Dancer or teacher, Urmila Sathyanarayanan is able to slip into both roles with the same zest and zeal.

Imagine this. Ninety four dancers on one stage, an eight-and-a-half minute adavu-based performance with the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and several dignitaries from all walks of life in attendance. The event? The inauguration of the most anticipated FIDE World Chess Championship 2013.

Does it sounds Herculean? Maybe. But that’s the kind of challenge that spurs Bharatanatyam dancer and guru Urmila Sathyanarayanan to reach new levels. She thrives on such challenges. And succeeds.

This Margazhi, 27 of her students will go solo while there are two group presentations where over 40 dancers will participate in each. Now, the sheer numbers can prove daunting. But not for Urmila. When you meet her, looking as radiant as ever, you’d never guess the duress she must be under. “I look at it this way. Every time, a student of mine takes the stage and comes up trumps, it’s another triumph for me. I feel more energised and ready for something new,” says the charming dancer. That she is generous in sharing that each of her successful production with the nine teachers of her institution, Natya Sankalpaa -- Ramamurthy Rao, Swamimalai Kalidas Suresh, T.K.Tiruchelvam, Rama Swaminathan, Sai Kripa Prasanna, Rekha, Damayanthi, Yamini and Bavani – tells you a little more about her.

Urmila takes pride in the way her school, which she runs in an aesthetically done up space in her home in Kilpauk, has shaped up. During an informal chat, she is candid about the whys and how of her dance career. Her eyes light up when we are joined by her “babies” Chuckles and Max (a Lab and a Golden Retriever). (The canines take an instant liking to our photographer R. Ravindran, so much so that they do not let him work!)

True, managing the nitty-gritty of her 17-year-old school has made her tougher and as she says, “Experience makes you wiser.” Urmila, who took up dancing as a three year old, had to give it up for a while for personal reasons. So when she got the chance to re-ignite her passion, Bharatanatyam became her raison d’être. Training under such legends as K.N. Dhandayudhapani Pillai and K.J. Sarasa added strength to that endeavour. “My gurus were my backbone. Had it not been for them, I might not have taken to this path with such renewed vigour,” she says recalling how Guru Sarasa egged her on to practice more and take the stage nearly 20 years ago. Today, Urmila is a celebrated dancer who attracts audiences not only through her precise foot work, vivacious facial expressions, graceful poses and her deep aramandi, but also through her commitment to training eager students and shaping their classical persona. “Every art form is kinetic. And that’s the challenge for us artists; it literally keeps us on our toes. Personally, I believe I have reached a crossroads in my classical life. While my solo career is still going strong, my role as a teacher has emerged stronger over the years.”

As for this Season, Urmila will revisit ‘Apurva Purva’, which deals with the universal truth of Karma. “It has a universal appeal.” Besides, she and her students will present ‘Dynamic Margam.’ Says Urmila, “It is traditional Margam but choreographed for a group. So, it will have innovative adavus and interesting formations.” She adds that before teaching a piece to her wards, she prefers to try it out herself. “I prefer to dance every item before teaching as I can discern its depth and also iron out rough edges, if any.”

That brings up the question: Dancer or guru? She laughs. Thinks. Laughs again and then replies, “Well… both. I get creative satisfaction every time I am applauded for my effort as a solo dancer. And my artistic arm is held up high when a production I choreograph or a student of mine gets plaudits.”

She continues, “Believe me, trying to strike that super-fine balance between the roles of dancer and guru is quite tricky, in fact, exhausting at times. But I know that at the end of it all, it’s worth it. That’s what keeps me young, smiling, and happy.”

At Natya Sankalpaa

- The school has a routine system of examinations and evaluations - two formative and one summative exams every quarter during the academic year.

- External examiners are called for the summative exam. The experts include Narasimhachari, Chitra Visveswaran, Braga Bessel, Anita Rathnam, Roja Kannan, Sailaja and Savitri Jagannatha Rao.

- The ancillary subjects are music, yoga and theory.

- The marks are tallied and students are graded and placed in batches accordingly.

- The academic year begins from April 14. Regular classes are not conducted during the month of May and the last ten days of Dec.

- Around a dozen Arangetrams are conducted every year. Nattuvangam classes too are held for interested seniors.

- Contact details: 43548028, 9841072698; email:,

Urmila's performances

- Bharat Kalachar (Sri YGP auditorium, T.Nagar) on Dec 26, 7 p.m. for Apurva Purva.

- Kartik Fine Arts (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan) on Dec 29, 6 p.m. (Margam).

Students' calendar

- Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha (Narada Gana Sabha) on January 4, 2014, 7.30 p.m.