Mothers are the torchbearers of change. We kickstart our Mompreneurs series, celebrating moms who have made a mark in the business world, with Smiti Pandey. Smiti is a dancer, teacher and above all, an entrepreneur. This is her story:
Pandey, who was born and brought up in a small town of Uttar Pradesh, is now based in Wroclaw, Poland. Her journey has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride, as she has travelled from one place to another and faced extreme changes. One thing that accompanied her everywhere, however, was her love for dance. SheThePeople.TV spoke with Smiti Pandey about her passion for dance, her studio, motherhood and entrepreneurship.
You were born and brought up in Uttar Pradesh. How did your childhood shape your thought process when it came to women being independent?
Fortunately, I lived in a liberal setup, there weren’t many restrictions as such. There were some barriers like any other household at the time, but I basically set out for whatever I wanted to do. The most important factor being, my parents never let me feel any lesser – there was absolutely no compromise I had to make as a girl. Coming to your question about the thought process, my mother’s actions were what inspired me in a way. I liked the way my homemaker mother took care of everything, in and out of the house. My parents made all their decisions together, and that is what I believe built the foundation of equality in my mind.
My parents made their decisions together, and that is what I believe built the foundation of equality in my mind.
You’ve also worked in the fashion industry. Please tell us about that experience.
My creative side has always been dominant. I pursued a diploma in fashion designing from Allahabad University, post that I worked in a couple of export houses as a merchandiser. However, I realised, soon after, that I wanted to do something different. I stress on this part here because I left this profession right before I got married.
How did the inclination towards dance happen?
Dance has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Whatever the occasion, I’d be dancing. Although I have learned from several teachers, self-learning has been the most effective in my case. I remember my first performance in school when I was a five-year-old. The feeling then and the feeling now, when I perform, is still intact.
I remember my first performance in school when I was a five-year-old. The feeling then and the feeling now, when I perform, is still intact.
You moved to the United States soon after your marriage. How did the transition happen from a career perspective while moving abroad?
From a specific career shift point of view, it wasn’t a huge decision as I had left my job prior to my marriage. What I was most scared of was that I was unemployed and in a different country altogether. I was used to being an independent woman, involved in several activities back in India, and here I was without a job. My husband understood this, and in a way, he helped me realise my ultimate passion. There is a big Indian community there and we often organised Indian get-togethers and dance parties, and that is when the spark reignited.
What drove you to entrepreneurship? Tell us about your dance studio.
I was a mother to my four-months-old daughter when I moved to Switzerland. Initially, my entire concentration was on her, I started meeting up with several Indians at get-togethers and festivals when she grew up a little. I started choreographing dances and acts for the community events there, and they turned out to be pretty successful. I would say, the years in Zürich pushed me further into realising my dreams. Most importantly, the people around me helped rebuild my confidence. This experience drove me to consider starting something of my own.
On moving to Wroclaw, I decided to start my own dance studio and named it “Bollywood Dance Fitness”, featuring all formats and styles – Indian, Western, semi-classical, Kathak, etc.
You’re also training people of different ethnicity and age groups at the studio. How is the experience connecting with people from different backgrounds through the medium of dance?
Thankfully, everyone knows Bollywood. People here are, in fact, more aware of Bollywood trends than their own. Dance is a big part of people’s lives here and getting to tap such talent is an amazing experience. What makes me most happy is mothers here – regardless of communities – come and dance together and understand the language of love and acceptance. Of course, Indian moves aren’t easy. However, the enthusiasm with which all age groups come to the studio to learn is wonderful. It’s great fun to teach diverse groups, and also learn from them at the same time.
What makes me most happy is mothers here – regardless of communities – come and dance together and understand the language of love and acceptance.
Smiti with fellow mothers.
How has becoming a mother led you to become an even better working woman?
My daughter has been my driving force and strength since her birth. Now that she is my student as well, there’s an even better bond when it comes to learning. We both enjoy dancing together and since children are so smart these days, she keeps me updated with the latest trends. No doubt, there are grave responsibilities involved with children, however, it’s easier to blend and manage if there’s clarity and understanding in the family.
There have been endless debates about women balancing work and homes, but aren’t we doing that harmoniously?
What do you have to say about the stigmas that are still associated with working mothers and lack of acceptance and encouragement?
There have been endless debates about women balancing work and homes. But aren’t we doing that harmoniously? I believe women are splendid at multitasking, be it at home or work. We’re taking care of several things, and juggling with several others, all with a smile. Look at women leaders from across the world. Sadly, certain sections of the society are still living with the old age mindset that women are only capable of managing homes. Having said that, I am highly optimistic that things are changing and we’re not as patriarchal as we were earlier.
There’s a duality in several families – they speak about women empowerment but don’t encourage their women to move forward. That’s where the problem lies. Realising the potential of women is one thing, giving them an equal platform to grow and prosper is another.
What would you like to advise mothers who are aspiring entrepreneurs?
Every mother may be leading a different life, dealing with different issues. However, one common factor is embracing motherhood. Entrepreneurship is a game changer – there’s a tremendous amount of effort and undivided attention required. My advice would be to realise that there’s nothing you cannot do. We’ve given birth, now we’re raising children and working at the same time. I would say, realise where your passion lies and build on it.
Smiti Pandey with her daughter.
I would say, realise where your passion lies and build on it.
Parenting is never easy, of course, but what can drive us forward is the strength we gain while embracing motherhood.
On a lighter note, I often go around saying that raising a kid is almost like managing an organisation. I mean we can do this, there’s nothing we cannot do in this world.