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The non-traditional Traditionalist
- Padmini Ravi

February 3, 2017

Summer of 65. My father had just died. I was 9 years old, scared and sad. I joined Sarasalaya mainly to overcome my sadness. Thus started my journey with Teacher, K.J Sarasa.

She made me perform Kedaram Tillana in a production just 6 months after I had joined. I did my Arangetram in just 2 years. I wonder how!!! More than the tangible element called Dance, what is still etched in my memory is the intangibles. I grew up as an essential part of her family. I was too young to understand the importance and implications of her style of teaching and life. While I was aware that all the leading film stars were her students and with some of whom I had also performed, I never realized that my mind was being influenced, till much later.

She was a very strong personality. Teacher wanted me to learn the snake dance. While I was just learning how to bend backwards, she insisted that I perform in less than a week. I was in total fear not because I wanted to be perfect, but just the fear of falling down and breaking my head. Did I have the courage to tell her that? Of course not!! Nobody could say no to her. Just before I went on stage I overheard her telling the light guy and I quote, “Please switch off the lights if she falls down!” She had a wonderful sense of humor though it was not funny then.

In my young mind, she sowed the seeds of improvisations, fearlessness and courage to explore beyond. I owe whatever I am to her. She changed choreographies overnight, adapted movements from other forms because it fit into the theme and blended with the music. She went with her instincts and totally synched with the music. This has shaped my core.

Those were the days when there were no differences between classical and popular dance. They were one and the same. I owe it to my Teacher to make it so in my lifetime. My dearest non-traditional Traditionalist. The inimitable K.J Sarasa!!!

Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Padmini Ravi is the director of Padmini Ravi Dance Academy in Bangalore. She is a recipient of the Karnataka Sangeetha Nritya Academy Award as well as the State Rajyotsava Award.

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