Vikas Arun on Taking Risks, Being Comfortable with Failure, and Expressing Himself

We first met Vikas Arun at a Buzzfeed event where he was performing with previously featured, and one of our dancer crushes, Ramita Ravi. We were amazed by the beautiful and fresh fusion number that he choreographed with Ramita, a tap and classical dance to Ghanan Ghanan from the movie Lagaan. What really caught our attention were the intricacies, musicality and textural amalgam of the dance. We were mesmerized. It’s not hard to see how Vikas’s years of training and work in dance have helped him reach where he is today.

Take a look at our interview with him below to learn more about his dance journey and where he teaches in the city. And, don’t miss his video of Ghanan Ghanan below! You’ll see what we’re talking about first hand!

When & where did you start dancing?

I started training in tap at age 9 at Elizabeth's Dance Dimensions in Bellevue, WA and got serious at age 14 when I began training in tap, contemporary, hip hop, ballet, and jazz at Premiere Dance Center in Redmond, WA.

How would you characterize your style?

I'm an extremely versatile dancer. I would qualify myself first and foremost as a tap dancer, but I teach tap, contemporary, and Bollywood on dance conventions and festivals across North America, Europe, and Asia. All of my styles influence each other: my tap choreography has a lot of upper body movements and unusual formation transitions, and my contemporary and Bollywood choreography is very rhythmic. I pride myself on being versatile and surprising people with what I will create next.

Do you teach dance? If so, what type of classes?

Yes! I teach tap at Broadway Dance Center and tap festivals around the country. I teach contemporary at The Nexxt Move Dance Convention and as a guest faculty member at The Mind Lab in Los Angeles. I'm constantly teaching workshops and classes at studios and intensives around the US!

What inspired you to start teaching classes?

Dance has taught me how to take risks, be comfortable with failure, express myself when I’m sad or frustrated, and how to be confident in who I am.

I believe strongly that dance teaches you much more than steps. Dance has taught me how to take risks, be comfortable with failure, express myself when I'm sad or frustrated, and how to be confident in who I am. My goal as a teacher is to convey those lessons in my classes. My classes are always focused on the life lessons rather than the steps, because at the end of the day, if we approach our lives the way we approach a dance class (walk in with a positive attitude, try your hardest, support each other along the way) our lives will be much more fruitful, supportive, and engaging.

What are your goals as a dancer? As a choreographer? And as a teacher?

As a dancer and a choreographer, my goal is to be able to help people process their emotions in a way that a traditional corporate life doesn't. Life is full of incredibly joyous, celebratory moments but also ones of crippling sorrow, self doubt, and pain. I think as artists we allow ourselves to feel these roller coasters more than most people do, and by expressing them, we allow the audience to process parallel experiences in their lives in the same way.

What gives you inspiration?

Music is always my inspiration. Often my work is based on inspiration from the present moment. When I listen to a piece of music, it almost always instantaneously reminds me of a moment in my life, and all the details of that moment come rushing back. I use the emotions of that moment to create all my material. Occasionally, I'm purely inspired by the rhythmic intricacy of a piece of music and I use that as a basis to explore how I can complement that with movement or other rhythms.

What has been your biggest challenge you have come across in your career so far?

Being told no. As a tap dancer of Indian descent, as an Ivy league student who went on tour while in school, as a tap dancer working as a contemporary dancer, I've always been told I'm doing too many things and that the odds won't work out in my favor. The hardest thing has been to trust myself, even when logic and rationale tells you the odds are against you. If you really want to make something happen you can make it happen. When I moved to New York I wanted to perform professionally, to teach on tour, to dance on television, and even if it didn't happen the first or fourth time I tried, I kept pushing, and 5.5 years later, all of those things have happened. It's so easy to quit when you get told "no" once, and as a dancer, you almost always get told "no." But if you're willing to trust your work ethic, passion, and march to the beat of your own drum, you'll be tenacious enough to create a place for yourself as a dancer, even if one didn't exist before (I mean this literally; 2 months before Capezio reached out to make me an ambassador, someone told me it would never happen because no South Asian had done it yet.)

If you could go back in time, what advice and lessons learned would you have given your “younger self”?

I would've told myself to have a longer term perspective. At 18 I wasn't one of the dancers that people had their eye on or one that people were talking about, and I took that personally. Six years later, some of those people are still doing great things, but many have given up and moved on. The beauty and scariness of the dance world is that it doesn't matter who is a "big deal" today. The ones who will be successful tomorrow are those who have the passion and drive to put in the work and to trust their own unique voice rather than trying to copy someone else's.

If you could give advice for aspiring younger dancers, what did you discover about this industry that you would want others to know about?

Define what "success" means to you and be comfortable saying no to opportunities that don't align with your success metrics. Is your goal to dance, teach, choreograph, or some combination? Is your goal to be seen by a lot of people online, to financially support yourself, or just to be proud of what you do (hint: Instagram fame has little to no correlation with who is actually financially supporting themselves as a dancer or who has a lot of work). Once you know what success means, work till you drop, towards that goal, and then get up and work some more. Work doesn't always mean taking class or producing videos. Research people you want to meet, ask them how they go where they are, go watch other shows, take notes on what you like, etc.

What does dance mean to you?

Dance is my life blood. It's how I process and react to the world around me.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Tenacious, loving, supportive

When do you teach? What’s your upcoming schedule? Any upcoming projects?

I'll be on two tours this spring. Check out www.vikasarun.com for more info! I'll also be launching a new incredibly exciting endeavor with Ramita Ravi, supported by the American Tap Dance Foundation, on 1/14. Here’s more information on that:

Conceived by Ramita Ravi and Vikas Arun, Project Convergence is a dance company that creates space for a dualist first generation voice. We showcase the beauty of diversity while horning tradition, are home to the unique blend of Tap dance with Bharatanatyam. We are proud to be the first company in residence at the American Tap Dance Foundation dedicated to exploring the union of tap with a non-western rhythmic art. Follow us along for the ride! @project.convergence 

Social Media (Insta, Youtube, FB)

Instagram: @vikas_arun,
Facebook: VikasArunDance