Dancing around the world

Amrita Prasad
Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Indians pursuing classical Indian dance forms abroad and even helping foreigners learn them, share their views about the global appeal of these traditional art forms

Indians pursuing classical Indian dance forms abroad and even helping foreigners learn them, share their views about the global appeal of these traditional art forms

Hip Hop, Salsa, Tap Dance, Zumba and what not dance forms are largely being practised by Indian youth today. But that hasn’t taken away the charm of classical Indian dance forms. Not only in the country, but Indians living abroad too religiously learn and practise these classical dances on a large scale. Thanks to the efforts of such people, the dance forms have managed to create a global appeal. Here’s what some of these classical dancers have to say about their passion:

Kathak in Singapore
Shivangi Dake Robert, a Kathak dancer of the Jaipur gharana, who hails from Nagpur, is currently settled in Singapore and imparts the knowledge of this dance form to young Indians living in this Asian country. Robert is a Kathak dance instructor and performing artist at Apsaras Art, Singapore. “It is such a joy to share my knowledge of Kathak in Singapore and it feels great to see that our Indian dance form has been received well here. There is so much appreciation of our art, culture and food here, it fills me with joy,” she shares.

Robert, who has been associated with the dance academy since 2015, says that since Singapore is a multicultural and multiracial country and about 7.5 per cent of Indians contribute to the total population of this Malaysian island, Indian art is not alien here. “Many expatriate Indians are curious about Kathak and most of the time when they come to enquire about the dance form, they join the class and begin training,” says an overwhelmed Robert. Asked if the Singaporeans and people of other nationalities also constitute her students’ group, she replies, “Most of my students are Indians and some Tamil Singaporeans settled here for generations. Not many non-Indians are with us right now, but I’m sure with the increasing popularity of Kathak in Singapore, soon people of other nationalities will be interested too.”

Speaking about the response of her students, Roberts says, “ So far, in my two years as a Kathak teacher, I have had a great response from the students here. They look forward to coming back to class every week. We make sure that they get an opportunity at least once a year to perform on stage. So that keeps them motivated. I’m sure that adult students and the parents of young students know the value of having an actual class in a city like Singapore rather than learning from digital mediums.”

Representing India
City-based artist Ketaki Kale, founder and director of Naadanam Academy of Performing Arts, who began teaching classical, Western contemporary and various other dance forms and later went on to use dance as a way to heal children with special needs, is in the USA since the beginning of this year. She is actively involved in propagating Indian dance there. Says she, “I have been conducting classes in Indian dancing for the people here, and all the batches have been full. I also choreographed a theme dance sequence ‘Colours of India’ on the occasion of Holi and a group of 14 ladies presented it. We received much appreciation from the Indian community here. Apart from this, I am also regularly conducting Skype sessions for Bharatnatyam and fitness dancing, even for my students in Pune, so that they too can pursue the art in spite of my physical absence while my assistants guide them there.”

Technology to the aid
Young Madhulita Mohapatra has carved a niche for herself as one of the leading Odissi exponents in south India. Currently residing in Bengaluru, she has many classical and Odissi dancer friends staying abroad in the USA and Europe. Many of her students have also moved out of the country and continue to pursue dance there. “I started learning Odissi dance at the famed Odisha Dance Academy in Bhubaneswar. I’ve seen and known many foreigners learning and performing Odissi dance there. The dancers and teachers here visit foreign countries to conduct training workshops,” she says.

Indian culture and classical arts have always fascinated foreigners. Many have dedicated their lives to classical dances. Speaking about it, Mohapatra says, “All of us know Padmashree Dr Ileana Citaristi, an Italian-born Odissi and Chhau dancer who is based at Bhubaneswar and Sharon Lowen, an American-born Odissi dancer who is presently based in Delhi. Our classical dances have always attracted people from abroad.”

How does she teach her students living abroad? Answers Mohapatra, “I’ve a couple of students who visit me at times and learn. Indians who stay abroad want to keep rooted to their culture. Whenever they visit their home, they try to make time to come to my dance institution Nrityantar and continue their training. Technology is also of great help now. They even take classes on Skype. Although it cannot replace the training given in person, it does help. I will take names of two students — Sigma Shatabdi Pradhan who stays in Chicago and Gairika Mathur who lives in London. They continue their training on Skype and they are doing pretty well.”

This entire process of keeping connected to her students living abroad is gratifying for her. “I find this satisfying as I am happy that they are able to continue their training. I hope use of such technology will only grow with time and help our classical art forms grow,” she concludes.

Follow the writer on Twitter @amu_prasad

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