Interview: Rathi Varma – What Will Be, Will Be


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Written by Marie-Therese Wellington for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by Amos White V for THE ARTISTS FORUM, INC.
Photos: Alice Chacon


NEW YORK, NY (January 9, 2023) On October 30th, 2022, I was invited by The Artists Forum to attend an event called The Fourth Midnight held by the 7MPR Themed Dance Theater at 12 St. Mark’s Place in New York City’s East Village. At this event, I was tasked with writing a piece about a magnificent dancer named Rathi Varma and her artistic piece, worded and voice-overed by Colleen Unda, called What Will Be, Will Be – a dance performance about how a changing room in a clothing store can in many ways alter our sense of identity with the power of what we choose to wear.

Based on Varma’s real-life experience, the performance included an upbeat and melodious soundtrack of popular songs chosen to match each one of her outfits. For instance, when she tried on a sporty outfit, Lady Gaga’s upbeat power anthem Born This Way played alongside her complex dance moves. The piece not only tackled her sense of identity but also the various body image issues we as young ladies may face due to various societal and familial influences.

The choreography, dance performance, and music was heighten by utilizing the talents Unda, who wrote and spoke the text of the piece, thereby acting as that “inside” voice many of us hear when we are trying on clothing. Her barbs and in many cases sarcastic wit had many people in the audience laughing and added another layer of complexity and artistic nuance to her piece.

Varma, who graduated from the Peridance Centre in 2021 has had over fifteen years of experience in dancing and her performance showcased not only her choreographic skills, but also her technical ability as a performer. She captivated the room and had many in the audience, when I was able to look away, smiling, laughing and having a good time. Before her performance, I was able to talk with her for a few minutes and can say that she is a jovial person who is very passionate about her craft as a dancer.

After the performance, I was able to get an interview with Rathi Varma, asking various questions about her life experiences and, in essence, what drives/inspires her to dance. Below are her responses.


Marie-Therese Wellington: How are you feeling after your performance?
Rathi Varma: I feel excited and grateful that this has finally come to fruition and my thoughts are
being materialized in front of an audience.

MTW: What is the inspiration behind your performance?
RV: I was actually outside a fitting room and saw people coming outside to ask their friends and family for their opinions, I could see the doubt on their faces and when I was changing inside the room I felt claustrophobic. Inside this 1×1 foot clothing room, you’re constantly trying on various articles of clothing, it’s humid and eventually, you perspire to the point where the minute you try on another piece of clothing you feel discomfort.

On the other hand, there is a change that comes upon you wearing this clothing and at the same time, a voice telling you something is wrong with the clothes and various other thoughts about your body. In addition, with my upbringing, I know that wearing certain clothing, like shorts, would not be acceptable back home in India and that my mother might make me change into something else. Here in New York, I am much more comfortable wearing more unconventional clothing.

MTW: How did tonight’s crowd differ from opening night?
RV: The first piece premiered at Spoke the Hub, and in the original piece I didn’t have the Indian outfit, instead, there were two extra outfits and I felt like something was missing. After that performance, I asked myself if this was really who I am and I chose to incorporate the Indian outfit. The reaction from this crowd was very different and now I feel more settled with the performance. In general, I love how the way the piece turned out and even I don’t believe that I would change anything. The only thing that I had to adapt was the staging of the piece to fit the circular room of the dance studio.

MTW: How has your time in America impacted the way in which you approach your work?
RV: Coming to the United States has opened my mind to a lot of new opportunities and avenues, specifically, in communicating with people. In New York, I feel more open and not judged as much. Earlier this piece was supposed to be about a saleswoman and I changed it. Even now, when I go back home to an Indian parlor, I am still questioned on what I do and told that I am too skinny to wear certain clothes even though I never asked for their opinion.

Here in New York City, people are more likely to encourage me to wear more unconventional forms of clothing and celebrate my uniqueness rather than ridicule or judge me. The voice-over mentioned previously in the article, could be likened to a friend giving you slight jabs or critiques during shopping and I worked with a comedian to come up with some of the lines and comedic material.

MTW: Was your family supportive of your ambition to dance?
RV: Five years ago, no, but now they are very supportive and proud of what I have accomplished. For 15 years I was a graphic designer and continued to pursue dancing on the side, that was until an unfortunate accident made me realize that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing something that I wasn’t fully passionate about. After the accident, I decided to place all of my focus on pursuing dancing full-time and asked my parents if this was the right path for me, they were very supportive and now I pursue dancing full-time.

MTW: What inspires you?
RV: Music inspires me, especially the Game of Thrones and House of The Dragon soundtrack produced by Ramin Djawadi. [Also,] walking on the streets and my personal life can spark inspiration in me. And, I have created two pieces on dating, using dating apps, and validation on social media.

MTW: What would like readers to know about your dancing?
RV: I am still trying to figure out my identity in terms of dancing but everyday life and circumstances help to make me a better dancer. It pushes me to persevere and helps me to continue creating my own work. Making your own work is what keeps your heart alive.

MTW: Do you want to dance for the rest of your life?
RV: I would like to eventually go into teaching and currently, I teach kids. As a person, you learn to handle emotion and teaching is truly a testament to what you know about dance and technique. Down the line, I hope to merge my passion for dance with my passion for graphic design and create an illustrated children’s book.

MTW: If you could leave our readers with one quote what would it be?
RV: The universe always gives you signs.

For more information about Rathi, visit:
Facebook: @rathi.varma.5
Instagram: @rathivarma
Twitter: @clapstompshake
Behance: @rathi_varma

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