It’s rare for a child to be able to follow two diverse professions that her parents practice. Chennai-based Aparna Chitharanjan, 33, is an orthodontist and a dancer who made her parents’ choices her own too.

Aparna is the daughter of Bharatanatyam dancer, Meenakshi Chitharanjan, who was also her first teacher and the person who introduced her to the world of classical dancing. Her father, Arun Chitharanjan is an orthodontist and has run the same dental clinic for over 30 years. He is now retired and Aparna has been managing the clinic for the past six years.

The big decision

Aparna says as an orthodontist, who runs her own a clinic, she has the freedom to decide how she splits her day between her work, her passion and her family; thus, doing two things at once is manageable for her. “I don’t remember my early days of Bharatanatyam. I grew up hearing the vibrations of dance and music that it seemed a very organic natural progression for me to dance. Having said that my mother never forced me. That was purely my decision," recalls Aparna.

Since she has fixed working hours and few emergencies at the clinic, she is able to allocate her non-clinic time to dance practice, which is usually early in the morning or late at night . “Of course, my work at the dental clinic is prioritized over my dance as I have a responsibility towards my patients," she says.

When children have to choose professional courses, they tend to give up their passions but Aparna says she never had to make that choice. The biggest boon for her was that her dance class was at home. This helped her to balance both—studying dentistry and practice dance—and not be forced to leave one for the other.

Staying relevant in both

Aparna went on for her speciality studies in orthodontics to Cleveland, US, but every December, she was back in India for one important reason. “I came back every year in December, practiced and gave at least one stage performance during the Margahzi Music and Dance season in Chennai," says Aparna. It certainly wasn’t an easy task but quitting dancing was never an option for her. The support of her parents was what kept her going, with her mother handling all other aspects such as the choreography, orchestra, costume, jewellery, and make up.

If she continues to dance and practice dentistry, even after having two young children, she credits her parents and her husband for their unwavering support.

Though she performed professionally at a number of shows, dance was never the platform that she sought for making a living. “I do not earn from my dance. In fact, orthodontics helps me pay the bills of Bharatanatyam," she jokes. The dance studio and the orthodontic clinic are housed in the same building but yet, many times, Chitharanjan finds herself walking in late for classes that has caused her contemporaries to joke about her tardiness.

Aparna Chitharanjan as a classical dancer.
Aparna Chitharanjan as a classical dancer.

Balancing act

While her younger self would have chosen dance, the older self is very happy to have honed another skill set. “I love my work at the clinic. It gives me immense satisfaction," she says. Dance for her is now a great way to de-stress

A dual career is demanding and there can be many variables, which will support you and as many that make it tough for you to follow through and excel in both spaces. “My advice would be to be practical about it and realize that you may not be able to do justice to one of them at different points in time, and that is okay. At any given moment, whichever one you are doing, give it your 100% and let the other one be, for the time being. And never forget to give yourself kudos for managing both."

I Lead a Double Life looks at individuals who balance two or more professions and how they do it.