Of An Era Gone By
It’s 2016 (well, for a few more weeks) and dance in India has evolved like crazy! I look around, and YouTube and Instagram are flooded with mind-blowing dancers doing belly dance, hip-hop, dancehall, contemporary, jazz funk… the list goes on and on. And I for one, am thrilled to see so much growth and innovation in the dance industry in India.
But I must admit, there are parts of me that fear we might be losing our own traditional dance forms. Amidst all the evolution, are we leaving forms like Bharatnatyam, Odissi, and Kathak behind? I see so many non-Indians studying and mastering these beautiful dances, but fewer and fewer kids attending a classical dance class.
And that’s one of the reasons I was so fascinated by Shoma Kaikini of Nrityanidhi. There’s something delightfully old-world about her, so much so that you half expect to be transported back to a black-and-white era when you meet her (a theme she actually used for her recent production, ‘Riti’).
I met Shoma through her sister Ashwini, who is a very very dear friend. Shoma and I interacted on Twitter long before I met her in person, at the first ever Nrityanidhi performance I attended. The moment she connected name to handle, she enveloped me in a hug so warm, one might have thought we had known each other for decades.
Shoma Kaikini has been dancing since she was a toddler. She narrates an anecdote from her childhood, “In school, we had to memorise poetry and I remember my Mother would help me study. So I would dance those lines in front of her, and she would have this big smile on her face. I have seen and experienced dance ever since I can remember. Everything moved. Everything danced.”
For someone who is making waves with her Kathak moves, Shoma’s relationship with the dance form didn’t start all too pleasantly. “I started with Kathak, as a six year old.”, she tells me. “My family was in Mumbai at the time, and I did not like the class, primarily because we weren’t taught with love. It was just an exercise. Then my family moved to Bangalore and the Kathak scene in the city back in 1993 wasn’t too good. So I was put into a Bharatnatyam class. I was ten at the time, and I learnt Bharatnatyam under Guru Ashok Kumar till I was nineteen. He is an excellent teacher, and I owe my sense of grace to him. However, Bharatnatyam was too disciplined a form for me.”
“That is the magic of art,” she quips. “It allows you to discover yourself. Bharatnatyam showed me how I enjoyed freedom of movement, and my childhood memory established this brand new attraction towards Kathak.”
Nrityanidhi calls what they do ‘Spiritual Exuberance Through Dance’. Shoma explains, “Dance as an art form has always been a medium for self-realisation. Today, people are only seeing art as a physical, mental or emotional medium of expression; when in reality, it is the expression of the Spirit. In order to be a great artist, one needs to befriend the Spirit.” Nrityanidhi encourages their students to not just dance with their bodies, but to get their souls involved.
In a world where every dance form is being fused with every other, Shoma and Nrityanidhi are dedicated to preserving the purity of classical Kathak. As she and Ashwini have told me on separate occasions, it isn’t out of any sort of disrespect to other dances, nor any sense of superiority. It is simply what their hearts hold dear. To them, Kathak in all its unadulterated glory is something to be cherished and preserved, and also to be shared with the world.
Based out of Mumbai and Bangalore, the Nrityanidhi troupe has already performed in China and USA. And they’re just getting started! Shoma plans to travel the world, spreading dance & good vibes wherever she goes. (It’s working already!)
Before we sign off, I got Shoma to do the customary TDF rapid-fire.
The Dance Floor: Mumbai or Manhattan?
Shoma: Mumbai. Any day, any lifetime!
TDF: One thing most people don’t know about you.
Shoma: I love to laugh! And it’s very easy to make me laugh.
TDF: Pasta or pani puri?
TDF: If you weren’t a dancer, you would be…?
TDF: Sunshine or snow?
Shoma: Sunshine. (Matches her personality!)
Nrityanidhi conducts regular Kathak classes in Bandra (West), Mumbai, and at Bannerghatta Main Road, Bangalore. Shoma Kaikini can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her and Nrityanidhi on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.