Dance gives her confidence, peace of mind and a spiritual uplift. Meet Shylaja Ramji, a senior disciple of Sudharani Raghupathy and a pre-eminent dancer of classical Bharatanatyam.

Shylaja started her formal training in the art at the age of seven from her guru at Shree Bharathalaya, dance school. She has done her M.Phil in French and her thesis was on ‘Aesthetics of Indian Dance.’ It was a well received one where she has dwelt deep into Rasa in Natyasastra.

But why has she chosen this topic? “Being interested in dance right from my childhood I did not want to go deep into French culture but instead wanted them to know about the richness of our culture,” says Shylaja She has dealt at length with Sringara rasa. She feels that there is a lot of things one has to know about abhinaya. “One can show her virtuoso with nritta but abhinaya should can be brought out only from within.”

Shylaja is of the view that the traditional format of dance has sustained all along in spite of a radical change in the cultural scenario. She owes it to the compositions of the codifiers of Thanjavur largely. “The treasure that has been preserved with care by the Thanjavur Quartet fetches fulfilment both to the audience and the performer.”

She feels Bharatanatyam is an elitist dance form into which youngsters should be inducted only when he or she is 8-10 years old. “They have to learn a whole gamut of adavus before venturing into the margam. Once they begin the alarippu, it is like entering the precincts of a temple and with varnam they enter the sanctum Sanctorum.”

The varnam, encompasses nritta, bhava and various other nuances. Here the sancharis are episodic and descriptive and an established dancer will be able to make it very vivacious. Shylaja also feels that as a dancer matures nritta should be clear and in nritya, abhinaya should be layered. “The dancer will be able to deal with all the nuances of the rasas in profundity only with experience.” The next item, padam, gives an internalised experience to a dancer. Having gone through the various items, where does one conclude. “Of course, with a racy tillana,” quips Shylaja. “It binds and brings together all the loose ends of a recital. The sollus in it always fascinate a dancer and give her a joyful experience.”

Shylaja goes on to elucidate the importance of reading puranas. Delving deep into mythology will enable a dancer to give better interpretation and infuse life into her sancharis and bring out the beauty of the lyrics. “The dancer will be able to interpret the mental, physical and emotional state of the character he/she portrays.”

Personal life

Shylaja started learning dance from the age of seven and it has been her life all along and her parents are her biggest support. Now she has founded her own school – Silambam, an alliance of Sree Bharathalaya at T. Nagar. Dance is a passion and an obsession for her. In fact learning dance helps her in multi-tasking. Just like when one is on stage they learn to concentrate on the dance, audience, orchestra and ambience, a dancer automatically gets accustomed to balancing a good family and a carrier in dance. The art has also given her a lot of confidence and deal with tough times in life. “Dance is my way of communication with God. It is very sacred and spiritual,” she says succinctly.

Shylaja has participated in all Bharathalaya productions as a senior student for over 30 years. She has toured USSR as an Indian delegate of Government of India along with her guru during the Festival of India. She has given more than 200 solo performances and lec-dems in several institutions.

Awards and works

She was the recipient of Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram Award. The other honours received by her include: Bharata Kala Bhoosana (1997), Natya Kala Jyothi (2004) and Vani Kala Sudhakara (2006). She has done the original choreography for ‘Vasudeva Namosthuthe’ and ‘Saptamathrika.’ The first one depicts the Dayasathakam of Swami Vedantha Desikan.

She firmly believes that dedication, perseverance and hard work will definitely help a dancer to acquire the needed support from the society.