‘When you teach, you learn’

Sudharani Raghupathy.  

“I am like the stem of an hourglass. If on the one side, there is tradition – the devadasis, great names such as E. Krishna Iyer, Balasaraswati and Rukmini Devi – and on the other is a modern, tech-driven world where art is transmitted through technology. I am the link between these two realms,” is how Sudharani Raghupathy describes herself. She is rather excited by the analogy she has come up with. How true!

One of the torch-bearers of the Pandanallur bani, Sudharani has held a rather unique place in the Bharatanatyam firmament for over six decades now. Looking relaxed at her spacious home, the doyenne is in rewind mode as this time, she is happy to talk about Shree Bharatalaya, her dance school, which crosses yet another milestone. Forty five years of existence!

“I am still amazed when I look back at several defining moments in my long and sometimes arduous journey,” she says as an opening comment. “Our family lawyer K. Soundararaja Iyengar suggested that I start a dance school to share all that I had learnt. Also, he wanted to lend some financial support to several talented artists whom he knew, and felt a collaboration of this kind might prove to be mutually beneficial.” So Iyengar, Sudharani and her mentor Madurai N. Krishnan started Shree Bharatalaya in June of 1970, and the first class was held under a thatched roof in Sudharani’s home. Her first student? She thinks hard, and then calls up her make-up man Sethu Madhavan, who supplies the name. “It was Naganandini,” she says. And adds, “Jayanthi was the first student whose Rangapravesham I conducted.”

But even before the school was officially launched, Sudharani was already teaching and choreographing. “I was part of the PTA in my son Anirudha’s school, Vidya Mandir, and was known as a Bharatanatyam dancer. Here I was, choreographing dances for their annual day celebrations. I even choreographed ‘Sakuntalam’ with the parents participating. Naturally, when some parents learnt about the dance school, they were only too happy to send their wards to Shree Bharatalaya,” recalls Sudharani.

Sudharani, who says dance is a “conglomeration of artistic brains,” took a holistic approach to teaching. Students were not just taught dance but allied arts such as music, yoga, philosophy and the scriptures. “To understand dance, you have to have basic knowledge of the allied arts,” she declares.

Thus she began teaching tiny tots, especially from economically backward families. As years went by, her senior disciples became teachers themselves and slowly, she moved to training advanced students.

Even as she imparted knowledge, Sudharani had a busy solo career. She says, “I never practise for a performance. I practise because my art demands it.” She continues, “Teaching children motivated me to perfect my art. When you teach, you learn.” It’s been more than 15 years since the doyenne gave up solo performances. Now, she finds great joy dancing alongside her disciples in her various choreographic works.

“Over 60 years as a Bharatanatyam dancer and 45 years as a teacher… it has been an incredible journey, and I cherish every moment. I have learnt so much and am still learning. And more important, contributing in a small way to fortify the art form,” she says with a smile.

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Printable version | Jan 13, 2021 10:36:57 PM |

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