Meet Smiti – she is single handedly creating an army of Kathak enthusiasts
Her zeal and passion towards Kathak is simply mind boggling. For her, Kathak is Sadhana which gets enhanced with riyaaz (practice). She is doing her bit to keep this art form alive by running her own dance academy. Kathak exponent Smiti in coversation with offdhook on her delightful journey.
Kathak is one of the main genres of ancient classical dance. Its not easy to be a Kathak dancer as it involves lot of discipline, energy and patience. These traits are difficult to find in the millennial but you, seem to have created an army of Kathak enthusiasts. How did you do this?
I strongly believe that Kathak is not only a beautiful symmetry of Indian culture but also one of the most identifiable Indian classical dance. It’s a way to connect with divine that helps one to attain a balance between mind and soul. That’s the reason it’s called a Sadhana, that requires consistent riyaaz (practice).
After associating for 13 years with Kathak along with my academics, I took the corporate direction and immersed myself in corporate career. My journey back to Kathak started, when I was at the sea sailing with my husband and being so close to nature, bought me back to my art and craft that I had left behind. I got my knee-jerk moment, when I was asked (you can guess who!) – what have I given back to Kathak. Its then, I decided to have an academy, which started in 2012 with only two children. I have made a promise to myself – Be honest to Kathak and quality, success will follow. And hence the academy stands on founding principal “Dhriti Nritya academy (DNA)” – “Quality before everything “
Today there are 50 aspirant students none of which have joined the academy commercially but all through word of mouth. My secret desire is that every one of my student should carry forward this form and teach at least one child from their next generation – this will be my true success.
The young generation needs to be educated about the vast and rich heritage and should be helped to reconnect with it. Tell us about your experience of teaching this dance form to the young brigade.
There is an old saying – “If student is ready, Teacher will pop up”. A student is always striving for more knowledge. They always have a thirst for learning new things. As a teacher, I not only teach them the steps but also help them to find the reason for doing it. I teach my students that each time when they strike a pose (sam) they should be absolutely focused, when they play around with their footwork (tatkar ) its sound should be like a chant (japa), their expression (bhav) should be seamless and self explanatory and their each pirouette (spins) should be like a centre of a spiritual power of a human body. Thus dancing should come from heart and soul and when one dances with emotion and understanding, it’s then when they connect with the purity of Kathak.
Also, I do my best to connect with my student. It’s a two way process, sometimes we have to teach them as friends and try make connection with what they can relate to. For example, some days back few of my 9th grade students were trying to make sense of circular motion they read in school with “chakkars in Kathak”. Such small day to day events is what makes me so fulfilled and satisfied as their Guru.
Please tell us about the kind of learning/training you had in Kathak?
I started learning dance at the age of 6 from Kathak Kendra, Sangeet Natya Academy. I took training from eminent guru’s – Smt Geetanjali Lal frm Jaipur Gharana and therafter Smt Vaswati Mishra frm Lucknow Gharana. As a result my teaching has a blend of both strong footwork that of Jaipur Gharana and expression that of Lucknow Gharana. Today all this I owe to my gurus who diligently taught me and most importantly to my parents whose consistent motivation and encouragement helped me to excel.
These days children are hardly able to take out time from their school and studies for extra curricular activities or you see the opposite trend?
In today’s world there is tremendous exposure and awareness in the society. Every child wants to learn and opt for a co curricular activity. When I have students coming to my academy, I try to counsel and educate them to manage their time so that they can give adequate time to their riyaaz (practice) without compromising on their studies. Through Kathak I help them to bring balance in their life, which further helps them to develop into a good human being.
Parents support is the foremost and utmost thing when it comes to learning dance. How has been your experience with students and their parents?
Dhriti Nritya Academy is a place where the kids not only come and learn dance but also form a life long bond with their teacher. “Guru – shishya” parampara extends not only to the students but to their parents as well, making DNA a complete family.
How supportive your husband has been in your journey?
My husband is the pillar of my academy. What I am today is because of him. I never wanted to quit my blooming corporate career but its him who convinced and showed me the other side of this beautiful picture. He helped me to connect with my passion and take it wholeheartedly without any regrets. My parents taught me dance but my husband gave a meaning to it. Also I can’t do without mentioning my little daughter Smera, who has been extremely supportive and managing all my small admin work back stage ( from keeping tracks of every child’s water bottle left in class to their ghungaroos….lol )
You have contributed in a small way to the revival of Kathak in India. Do you think we still have to go a long way in taking this art form to the young audience?
Yes, I do believe especially at this present moment when western influence is very high, though I feel that inclination towards Indian dance has risen during recent times. But, I would say that it is still our duty to make classical dance interesting and bring the young audience close to our culture. I believe all art forms should be presented in such a way, that it can connect to last row in the auditorium and as an artist, it is not only our duty but an obligation to make it happen.
#BalanceForBetter is the Women’s Day theme this year. Dance is the only thing where one can find both men and women playing an equal part and the biggest name is of Guru Birju Maharaj. Dance is beyond gender, what do you have to say?
Recently, I was going through grammar where I read – Dancer is defined as a neutral gender, so I don’t think there can be a better example than this for gender equality.
As told to