Profile Amanda Geroy’s love for Odissi brought her to Odisha and now she feels she is a part of the state. SHYAMAHARI CHAKRA
American artiste Amanda Geroy made Orissa her home for her love for Odissi dance.
“I sold my car so that I could come here and I am thrilled with my bicycle. I enjoy riding it through the back alleys of Old Town observing the village atmosphere - green fields in the monsoon and huge looming clouds, grandmothers in saris, kids and cows. I am here with my Odissi guru Sujata Mohapatra who is God for me and the Odiya way of life. Life is holistic here for an Odissi dancer. What else could I have prayed for?”
As Amanda, clad in a sari starts revealing her story, “God is one and I am secular”, explains the dancer who landed in the land of Odissi to pursue dance more than a decade ago and who is famous for her vivid portrayal of the character of Hanuman in Odissi dance repertoire. “When I was 11, I took my first step into the Hindu temple — that changed my life forever. It was a Hanuman temple. We had moved to a new town and my mother brought me to the ashram of Neem Karoli Baba, an Indian saint, which had been built by some of his American devotees.
Neem Karoli Baba loved Hanuman very much and in the ashram in America there is a beautiful statue of Hanuman flying across the ocean to deliver Ram’s ring to Sita. In the formative years of my adolescence I became more and more interested in spirituality and read books, attended courses and participated in ceremonies from many world spiritual traditions. I spent more time at the ashram and in the company of other devotees, making prasad , singing the Hanuman Chalisa and doing other seva ,” reveals the gifted dancer whose distinct debut at the 3rd International Odissi dance festival in Bhubaneswar in 2006 won rave response from the connoisseurs and critics alike.
It seems Amanda was destined to be an artiste. “I took to painting and drawing very early but it was a taste of theatre at the age of six that decided my future. I just could not resist the temptation of being a theatre artiste,” reveals the actress-turned-dancer who had her undergraduate degree in theatre from Northwestern University in Chicago. But why did she opt for Odissi?
“Realising that Indian classical dance is based on spiritualism, I deciding to learn an Indian dance and shifted to San Francisco where I met my first guru Jyoti Rout, an Odiya. During years of training under her, I realised that I have to be in the land of Odissi to feel the culture to be a better dancer. I feel blessed that I am in Odisha and with a guru like Sujata Mohapatra,” she confides.
“I had initially intended to stay in India for three months; that became six, then a year, and now it has been six years ! And I don’t feel like going back. Teaching and performing in America for me was like the big fish in a small pond. And in the birth-place of Odissi where the standard is much higher, I feel like a small fish in a big pond. But I am happy as I am at the right place, finally”, she adds.
But, how does she plan to sustain herself as a classical dancer in a country where the profession does not pay? “People ask me this a lot. I don't generally plan my life. I am a pretty simple person. My wants are the minimum. And I strongly I feel that right now God wants me to be an Odissi dancer. So He would take care of me,” says Amanda who teaches spoken English and Russian language to a few students in Bhubaneswar.