B orn and brought up in a family of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali artistes, Seetha Sasidharan couldn’t have opted for any profession other than dance. And with celebrated dancers V.P. Dhananjayan and Santha Dhananjayan as her paternal uncle and aunt, she didn’t have to look anywhere else for inspiration and guidance to become a Bharatanatyam artiste. This alumnus of Kalakshetra, Chennai, loves to dance and also finds pleasure in teaching the art form. She is a graded artiste of the Doordarshan, with performances at major dance festivals to her credit. She has been giving presentations and lecture demonstrations with the Dhananjayans as well. A native of Payyannur in Kannur district, Seetha speaks about her career and much-needed encouragement for dancers in Kerala. Excerpts:
Dance and only dance
It was natural for me to get attracted to dance because dance was all around me. Since childhood I’ve only wanted to become a professional dancer. My parents were more than happy with my choice. My ilayachan ’s (referring to her father V.P. Venugopalan’s younger brother and dancer, Dhananjayan) support and blessings were always there. I started learning Bharatanatyam from the age of eight. I first started learning from Nadanam Sivapalan and then from Vibha Vasu. After completing class 12, I joined Kalakshetra. Then I learnt from ilayachan for 10 years at his institution, Bharatakalanjali in Chennai, from where I took the post graduate diploma, Natyapoorna, in Bharatanatyam.
It was my stint at Kalakshetra that actually inspired me to take up dance seriously. The gurukula system of teaching and the dedication of the teachers are unparalleled. We are expected to practise on our own after regular classes. My days at Kalakshetra have made me a disciplined and dedicated dancer. I also would like to make special note of our teacher N.S. Jayalakshmy, who was more like a mother for all of us. We usually have different teachers each year during our four-year course. Jayalakshmy ma’am taught us in our third year and surprisingly she insisted that she teach us the next year also.
Learning from her uncle
I admire him for his punctuality and simplicity. He is very punctual, be it in class or while giving performance. I’ve performed with him at many stages across India and in countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. He prefers to lead a simple life and inspires others as well. The amount of dedication he has as an artiste is incredible. I still take lessons from him whenever I go to Chennai.
I recently did Siva Shakti, based on Soundaryalahiri and minor productions on Siva panchaksharimantra and Geethopadesham. I’m looking forward to bringing out a production based on Kumaran Asan’s ‘Karuna’.
Running her dance school
I opened my dance school, Bharatakalanjali in Payannur in 1995. Ilayachan suggested the name name Bharatakalanjali. I teach Bharatanatyam to around 200 students, with classes held daily or on weekly basis.
The youth festival scenario
I’m totally against teaching/learning dance forms just for the sake of performing at youth festivals. People know that I don’t entertain such requests. Therefore I can say there is hardly any student who is learning dance from me keeping youth festivals in mind. Also, I hold arangetram only after a student has learnt dance for five to six years. These days, you find students giving arangetram within one year of learning the dance. I’m totally against that.
Getting support on home soil
It isn’t easy being a dancer in Kerala because we tend to promote artistes from other states more. I don’t know the reason. Maybe, people here think we are not as good as those artistes. For instance, if there is a dance festival in Kerala, the organisers prefer artistes from outside and they are ready to pay any amount to bring them. Even in the case of Mohiniyattam, which is our own dance form, artistes from outside are chosen over those here. Whereas if you go to Chennai or Karnataka or other parts of the country, they always encourage and support their own artistes. I wish the scene here changes for the better.
It isn’t easy being a dancer in Kerala because we tend to promote artistes from other states more.