‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body,’ said Martha Graham.
The truth in a statement such as that, is apparent especially when an artist successfully manages to translate that ‘hidden language’ into a poignant portrayal of that soul. In this edition, we bring you one such artist – Geeta Narayanaswamy, Director of Shinjini School of Dance. Shinjini just completed its fifteenth anniversary.
Having participated in numerous dance festivals across not just India, but the entire world, Geeta had her initiation into Bharathanatyam at the age of nine in Kolkata under Guru Neeraja Pal, after which there has been no stopping her. Having performed in the Guru Shishya Parampara conducted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in New Delhi, the Hampi Dance Festival, the Pattadakal Dance Festival, the Dasara Festival in Mysore, and many, many more, her achievements know no bounds. She is also notably a member of Bharatanjali, a dance troupe headed by Karnataka Kalasri Guru B. Bhanumati, which has performed in cities across India, the UK and the USA. She began her learning in the Vazhuvoor style of the art form, and is currently undergoing advanced training under Guru Bhanumati. She is also learning Carnatic vocal music from Vidushi Padma Gurudutt and Karnataka Kalasri Vidushi Dwaraki Krishnaswamy.
Here are a few snippets of my conversation with her:
Swapna: Congrats on fifteen years of Shinjini! Fifteen years is a long time, and all journeys start with a seed of a thought. I know you have been a student of dance since a very young age. What triggered you to move on to teaching dance?
Geeta: Thank you for your wishes. Guru Neeraja Pal, Guru Kanaka Srinivasan and Guru B. Bhanumati have all been integral to my learning of dance.
Watching them teach inspired me to also take up teaching. Teaching is twice learning. I learn from my students as much as they learn from me. This ensures enrichment of our knowledge of dance and continuation of the art form.
Swapna: Women today, when they embark on a dream, face a lot of resistance and challenges. I am sure you did too. More so, back then, when pursuing art forms was not the ‘in’ thing. How was your journey? How supportive was your ecosystem?
Geeta: I started learning Bharatanatyam at the age of nine. It has been a part of me since then. I have pursued it only out of passion for dance. I have also been extremely fortunate to have like-minded seniors and colleagues.
It was initially difficult as it takes a long time to achieve a name and attract students who are genuinely interested in learning Bharatanatyam. As a rule, I do not enroll children under the age of six years, as their knees are not strong enough at a younger age to hold the dance postures. I lost a lot of potential students due to this rule as some parents were very keen on their children learning to dance from as young as three years old and creating records.
Another challenge I faced in the initial years of Shinjini was clarifying to students and their parents that I taught ONLY Bharatanatyam and no other forms of dance such as ‘Bollywood’! I also received a number of requests to train children to perform at reality dance shows on TV. Steering clear of such demands and requests, and sticking to pure Bharatanatyam was definitely a hurdle initially. Persistence however paid off. Shinjini started out small and teaches about eighty students today.
I have been blessed with an extremely supportive environment at home. My husband and my daughter have constantly been my motivators. At home, my career has been given equal importance as that of my husband’s. That is definitely a very encouraging and progressive environment that has contributed to my growth.
Swapna: While you built your name as a dancer and a teacher, you also handled family, motherhood etc. Women tend to carry a lot of guilt while managing all these nuances, more so if one is not in a regular job which ensures a pay check at the end of the month. How did you overcome your guilt and still stay focused on your vision?
Geeta: There was no guilt as such because I was pursuing what I loved. It did disturb me at times when I had to travel for dance programmes and leave my husband and my then school-going daughter alone. They, however, never once displayed any disappointment. That kept me going. Money or a pay check was never really a priority. These things come with patience. Dancing with a group gave me the opportunity to be a team player. This is very different from being a solo dancer. I am fortunate to have had both these experiences. I have also had the opportunity to travel to a number of places and perform at a number of prestigious dance programmes and festivals. No amount of money or pay checks can compare to these experiences. All this has helped me become a better teacher.
Swapna: Very few women were really self made in your generation. Like all women, you have had your share of challenges and troubles. Yet you faced them all with your spirited personality and a happy go lucky approach. What made you forge ahead?
Geeta: The love for dance is what makes me persist and pursue it everyday. The joy of choreographing new pieces and attempting to interpret compositions in a new way is something I love doing. Five years ago I graduated with a Masters in Fine Arts from Bharathidasan University. This course pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me explore fresh themes and concepts. It also strengthened my theoretical knowledge of dance, which helped improve my choreography and teaching skills. I still attend classes conducted by my Guru B. Bhanumati in Bangalore and also dance workshops whenever possible. Learning is a continuous process.
Swapna: What would be your advice to all women out there, who are extremely passionate but are unable to take that step ahead and build a career / profession in their areas of passion?
Geeta: Figure out what is stopping you from taking the leap and try to tackle those issues. Talk to your family about your passion and they will definitely support you. Do not be afraid of competition and don’t let money be a priority. Stay true to what you love and you will reap its rewards. Take risks and put in every effort possible to make your dream come true. Nothing is a barrier as long as you don’t allow it to be.