Choreographer and Kathak exponent Deepali Vichare talks about her ever-evolving relationship with dance

If you can walk, you can dance as well. Kathak dancer Deepali Vichare does not hesitate to demonstrate with her arms as she speaks. She believes all one needs to do is identify that rhythm within and use it. “Life is all about rhythm. Don’t we breathe? Isn’t that rhythmic?” she asks. At Mudra Centre for Dance at Convent Junction, Kochi, she sits with friend and student Susheela Pai, discussing her ever-evolving relationship with dance.

Leaving behind a hectic schedule in Mumbai, where she runs the Deepali Vichare’s Academy of Performing Arts, she visits the city to teach Kathak. She met Susheela, who currently runs Mudra, on an earlier visit and was surprised to see the interest for the dance form in the city. She has just completed her fourth Kathak workshop here.

Deepali’s is a name that needs no special introduction. With 20 years of experience in film choreography, the Marathi industry almost reveres her. Deepali is not a stranger to television either. As mentor and judge in popular reality shows including Nach Baliye, she made an impact. However, it is the song Dhagala Lagli that instantly rings a bell, at least for those of us in South India. The folksy number choreographed by her topped the charts on MTV about 15 years ago. “Though it was typical Marathi folk, the album became a phenomenal hit all over the country,” she says.

Learning various styles

Having gone through the rigours of Kathak training, Deepali did not confine herself to the discipline of classical dance. She learnt folk dancing under Ramesh Purav. She also spent four years learning Western dance at Sandeep Soparrkar’s ballroom studio. The pirouettes of ballet come as easy to her as the twirls of Kathak. Jive, Ballroom, Flamenco, Merengue, Foxtrot… there are few styles she has not tried. However, she says, among Indian classical dances, she likes Odissi the best—excluding Kathak, of course.

For someone who “feels extremely close” to Kathak, Deepali says she enjoys teaching more than performing. She is strict with her students, she admits, but teaching fulfils her. She keeps her classes spontaneous. “A piece might suddenly occur to me on my way to class. And I teach that to my students that day. The other teachers at the academy would see that the basic syllabus progresses,” she says. Every Sunday, she makes it a point to be at her academy. Deepali is a visiting faculty at the Bombay University, too.

She feels she has reached a stage where she cannot leave Kathak. “Unlike other classical dances, Kathak is free-flowing. It is like poetry in motion. It is close to the people. Even if you don’t know dance, you can enjoy it. I’m not a saint, but I want to share the joy of Kathak. Spread it to other parts of the country.” A successful career in films not withstanding (she has done over 80 films in Marathi), Deepali’s heart is in the classical. “Films are my source of income, I do not deny that. But creative satisfaction comes only from Kathak. It is not just an art form. The training instils a sense of discipline. You learn to respect your guru. Your entire personality is shaped.”

Bollywood cinematic dance rules, but there has been a significant interest in classical dance forms of late. Parents are increasingly getting their children to learn classical dance, she says. Deepali is not a fan of Bollywood dance herself. “It is entertaining and fun. But it has nothing to keep you rooted.”

Own compositions

Her academy hosts an annual show, which has Deepali composing her own pieces. She has four dancer friends who help her run the academy, which has two branches in Pune, too. While the Mumbai centres are devoted to Kathak, the Pune ones teach Bollywood and other genres.

Deepali’s profile is as vibrant as her dance. After doing her Visharad in Kathak (having learnt under Asha Joglekar), Deepali did her LLB. Meanwhile, she also worked part-time at Sachin Shankar’s Ballet Unit doing creative dancing, something far removed from her home-style. Marriage happened and she took a short break, during which she practiced law. It is this extremely wide canvas that she draws her energy from. “I am an energetic person alright, but I am also lazy and happy in my own zone. I am not ambitious at all.”