Ever since Maria Laura Valdez Usseglio, the first and only Odissi dance teacher from Peru, who is in Bhubaneswar for advanced training, emerged as the topper in the young Odissi talent competition held in Odisha, she has been in the limelight performing across India and winning accolades. Friday Review spoke to the dancer in Bhubaneswar.

What made you passionate about of performing arts?

I come from a family of music and arts admirers. I started playing classical piano at the age of five and had my first public performance at seven. As I grew up, I was trained to be a percussionist and a singer.

How did you develop an interest in get hooked to Odissi?

After my schooling, I joined the Faculty of Arts of the San Agustin University in Arequipa where I got many opportunities to perform with the University's Symphony Orchestra and staged a number of piano recitals across my country. Gradually, I got exposed to different arts forms and learnt Afro-Peruvian dance, Belly dance and a bit of Bharatanatyam. But it was Odissi that touched me most. I watched Odissi for the first time on a DVD and the dancer was Sujata Mohapatra, who is now my guru. I fell in love with Odissi. I dreamt to be an Odissi dancer but there were no Odissi dancer and teacher in my country then.

When did you come to Odisha land in the land of Odissi?

I came to India in 2005 when I was invited to join the Sai Symphony Orchestra. Renowned musicians from all over the world were part of the orchestra and the concert was held at Prashanti Nilayam, Puttapurty in, Andhra Pradesh. From there, I headed to Bhubaneswar to meet Sujata Mohapatra. I joined Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s famous Srjan dance institution as a student where I was under guidance of both Sujata and Ratikant Mohapatra. I was so happy to be a student of Odissi. I went back to Peru to obtain a student visa to stay in Bhubaneswar for longer years and Odissi.

When did you have your debut on stage?

After a year of training, I got an opportunity to have my debut dance performance as a soloist at the National Odissi Dance and Music Festival of 2007 organised in Bhubaneswar by Government of Odisha. I received a lot of praise for my performance. After that evening, I never stopped learning and performing as a soloist and in group.

How is the Odissi scene in Peru now?

Two years ago, I returned to Peru following three years of my intensive training in Odissi with the mission to make Odissi known in my country. I have been introducing this beautiful dance form to the children and the adults in my country. I was also invited to teach in Brazil recently.

Dance apart, what else in India did touch you?

I am fascinated by Indian spiritualism. Since I have a diploma in alternative medicine with specialisation in dance therapy, music therapy and aromatherapy from the Indian Board of Alternative Medicines, I love offering the benefits of these therapies to the people I come across abroad.