*Photo Credit - Mani B Singh (@mani.b.singh)
Ragavi Ragavan was born in Switzerland and schooled in Australia. She studied Forensic Science in Applied Chemistry in University and has been the Head of STEM for an education company for about a decade now, allowing her to flex the analytical side of her brain. She has also been in the street dance world for about 9 years, starting off with Dancehall and Afro styles, before joining Bindi Bosses to do some creative South Asian fusion work. Her drive in life is to make a difference for young people in some capacity, whether it be through a creative or academic outlet.
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You have a number of creative pursuits including dancing (with Bindi Bosses), Acting and Modelling. How do you balance this with your “day job” as a Head Educational Coach?
I actually have multiple things I do as a “day job”! I studied Forensic Science in Applied Chemistry at University and have been Head of STEM for an education company for about decade now. I really wanted to work out how to combine these both and still make a difference.
Now, I travel across Australia presenting the real life scenarios of how we use Maths and Science in the real world.
I made a promise to myself that I wanted to keep both my creative and analytical sides of my brain working. Which is why I do what I do! I definitely have my “creative” days and my “professional” days which seem to split up my work well. I am someone who also works through weekends if needed, and luckily I enjoy my work so it isn’t draining!
How did you get involved with Bindi Bosses?
I’ve been in the street dance world for about 9 years now, starting off with Dancehall and Afro styles. Shyamla had heard about me and approached me to do a bollywood piece for a wedding and the rest is history! She had been dying to do some creative South Asian fusion and we hit it off whilst rehearsing. Our first performance as Bindi Bosses was at an event called Dancey Dance Time - that was probably my most nervous moment before a performance.
Do you have aspirations to pursue your creative pursuits on a full-time basis? Why or why not?
I’ve done some deep dive thinking on this and, personally, dancing is something I selfishly do for myself. If I take it on as a full time career it will take all the fun out of it for me. I love what I get to do though, very grateful that I get paid for my creative pursuits.
And honestly, my drive in life is to make a difference to young people more than anything. That is my motto. So as long as I’m doing that in some capacity, I’m happy. Whether it be through a creative or academic outlet.
I adore being in education, encouraging young people to step outside of their comfort zone in thinking, seeing them excel when they don’t think they can do it, watching them go from “I can’t do it” to “I’m doing it and flying!”. This is my purpose.
I personally view social media in a positive light. I see it as a tool that can be used for good or bad (similar to a car). Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
As I age and get wiser, I really do feel this way. Social media has connected people in so many ways that we haven’t been able to do before. And I’m constantly in awe and inspired by people around the world. I love that we are able to create our own narratives and see diversity on social media. This is something I definitely lacked when I was younger and now the general population gets to create content that the general population wants to see!
Of course there is the flip side, where it becomes extremely addictive and I do struggle with this from time to time as well. However, with constant reminding, I’m slowly being conscious of what and how much I consume through social media. Something I feel young people need to start being taught as well!
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How have your family and friends supported you through your journey?
Surprisingly, my parents have been very supportive through my journey. Initially, it took a few conversations to get them to understand where I’m coming from but luckily, they are always open to talking about it. At the end of the day, they just want to know I’m secure and safe. I know they are confident with my choices, they’ve been more supportive than ever nowadays.
And my close friends have always been my number one hype people from the beginning! I remember when I was entering my first Dance competition, I hadn’t told anyone due to my nerves and didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Also low key, I didn’t think I would make it past the first round either. A few days before the comp, they found out about it and the entire front row was filled with people from my life, cheering me on. The energy and love was palpable through the room, it really was a precious moment. I am so grateful that I made it all the way to the final round and ended up winning the 2017 DanceHall Queen title! They got me through a huge milestone for me.
Do you have any mentors that have helped you in the progression of your career? If not, who would be somebody that you would want as a mentor now?
Every single person that I’ve encountered in my life has made a mark on me, whether it be good or seemingly bad. There are 3 key mentors in my life though.
1. My parents have had a huge influence on my life obviously. My name literally means music to evoke certain feelings (in an audience). They had always encouraged me to take on as much creatively, whether it was dancing, Veena, Violin, Sangeetham. And when I look back, they never really forcefully pushed me in any direction. Of course they will always voice what they wanted for me, but took the time to listen to me as well. I think that is definitely the reason why I was able to adventure through so many avenues myself. I still go to them for sound advice on many things.
2. My best friend from school, Suki Bala (@bysukibee), has always influenced my positive outlook. Ever since high school our strict “no gossip” conversations have been based around who we want to be in life and what would fulfil us. She has always been a great reminder that nice things will come and go but experiences and the mark you leave in the world is so much bigger than anything. What a beautiful reminder hey? She is a rare gem, that’s for sure.
3. And now, my life mentors, Karla Sabella and Jimmy Gupta, the directors of Ignite Your Learning. A decade later, they are family and have been my life coach (and vice versa) through all my breakdowns and breakthroughs. I feel like everybody needs a Jimmy and Karla! A power couple who have nothing but love to give you.
Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?
Do you want me to be honest? I despise planning years in advance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very organised and schedule my days, weeks and months - but years in planning hurt my brain. I’ve always told my students “It’s okay not to know what you want to be when you finish school! You’re 17/18, you don’t have to have it figured out. Go out in the world and make mistakes, as long as you are growing and progressing, you’re going to be fine”.
I think it’s important to figure out what your drive in life is, something that’s bigger than yourself. Luckily, I’m someone who is extremely self reflective and also have people to check me when I’m not in alignment with my intention. The rollercoaster of my life will always be around working with young people and still be creative in some way. Everything else will fall in place around that!
In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?
Wow, this question is huge.
I think you already have an idea of where my passion lies! I just want to leave some kind of mark for the next generation. I want people to understand what their own passion is and go for it. For me, it’s creating future scientists and activists and living a life that they love.
What is a failure you’ve experienced in the last 5-10 years that you’ve learned the most from?
I spent the first half of my life being bullied and it had a major impact on my self esteem. I stopped dancing for a very, very long time because all I could think about was what other people would think of me. About 8 years ago, I delved into Personal Development programs that completely flipped my way of thinking - I decided that I needed to start living for myself and not anyone else. I don’t want to look back on my life and think “oh well, I tried”.
I still walk into dance workshops protruding nervous sweat and wanting to turn back and go home. But what I’ve learnt is, most people are too busy thinking about themselves to even look at you. And for that most part that goes for life as well.
Who is one person from the global Tamil community and one person that isn’t Tamil that you admire and why?
The most inspiring people for me are the people around me as I feed off people’s aura/energy. Not being bias, but I would say my partner, Nirojan, is truly someone who I’ve looked up to in my community - even when I was younger. He was someone who was successful whilst being unconventional from a young age and I admire people that are passionate and authentic with their work. He’s always been someone to give back to the Tamil community, mostly under the radar, without an expectation of recognition or favours in return. Take a great man to think that way!
I know this is going to sound cliche, but growing up Beyonce was my biggest role model. She was a strong, powerful woman who knew what she wanted and successful. I was an introvert when I was younger and I loved the idea that she had an alter ego “Sasha Fierce”, that’s why my (ex) Instagram name was “badddmachine” - a person who is unwilling to be programmed to comply with stereotypes at the expense of their own originality & self-expression. I’ve changed it to my name, @ragavi__ragavan now, I feel that I’m more than comfortable in my skin to be able to rock my own name and not my alter ego :)
Describe what your ideal life would look like and how far away from that ideal are you today?
I live it.
I try to live in the present constantly and practise gratitude often. Every stage of my life is so different and I’m grateful that I can see that it has been ideal in that moment. My ideal life is one where I can go on adventures and travel, have freedom and independence with my work and be able to be creative and use my analytical side of my brain as well. It’s definitely taken some time to get to this space but I really love my life.
What do you think you would tell 16-year Ragavi looking back?
“You are not small”.
As I mentioned before, I felt pretty small growing up (physically and mentally) and never really thought I would do anything special in life. But I’m very grateful for going through those experiences because it has driven me to my purpose and why I wouldn’t want a young person going through what I had.
What is your favourite book(s) you've read recently or a podcast(s) that you've listened to recently that's had an impact on you?
Truthfully, I find it hard to engage in books nowadays. Podcasts are my go-to and I usually listen to personal development like "Impact Theory" with Tom and Lisa Bilyeu. I’ve recently just finished Oprah’s "What I know for Sure" and it was a great refresher on how to live life to the fullest!
What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?
I’ve always believed that you have to be complete or okay with the past. You can have a million ways to interpret a situation and YOUR way isn’t always the RIGHT way. I've really learnt to become sympathetic over the years and hear out other people’s interpretation of the same situation. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t matter in 10 years, don’t spend more than 10 minutes on it.
If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?
Half of that money I would allocate to education for young people around the world. More resources for schools so teachers/educators are more supported, more opportunities for young people to do great things. The other half would go to the creative/commercial industry - supporting people to live this dream. I’m a firm believer of equilibrium.
How would you describe the impact that the Australia Tamil community had on you both personally and professionally?
I was born in Switzerland and was schooled in Australia. I hadn’t been to Sri Lanka (not that I had remembered) until later on in life. So all of my Tamil school and Scripture teachers had a major impact on my life. Look, when I was sitting in classes, of course I felt that it was a chore and dreaded going to them. Now, I can’t be more appreciative for teaching me my Tamil language, culture and heritage. My parents were adamant on me being rooted in being a Tamil before anything else. Basically, listen to your parents, kids! For the most part, they just want you to succeed in life.
What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?
I have a HUGE sweet tooth so it’s going to be - Gulab Jamun and Falooda. Fill a hot tub and spa with those and I’ll be a happy woman.
What is your favourite Tamil movie?
I’m a sucker for nostalgia, I rewatch Tamil movies by myself a lot… not many people know this about me.
There is something so magical and innocent about the older tamil movies. My favourites? Love Birds or Kadhalan - The Prabhu Deva and Nagma duo. And not coming as a surprise, but Prabhu Deva was a MAJOR influence in my dance identity. I would stand in front of my mirrors with the TV playing with his songs and imitate him for hours.
What does Tamil culture mean to you?
I think of the arts when I think of Tamil culture - music, dance and language. So much of that is embedded in our culture and man, I am so proud of it! I love that we have been able to preserve one of the oldest cultures in the world.
I’m constantly in awe of the richness and history of our culture and I also get to interpret it in my own way through my dance and music as well.
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