Regatta Dance and Music School celebrates its 40th year. Girija Chandran, who runs the institute, talks about her journey in dance

Some are born teachers and some are made teachers. Dance instructor Girija Chandran was born to teach. A noted dance teacher who runs Regatta Dance and Music School under the Regatta Cultural Society in the city, Girija has taught hundreds of children dance. This petite teacher is all excited. October 18 marks the start of the annual Regatta Dance and Music Festival. The fete will see her gurus and her students, both old and new, partake in the event.

“Four hundred of my old students who are scattered all around the world will gather to perform at our Old Students’ Day on October 24 and 25. These include danseuses Methil Devika, Gopika Varma and Neena Prasad. I contacted my students via Facebook and most of them agreed to come and make the celebration a grand success. My gurus like the Dhananjayans and N.S Jayalekshmi will also be joining the celebrations,” says Girija.

Girija started her tryst with dance under the guidance of Kalakshetra Bhaskar. “He was not from Kalakshetra, Chennai. The name of his dance institute just happened to be Kalakshetra.” It was her father, R.S. Pillai, who spotted the dancers in Girija and her sister Geetha and encouraged them to pursue dance. Girija recalls how her father would take them to various dance programmes in and around the village to instill in them the love for the arts. “There was no television in those days so one had to at times travel quite a distance if one wanted to catch a cultural programme.” But then the performing arts was already in Girija’s blood. “My maternal grandfather, C.I. Gopala Pillai, was fond of the performing arts and had written several Kathakali plays. In fact we will be performing one of his plays – ‘Ekadanthacharitham’ at the fete.”

After learning the basics of dance from Kalakshetra Bhaskar, Girija went on to train in Bharatanatyam under Suchindram M.M. Pillai. “He taught me all he knew of Bharatanatyam.”

After marriage, Girija went to Chennai and polished her Bharatanatyam from Adyar K. Lakshman.

But why didn’t this passionate lover of dance not enter the dance field as a performer? “Well, in those days, dance as a profession was frowned upon. By the time dance was considered a ‘respectable’ profession, I had already established a name as a teacher thanks to my father who started Regatta Cultural Society.”

Started in 1972, Regatta Cultural Society was initially an organisation for the empowerment of women under the Social Welfare Board grant. “It was launched on the day of the Nehru Boat Race and one of my cousins, Vijayakumar decided to call it Regatta, after the Vallamkali. The organisation trained women in tailoring, dance, music, typewriting… But in the course of time, all the rest stopped and dance and music remained. Few know that Regatta is the name of a society. Most think it stands for the dance and music school.”

Regatta Dance and Music School trains students in various performing arts such as Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi and classical music. When once dance was taught on a one-to-one basis, Girija is perhaps one of the first to teach students as a group. ‘I have to thank Saraswathy Malhotra. She taught us folk dance when we were in school. She showed me how group choreography was possible. I noticed how people preferred group dances so I decided to do the same for classical dance and I divided the students into groups and gave them various themed pieces.” Those attending the Regatta fete will catch a thematic piece titled Sapthaswaram, which will be presented by 100 artistes. “My greatest strength is the support of my students, my staff, who comprise my former students and my daughter, Madhavi.” So, what next? “Well, I hope to turn the school into a university by the time it hits its 50th year.”