Karuna Sagari tells that she shares much more than dance with her students
Karuna Sagari’s relationship with her guru Sheejith Krishna began in Kalakshethra’s airy classrooms that echoed with bird calls and the tinkle of salangais. Though he did not teach her, she was fascinated by his teaching style. She wanted to become his disciple. One day, she mustered up all her courage and went up to him, and said, “I would like to show you a thevaram, choreographed by me.’ When she finished her 40-minute performance, he suggested some improvements to her piece and soon took her in as his disciple. “He could have easily said it is good and shooed me off. However, he took my performance seriously and respected the artist in me,” says the danseuse and founder of the dance school, Bhakti Natya Niketan (BNN).
This is the kind of freedom Karuna has tried to recreate in her school. The students are taught to be creative from day one.
“We attempt to strike a fine balance between rigorous training and freedom. You need rules to be creative. Rules do not confine you; they liberate you,” she says.
At BNN, the teachers are akkas for the students. “We believe in education without fear. The children have the freedom to question and joke.” They talk about everything under the sun, says Karuna. “We do not see art as separate from society,” she states. BNN has recently tied up with Shanti Ashram in a programme called Touching Society Initiative. The students and teachers of the institute will involve themselves in activities to alleviate poverty, increase tree cover and promote Indian tradition among the youth in the city.
There are lectures on temple architecture, temple history and iconography. They even conduct tours around temples where the children are taught about myths that are central to them.
Karuna also goes shopping with her students. “There are days when we zip around Uppukinar lane to hunt down earrings and bangles. We come back with all the junk jewellery we possibly can. We also promote cotton by conducting performances where we all wear cotton!”
BNN wants to make classical dance accessible to all. It has a Rural Outreach Programme , where it teaches dance to the tribal children at Anaikatti and underprivileged children in Vellalore.
Karuna says she enjoys the time with her students. The drive to Anaikatti with her students is the happiest time for her. “We sing as we enjoy the scenic drive!”
The 24-year-old danseuse hopes her institute becomes a full fledged university where the children learn everything related to humanities, art and Indian tradition. BNN also teaches students how to become good teachers, through its Teacher Apprentice Programme. “Teaching is an art. And to be a good teacher you need to be open minded to let your student explore the art form. I am waiting for the day when I will be dancing for an item choreographed by my student.”