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My journey in dance
- Vyjayanthi Kashi, Bangalore

March 26, 2010

When I am on stage dancing, I am in love with thousands of people who watch me and inspire me to keep dancing. While going back home, I am all alone cherishing memories of the past of when, where and how I started my journey in dance.

On the night of Maha Shivarathri, just after my pooja, I got a message which read "Congrats" and almost immediately received a congratulatory phone call from another good friend of mine in Mumbai. Honestly I did not know for what, and was under the impression that I was being congratulated because my daughter Prateeksha Kashi had just bagged the title of Nritya Nipuna from Mumbai!

Great news that every dancer would love to hear…. and that too, on a day like Maha Shivarathri! A sense of gratitude gushed through my whole body and senses. I bowed down before my mother Girijamma who lives with me and who is responsible for my being a dancer today. I saw her eyes fill with tears of joy, as if to say her dreams of making me a dancer had come true.

To be honest, winning the award did not give me the 'high' that performing each and every time on stage does. In retrospect, I was happy, doubtful, thankful, and calm and caught myself cherishing memories of the past, about when, where and how I started my journey in dance. Feelings and emotions of love, gratitude, hurt, challenge and more… though binding, unshackled me… and I was reminded of all my gurus, critics, contemporaries, students and friends.

Dance was what I started off as a hobby in 1966, to fulfill the wishes of my parents JM Vishwanath and GV Girijamma. It was Bharatanatyam under my Guru Ramanna, a highly disciplined guru. Years passed, and I was waiting for a chance to quit dancing as I could not meet the demands of my guru, who I felt was a tough taskmaster. After 13 years of "No" to dancing, I got back to Kuchipudi under the guidance of Guru CR Acharya. The painting of a lion, peacock, lotus with the dancing feet and the dramatic element of Kuchipudi was what fascinated me the most. Very soon I was fortunate to have Guru C R Acharyulu in my home. My lessons in Kuchipudi for a period of three months ended with my Rangapooja presentation at Bangalore. Now when I look back, I think it was too early to present a full length performance in a new style. Guruji was around 63 years of age when I met him, and he would sit and mime with his hands the foot work that was needed to be done. He would sometimes strike a pose in tribangi and say that any angle that a photographer caught one in, one must look like a sculpture. To be honest, one of the reviews of my Rangapooja read "not fit to be a dancer." I was then 26 years of age and the criticism broke me down not only because I felt humiliated but also because it was in a way an insult to my guru who had such fame.

But I can never forget my guru consoling me saying, "You are one of the best dancers. Don't bother about others." God, what a relief that was! And that marked the beginning of my dance career in Kuchipudi. My determination to be on the list of accomplished Indian classical dancers was firm. It was not just a challenge to scale great heights but a search for my own true self. Who am I? What is dance to me? The journey that began then continued and still continues. Ever since, nothing has come in the way of my dance. I think it is the starting point that matters. When you start, you don't know how things will shape up, and that is really where any art begins. You have to catch that one point and then it starts to increase, evenly on all sides…It's a moment when you really can't predict what's going to come next, because it is the dance that guides you after that. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that you will be taken care of and there will be no faltering. The dance simply takes over. That's the strength of my DANCE!!

Every time I interacted with my gurus, the passion grew stronger and I became more humble because I knew there was so much more to learn and discover. I was in love with dance and still am. Every time that I am on stage, the experiences are so varied… so challenging, so difficult, so demanding …yet thrilling! As a dancer, one has to be tough to meet the demands of dance. Being a person who didn't speak Telugu and was unfamiliar with the culture, travelling to Andhra Pradesh, staying with an orthodox Brahmin family, and trying to further the dance form in Karnataka was not easy. Explaining to the musicians about the regional musical flavor, getting new scripts done, and managing without the gurus, as they were always difficult to get from Andhra, were all Herculean tasks. To top it all, I had a bank job to attend to, my family and my only daughter Prateeksha to take care of, which made it all the more difficult. But then, when one is in love, everything becomes easier. Now years have gone by and dance has become my very breath and is still my first love.

I remember reading somewhere: "If you want a sacred seed to sprout and prosper, you have to weed the place, cultivate the land, manure it, and you have to make sure enough water and sunlight finds its way. If you are afraid of the harshness of the sunlight and avoid it, you will also avoid the life nourishing warmth of the sunlight."

The quest for more knowledge helped me to learn under Guru Prahlada Sharma, Korada Narasimha Rao, Guru PVG Krishna Shastry, Guru Nataraj Murthy and Guru Satyanarayana Sharma. Unfortunately, I met all of them when they were in their late 60's. But what really enriched my dance career was my interactions with them, my faith in their immense knowledge, and my overwhelming gratitude for them. With their support and encouragement, I started the Shambhavi School of Dance in 1993 where I began to impart the knowledge that I had gained. My first batch of students was like the first child of a mother. Right from grooming the child to eat, walk, talk, play and think, I taught them the various aspects of dance with love. Ever since, at my Shambhavi Dance Theatre, I have been training and grooming many a dance aspirant in Kuchipudi under the guru shishya parampara. Spreading Kuchipudi in Karnataka was uppermost in my mind and I began to organize Kuchipudi seminars, festivals and workshops in different parts of Karnataka. Though I started my second innings in Kuchipudi in the late 20's, I am happy that my quest for knowledge kept me grounded. In 20 years, it has helped me explore the horizons of dance. I am happy to have launched my dream project dance jathre, India's first ever international dance fair in 2008, which has created history.

In the process of this long journey, while many look at me with love, admiration, appreciation and honor, there are sure to be others who may even question the presentation of the SNA award for Vyjayanthi Kashi while there are so many other senior artistes and deserving gurus.

Well, all I can say at this juncture is that destiny has its own designs for each and every one of us and we partake humbly of whatever is handed over to us. The moment the news of my SNA award was announced in the papers, Guru Ramanna, now aged 78, called me. I heard him cry with happiness at the other end of the phone and whisper, "I am proud of you, Vyju." Today as I recall my first review and the consolation of my Guru Acharyalu who said that I was one of his best students, I am happy that the "not fit to be a dancer" statement made me work hard enough to receive the SNA award. How I wish my father, Guru Korada Narasimha Rao and Guru Prahlada Sharma were all alive to bless me and guide me towards the next steps which I am sure will be more responsible and more difficult. I have decided to organize monthly programs and workshops in dance through this year starting from April 2010 at Shambhavi Dance Theatre to celebrate this award.

I believe one always gets to reap the harvest that one has labored for. Ultimately it is the work itself that matters, the biggest motivating factor and the experience that comes from it. You only have to look at your work, concentrate on it and love it with all your heart. Fame, success and money will automatically follow. But if you keep the latter as your goal, then your art will suffer.

Without involvement, dance will not happen. You will never know the beauty of dance unless you are deeply involved. At the same time, you cannot enjoy the beauty of involvement if you get attached. This is a subtle distinction one has to realize….TO BE IN LOVE WITH DANCE!!

Vyjayanthi Kashi is the Artistic Director of Shambhavi School of Dance, Bangalore. She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for dance for 2009.

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