She often feels like Sisyphus, the Greek hero who pushed a heavy rock up the hill and had to keep holding it up. If he had let go, it would have come rolling right down! Through the decades, Anita Ratnam has lived life and nurtured art on her own terms, creating a vocabulary true to herself, her own kinetic intelligence, and conveying old stories in a new way.The most important person to convince when you're starting on something new is yourself. And I just felt that I had to create a language where the art and my life came together. My education in English literature, dance, music, theatre, television and women's studies could not stand as separate strands. I wanted them to be quilted and braided.She acknowledges that the early years were difficult and challenging. While the audiences accepted her, the critics didn't, so reviews and closed-door conversations were far from complimentary. Also, she came from a prominent industrialist family that has established its reputation in another field altogether.I am the first-generation professional artiste on both sides of my family. I had no mentors and nobody to look up to People have always had something to say about how I dress, what I speak, what I write, how I dance, the themes I choose But if you stay the path and you walk your talk, then all the chatter subsides and people start to recognize that youre here for the long haul. Privilege and family can bring only certain opportunities. After a while, who your parents are all has to fall away. When I put my bare foot on the stage, I better have something worthwhile to say. Thats up to me, not my last name.This year, Ratnam also celebrates thirty years since her revolutionary project Narthaki took off. I remember I wanted to do just a phone book of dancers, rasikas and those interested and involved in the ecology of dance. People thought I was crazy. Even the Indian government thought I was crazy. But I felt that if the Indian embassies all over the world did not have phone numbers of the most famous, iconic dancers of India, why don't I assemble this? And that's how Narthaki started. From a book, its now online. So many dancers have become part of a global community and because we went digital so early - 23 years ago - it's been a revolutionary breakthrough.Ratnam is also one among a handful of artistes who are generous with their praise and support towards other female artistes. The biggest myth we have is that women can't be friends. I think oestrogen energy is on the rise all over the world. I want more women to support other women. In the arts, I feel that we have so many women in the performance space, but we don't have enough gatekeepers and those greenlighting projects, enabling younger artists, supporting them, encouraging them, funding them and cheering them on. This kind of dance advocacy is what I really believe in. I want to encourage women to also be their own start-ups and not just wait for an opportunity for anyone else to call them to perform. Can you create your own network? Can you start performances in a small way? Im there to encourage you. I think women supporting other women is so crucial, and even more today.For women who want to choose a career in the performing arts, she has some pretty solid words of wisdom. You've got to have nerves of steel, a heart that is both soft and strong, and remember that you are not sugar or salt to melt in the storm. There will be many storms, but you have to pick your battles. Keep your short-term goals and long-term goals in mind. Surround yourself with positive people who can help you learn. At the end of every day ask yourself what you have learnt that is new. Get a good teacher. Perfect your technique. Read. Watch art and fine art. Listen to poetry. Equip yourself. This gives you the flexibility to be a thinking artiste with a body that will be in prime condition.When she returned from New York after 15 years of working in television, Ratnam found the landscape of the Indian dance arts in Chennai very one-dimensional. There was a student, aranghetram and a sabha - three areas in which every dancer was supposed to progress. I wanted to create festivals, bring dance and theatre together, train young people on arts managements I was bringing proficiency, accountability and certain standards that in corporate India they were already following. These were aspects unheard of in Chennai at that point.She firmly believes that Bharatanatyam is part of Indias soft power. Today, Bharatanatyam is a global form. It's not a Tamil form or an Indian form. You have people all over the world performing it. If theyre global forms like ballet, they need to have a global face. My constant endeavour is to take the local to the universe. How do I take a local story like the Tamil mystic poet saint of Andal of the eighth century and make her global. How do I make her voice, this teenage voice, a feminist icon?She believes women can decide to soar and spread their wings. And our wingspan is tremendous, she reiterates. Our ability to multitask - my ability to multitask - has always been my biggest asset.Now in her 60s, Ratnam is very much still on top of her game and excited about the future. When I turned 40, I felt I was on the topmost level of a diving board, and my mind and my energy just soared. Over the last couple of decades, Ive had conferences, festivals, touring, teaching, choreography it has been such a creative, glorious and packed time for me.