Street: When did your interest in dance begin? Did you know you wanted to pursue it in college?
Tanya Thanawalla: I have been dancing since I was about 4–5 years old. Growing up around Bollywood movies really influenced my love for dance, but it was really just a hobby. I would perform for family weddings and just dance around my room. I only started training in jazz and hip-hop when I was 12 years old, which really pushed me to work harder and improve my technique. In high school, I joined the Greenhill Dance Company for several years, but I was more interested in pursuing my debate career at the time. By the time I entered college, I knew I wanted to find a group passionate about dance and a team that would inspire me to develop as a dancer. I found that in Strictly Funk.
Street: From where do you draw inspiration?
TT: My inspiration is, in one word, diverse. I draw inspiration from Bollywood dancers such as Madhuri Dixit, who is the epitome of grace and elegance, and I also idolize dancers such as Parris Goebel and the Royal Family. Their style is mainly hip hop, but I love how they move their bodies in such interesting ways. I also look up to my senior Funkers. Joe Forzano is one particular Funker who I try to emulate, and even now, as a junior, my constant effort has been to create a piece that he will appreciate and respect.
Street: How difficult is it to transition from dancing to choreographing? How are these different/the same?
TT: Being able to choreograph a piece is a huge step in a dancer’s development because it represents both confidence and commitment. It is also a very personal journey. I found it extremely difficult to transition from a dancer into a choreographer because it took me immense effort and time to hear the music the way a choreographer should and to think of creative movement that is both unique and organic. As a dancer, you try to imitate the movements given to you, but when you choreograph, you are responsible for creating that movement and eventually an entire dance. You have to think about movement, syncopation, theme, music and formation changes concurrently.
Street: Tell us about your creative process. How do you come up with a routine from start to finish?
TT: This was my first year to choreograph a full dance for our upcoming show, so honestly, I am not sure how I would define my creative process. Initially, I listen to the music endlessly, and then once I grasp the feel and beats in the music, I start to choreograph with my theme in mind. Sometimes if I feel puzzled, I look to my inspirations and envision what they would do.
Street: What is it like working with Strictly Funk? Do you choreograph routines with certain dancers in mind?
TT: Strictly Funk is not just a team of dancers. We are a family, so I enjoy every moment with them. I was lucky enough to join a group of extremely talented individuals who I could learn from. Consequently, I have grown so much as a dancer and as a person. When I choreograph, I mainly think of the theme I want to bring across and not necessarily who my dancers are. I also try to push my dancers to develop, so if I create a style that some people are uncomfortable with, I encourage them to overcome their uneasiness.
Street: What style of dance do you gravitate towards the most?
TT: I am still growing. I try to practice as many styles as possible including contemporary and hip hop. To be frank, I would rather not define my style because I always try to move out of my comfort zone and create something distinctive. That being said, maybe people will start to label me when they see my choreography, but as of now, I would not define my style in any one particular manner.
Street: Is there a style or mode of dance that you find the most difficult?
TT: Contemporary dance has always been more challenging to me because I do not have the same level of technique, skills, or flexibility as most contemporary dancers. However, I sign up for those dances because I want to improve, and I enjoy challenging myself. I also love watching contemporary dances because the movement is so incredibly beautiful and touching.
Street: Where do you see your talents taking you in the future?
TT: I love dance. I always will. Despite this fact, I am not sure where dance will take me. I hope dance will be a major part of my life after college, but I cannot say definitively. I am just enjoying the moment. I am appreciating my four years as a member of Strictly Funk, and for right now, I could not be happier.