During our chat with Dr Rekha Raju, she kept calling herself ‘blessed’. And, blessed she certainly is. At the age of three and a half, she began learning Bharatanatyam. After studying it for more than 10 years, Dr Raju began studying Mohiniyattam and excelled at it too. She began teaching dance when she was barely 15 or 16 and continues to do so today at Nrithya Dham, the centre for dance and music, in Bengaluru.
“I have a few students who have been learning from me for the last 15 years, since I started teaching. I am blessed!” she quips.
Raju, who is holding an abhinaya workshop for dancers today in the city, is a Chartered Accountant by qualification, but chose to take up dancing as her career. “I am blessed that my passion is my profession. Not many can take up a profession that is their passion. It’s also because of my parents’ support that this could happen. If the family doesn’t understand the interest of a kid, then it becomes difficult,” says she.
But did she face any inner conflict when she decided to take up dancing full time? “I was good at academics. I was also good at painting, debating. But then I knew that I had to be a dancer. People who knew me, and of my choice to give up CA, have seen my growth as a dancer. I didn’t face a conflict of choice,” she adds.
And is that the same for her students too? Most students learning dance are also aiming to achieve conventional degrees in medicine or technology. Raju agrees and says, “My academy has some students from day one. Some are pursuing engineering and dancing simultaneously. It depends on how you initiate a training or create a learning that will allow students to grow. I am all for my students graduating in different streams, but I tell those, who want to take up dancing, that it’s a viable choice. When it comes to arts, the more you give, the more you receive. But you need to have that kind of interest and commitment.”
As a dance teacher, Raju might not follow the Gurukul way of training her students, but she does expect adherence to certain traditions. “I expect from my students commitment, sincerity, hard work, punctuality and respect. If you respect the art form, you will automatically respect the teacher. When they come to the class, they should be aware that this is a class which will shape their personality. They are going to learn more than what dance is. It is not a hobby class. That is what respect means for me,” says the artist, who was felicitated with the Yuva Kala Bharathi award and the Bharath Nritya Samrat award in 2016.
However, she also believes in keeping with the time and has a flexible approach towards her students. “I am a young dancer myself. I am just 30! I believe in behaving appropriately as per the demands of the situation. When you are going to a temple, you dress up the traditional way. That’s given. When you go to cafes and movies, you have your respective dressing style. It depends on where you are and how you adapt to the situation,” she says.
It’s perhaps because of this attitude that Raju has also learnt a bit of Kathak, Kathakali, Salsa and Bachata. “When you have learnt Indian classical dances, you can easily adapt any other dance form, except for Ballet, for which you need to spend years practising it,” she adds.
The artist is also open to the idea of having Skype classes. “Why not? she quips, when asked about it, adding, “I have been doing Skype classes for over two years. I am completely open to the idea of having students in USA, Malaysia and Singapore. I have been teaching at universities in America and some of the students expressed their desire to study under me. So I manage to take one or two Skype classes a week. The serious and sincere students also come down to India to answer their exams on dance,” explains Raju.
But some budding dancers from the city can get lucky and can look forward to studying bhavas of the face and eyes. “In our daily life, we express ourselves through gestures, using eyebrows to convey what we think. The exaggerated form of those expressions is dance. In case, I have younger participants who don’t completely understand what abhinaya is, I will be teaching something simpler, which they can relate to,” says Raju, who has studied under Kalamandalam Usha Datar, Raju Datar, Gopika Varma and Prof Janardhanan.
ST READER SERVICE
Dr Rekha Raju will be holding an abhinaya workshop today at Bhandarkar Oriental Institute, Bhandarkar Road, between 10 am - 1 pm