The Bharatanatyam dancer strikes the Nataraja pose. Slowly and elegantly, she switches to a mudra depicting a lotus bud. It's common to the dance form; except that she is Chinese.
Jin Shan Shan, better known as Eesha — a name bestowed on her by Kalakshetra director Leela Samson — is the face of Bharatanatyam in Beijing, where she runs Sangeetham, a school that teaches the South Indian classical dance.
While Eesha was at school, she was lured to the dance form by the Oriental Dance and Song Ensemble, through a special programme. It was “love at first step”, as Eesha was encouraged to try out a few movements and mudras.
Besides the growing fascination for Bharatanatyam, she began to develop a liking for Indian culture. “Because of my big eyes, friends and family would say I looked more Indian than Chinese.”
In 1994, she joined the Beijing University to learn Hindi and, soon, a cultural exchange programme between the Chinese Government and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) brought her to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, where she was to learn Hindi. Chancing upon Rhythm In Joy: Classical Indian Dance Traditions by Leela Samson, she decided to learn Bharatanatyam from her.
For over a decade, Eesha has been regularly visiting India to brush up her skills under Leela's watchful eye. “A few days spent with Leela akka energises me for an entire year,” says Eesha, now in the city for the same reason.
Leela's guidance has been of inestimable help to Eesha in running Sangeetham. “My daughter Jessie was my first student. For a while, the class consisted of Jessie and her friends,” she remembers. “Today, Sangeetham has over 100 students on its rolls.”
Eesha has clearly come a long way — she is now planning a branch in Shanghai.