casting.
Last year, I shot a Special K worldwide commercial that even my family in Scotland got to see on the television – that was special to me. Earlier this year, I completed my first Broadway National tour as a dancer in “The Illusionists.”
I’m also really looking forward to shooting my first independent feature at the end of this year.
7. What do you feel are the greatest challenges of being a professional dancer today? How do you approach those challenges?
The greatest challenge of being a professional dancer and actress nowadays is the fact that you are freelance. You have to be fine with riding the emotional rollercoaster of not knowing when your next job will be. Will I make the required salary for SAG healthcare? Can I sustain this?
Another challenge for me is literally being “camera ready” 24/7. And by “camera ready,” I mean looking and feeling your own personal best at all times. There are no cheat days and no days off, because you never know when your audition will pop up. As an actor and dancer, you are on call 24/7.
I maintain myself by exercising hard everyday (I’ll either take a hot vinyasa yoga class, hot yoga barre, pilates reformer class, or do my own circuit of cardio and strengthening/toning exercises at my local gym). In addition, I eat very clean and stay as close as I can to a vegan and gluten-free diet. Thank goodness I am obsessed with skincare. I make sure to give myself facials and body scrubs on the daily. I also like to use oils as body treatments and all-natural makeup and skincare.
From the outside, it may look like a glamorous life – performing in front of thousands or appearing in tv, film and national/international commercials – but I assure you, in the off moments, it’s hard and it definitely takes a toll on relationships, from family to friends to your personal life.
There has to be a sacrifice and you cannot let emotions and/or rejections (which happen multiple times a day) get the best of you. As soon as you hit a low, you need to quickly snap out of it and pull yourself out.
It’s a game of mental strength, because the moment you let it all unravel, it’s very hard to pick up the pieces and come back. I’m so grateful for a supportive family and a wonderful and patient close knit group of friends to support me during both the high and low points.
Touring as a performer is another challenge. You are essentially go-go-going for the duration of the tour – sometimes as long as 3 months before an official break – and that takes a toll on your health and definitely on relationships. Patience is such an important virtue to me.
Lastly, perhaps the hardest challenge of being a performer is that even when you think you have arrived, you have to keep working, striving towards achieving higher goals, and re-creating in order to be fully present as an artist.
See Asha’s work on Instagram: instagram.com/ashakalimada