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Classical dancer to lawyer

by Janaka Mehta
15 January 2016

Janaka Mehta is the first classical Indian dancer to perform at the Law Society Diwali event. After the event, we asked her about her two passions - classical Indian dancing and the law.

What motivated you to become a lawyer?  

When I was about 15 years old I began to take an interest in the legal profession. I always enjoyed public speaking and debating and was interested in analytical subjects at school. It seemed like law was a natural choice for me. Crucially, the potential to help individuals through difficult times in their lives was one of the key reasons I was drawn to a career in law. I undertook extensive legal work experience during school and university. My first job after university was as a personal injury paralegal and my dream to use my career to help others came true.  

When did your passion for Indian classical dancing emerge?  

I have been dancing since the age of seven and it was something that I absolutely loved. As far back as I can remember I would tell everyone that I wanted to be a dancer. It was in my teens that I realised that Indian classical dance had become a central part of my life and halfway through my Law degree at King’s College London I realised that I wanted to pursue dance professionally alongside law. Dance by that point had become much more than a hobby. The more I began to perform the more my passion grew. I loved the feeling of being alive when I danced on stage. The spiritual and devotional aspect of Indian classical dance also connected with me deeply. 

What are the challenges combining your desire to become a lawyer and Indian classical dancing?

There have been and continue to be many challenges in pursuing dual careers. During school and university I had to work very hard to find time to study and at the same time practice dance. I would often get behind in my dance training during academic exam periods and I would have to rebuild my stamina and physical fitness once my exams finished. When I started working in the legal profession I would never get any time for actual holidays as I would use all my annual leave for dance performances and rehearsals. Every day I would wake up and the first thing I would think be: ‘is today a dance day or a work day?’. Long working hours meant sometimes I would be stressed about performances coming up and would often do my practice and rehearsals until late at night and found myself tired and exhausted. It is all worthwhile however because whether I’m working at great law firms during the week or spending my weekends dancing at prestigious venues such as Trafalgar Square, it is so fulfilling having a full seven days of the week spent doing what I love each day.

How do you reconcile the creative fulfilment which dancing provides with the more methodical, intellectual stimulus of law?

The two go very well together and I feel myself needing both the creative fulfilment dance gives me and also the intellectual stimulus of law. If a period of time goes by without dancing I miss it and the creative excitement and freedom it provides. However, when I am busy with dancing I often miss the office, and the intellectual stimulus I get from working with lawyers and dealing with different issues at work. I like the fact I meet very different types of people through dancing and law. I certainly need both law and dance in my life. A career as a dancer is also financially challenging, and having a legal career has meant I have not had to worry about finances too much. In fact, my legal career allows me to invest in my dancing and allows me to prepare, as I am currently doing so, to one day open a weekend dance school for students.

Are their transferable skills between your two passions?

There are countless transferable skills between my two passions. Firstly, the confidence that dancing and performing has given me since childhood has provided me with confidence in all aspects of my legal career. Both my passions constantly require me to meet new people and make new contacts. Indian classical dance is deeply rooted in the Hindu religion and I have had to do a lot of research for my different dance productions on religion, philosophy and history. Good research skills are also constantly required by lawyers. I also have to draft my own scripts for performances and drafting and writing is something I constantly do in the office too. Copyright issues also regularly come up as a performing artist and it’s a real advantage that I understand intellectual property law.

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