FeaturesRays of Hope

Pallavi Shaikh: A Passionate Soul in Kathak

Text: Paul Nicodemus

She did not forget her Indian roots and culture after moving to the United States of America. To make it even better, she has been promoting and propagating the Indian Classical dance form of Kathak on the foreign land. Pallavi Degwekar Shaikh, an accomplished Kathak artiste, choreographer and teacher has been doing a phenomenal job in New Jersey, USA. In the last 25 years, she performed at various prestigious venues in India and the USA and has been training the next generation of dancers for the last 19 years. She completed her B.A. in Indian Philosophy from the University of Mumbai and Alankar (Masters) in Kathak from Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal.

Pallavi was born on 25 November 1980 in Mumbai, India. She learned Kathak under Guru Asha Tai Joglekar (Maushi) at the age of 10. Kathak was the first art form she learnt. She hails from a family with a musical background. Her grandfather Mahadeo Degwekar was an outstanding classical singer of his time. Maestros like Pt. Ram Marathe and others visited and had mehfils in her house. Her father Vishnu Mahadeo Degwekar was a Gandaband Shagird of Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa Saheb. He had a vision of her pursuing Kathak which compliments Hindustani Classical music and instrument. Her parents were familiar with Asha Tai’s dance class at Dadar and put her on her waiting list. “When I met Maushi for the first time, she created an impression on me – a radiant inside-out beauty! Her charm and aura were commanding, and I was keen on learning under her. After one and a half years I was enrolled,” she declares.

She revelled in her teens and never considered Kathak as her dream. It made her quit dance! Neither her parents nor her guru was happy with the decision. But Asha Tai, her teacher gave her ample space and believed she would come back to Kathak. After a year, Pallavi attended her uncle’s (Balasaheb Degwekar, a tabla artist) 60th birthday celebration. As a part of the celebration, there was a concert with many renowned artists like Pandit Suresh Talwalkar and Pandit Bhai Gaitonde. The mesmerising concert and the ambience lit a fire within her, and she realised Kathak is her path and destiny. “Since then I have never looked back, and the rest is history,” she says.

Her parents and guru played a significant role in encouraging her to learn the art form. They inspired and motivated her – gave her space but pushed her as and when the need emerged. “I credit all my Kathak success to both my Mausi and parents,” she says. She is a senior disciple of late Guru Asha Tai Joglekar and has been groomed by Pt. Suresh Talwalkar for Taal and Laya and by Pt. Birju Maharaj.

According to her, Kathak is a unique dance form of storytelling. “Its language is efficient and effective to relate to the audience. A Kathak dancer recites compositions before performing it. With the composition recitation, the dancer and the audience play the math and music game,” she says. Kathak choreographies can express and emote themes from Indian mythology, philosophy and socio-economic topics. They can also blend into the contemporary dance forms. Since its background is deeply rooted in both Hindu and Muslim religion, the dance form is an integral part of the cultural fabric of India.

She derives her inspiration in many forms, a piece of music, a good chat with someone, nature – sunset, rain, snow or from watching artists at work.  Apart from the dance, she is passionate about painting and singing. “I must confess I don’t nurture those hobbies as much as I should,” she says.

Her mornings begin with her duties as a mother. Then comes her time with a cup of tea! She does riyaz, daily for at least an hour depending on the schedule. She dedicates her afternoons to classes. She usually ends her day watching a movie or a series. It helps her relax in her downtime.

In the years to come, she sees herself doing three things – sharing her knowledge, contributing art to the community and strengthening her skills.

The most challenging moment in her career was to establish herself as an accomplished Kathak guru and artist in the USA. “In India, I had the base and backing of Mausi but here I was starting from zero. I am happy to say I have earned a good name for both me and Kathak here,” she says.

She had the hardest time of her life when she lost both her brother and father in a span of two years. “By far, those were the darkest moments in our family. We are all now in a good place, we know both my dad and brother are looking down at us and smiling. Their happy memories will always be with us,” she reveals.

There is nothing more gratifying and exhilarating than being a mother. She says that Jiah, her daughter is the best thing that has happened to her. “Today we share the bond of Kathak! Riyaz with her are the best times and knowing I can impart the most important aspect of my life into her has been deeply satisfying,” she says.

She is a purist and wants to spread the traditional art form of Kathak in its immaculate form. Especially, in the USA where they have so many influences. Having said that, she likes experimenting with the music piece but her choreographies are traditional. “I am not against fusion. If my students’ experiment I do encourage them to follow their heart. Maybe in the future, I may dip my toes into fusion but as of now, I do not see myself away from the pure arts,” she explains.

Kathak literally means ‘telling a story’. It is a versatile dance style. In its pure traditional form, it can be entertaining or can bring out socio-economic topics and spread awareness. It is the light of hope that can turn on a spark within the dancer. This is a traditional art form and has existed for decades. “Many maestros from previous generations such as Pt. Bindadin Maharaj, Pt. Lachhu Maharaj, Pt. Shambhu Maharaj, and Pt. Birju Maharaj, Natraj Gopi Krishna, Pt. Sitara Devi, Pt. Rohini Bhate, Guru Asha Tai Joglekar. from more recent times have dedicated their life to rejuvenating this style. Their work has made it easy for students to pursue this art form. Kathak is available at ease nowadays. Families promote women to pursue this dance style. Isn’t this enough to say it is a true independence of knowledge which anyone now can pursue with the full support of their family and the society?” she asks.

Awards and achievements she received over the years include Alankar from Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal; ‘Sringarmani’ award from the national organisation of Sur Singar Samsad for Kal Ke Kalakar as an extraordinary dancer; ‘Nrityangana 99’ for outstanding performance in intercollegiate competition in Sydenham College; performed at Haridas Sangeet Sammelan in the honour of conferring the title ‘Sringarmani’; Performed at NCPA, Mumbai in Raindrop festival organised by Guru Uma Didi Dogra for Samved; performed at Kamani Auditorium, Delhi in Sadhana Festival organised by Kalashram under Pt. Birju Maharaj and performed at Sangeet Natak Akademi in New Delhi.

Online appearances during COVID 19 – Interviewed in online live talk shows with senior Harmonium player Santosh Ji Ghante and at Katapul Networks, India. Performed at Artist United Facebook page, Hindustani Classical Music And Everything (HCMAE) as a concluding performer of the evening and the season of Live Mehfils Grand finale, New York kathak Festival’s special online event, ArtOIndia, India-USA collaboration with a visual storyteller from India and Kathak – Nrityakriti, performed for the short video by Indian Raga’s online campaign “Why I Dance”. Arranged online workshops and also by other senior reputed artists and, conducted online exams by Bharti Vidyapeeth, Pune India. Was invited to teach for an online workshop organized by Navatman on the aspect and importance of Padhant in Kathak dance style. Collaborated and organized a fundraiser for the artist in need of Rajasthan. Initiated a voluntary online activity “Ravivaar Riyaaz-e- Sabha to bring in positivity, happiness, and all artist together across the globe. Online collaboration bringing 22 Kathak artists around the globe to show solidarity and unity through this art form. Was honored to be the finale performer. 

Pallavi is an accomplished Kathak artist who loves performing, choreographing and creating novel dance routines. She is passionate about teaching her art. She teaches beginners to advance level Kathak dance to kids and adults. She is a certified New Jersey Center in charge and examiner of the Bharti Vidyapeeth School of Performing Arts.

Distinguished Performances and Achievements​ 

  • The Dance India Awards, India – Mar 2020. Honored to receive the Rays of Hope award from The Dance India on International Women’s Day awards for contributions in the Indian Performing Arts.
  • Creative Diversity, NJ  – Feb 2020. Some of my youngest students participated in the annual Raag Rang Fundraiser, an event bringing the community together displaying its diverse talent. 
  • Individual Artist Fellowship, NJ – Feb 2020. Honored and grateful to receive the NJ Council on the Arts, Individual Artist Fellowship Award of 2020 for choreography.
  • Carnegie Hall, NYC  – Jan 2020. Honored to be the only Kathak performance of the show and to be able to share such a prestigious stage with other International dances. Another playbill published!
  • WE ♥️ KATHAK, NYC – Dec 2019. A fundraiser presented by New York Kathak Festival. Privileged to perform at the first fundraiser of NYKF alongside renowned Indian Classical Dance artists at DAG .
  • Indian Raaga Fellowship, CA – Jul 2019. Received Indian Raaga fellowship, the only Kathak artist in the US, along with 27 other artists from the Indian Classical Dance and Music community. Performed for two video productions.
  • Geeva Heritage Festival, KY – Jun 2019. Organized by Guru Vandana Arts Academy. Honored to be invited as a guest artist at the festival and to conduct a Kathak workshop for all the students of the academy. I was overwhelmed and grateful to receive a standing ovation for my performance. 
  • Examiner, NC – May 2019. Invited as a Bharati Vidyapeeth Examiner at the Charlotte NC center. It’s always rewarding to be able to exchange art and ideas with gurus and students from different Kathak Dance schools and see what their students have to offer.
  • Natraj Dance Showcase, NJ – May 2019. My students won high gold and a special award in the Junior Classical Dance Category. They performed spectacularly in the group dance and were able to execute my intricate choreography.
  • Qawwali Night, NJ – Apr 2019. This event was organized by Art and Beat as a fundraiser for Phulwana victims – Bharat Ke Veer. I was honored to be a guest solo Artist and to be able to help raise money for such a noble cause.
  • New York Kathak Festival, NYC – Apr 2019. NYKF was an exceptional event bringing the Global Kathak Community together! I had the opportunity to perform in front of Birju Maharajji and Saswati Didi after almost a decade! Was honored to be able to share the stage with the legends and perform on the same day as them during the festival. 
  • Kal ke Kalakaar, NJ – Mar 2019. Organized by Raag Rang an event featuring budding artists of the future from classical realm. My intermediate level students performed for a stretch of 20 mins, and were the only representatives of classical dance.
  • David Geffen Stage at Lincoln Center, NYC  – Jan 2019. Honored with the opening act performance, choreographed and performed along with 27 dancers, excited to get my first playbill published!
  • RAW Brooklyn Bazaar, New York – Dec 2018. Performed solo as the only Indian classical dance artist at the festival, it felt wonderful to share the art with people of different artistic backgrounds.
  • Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s annual dinner, NJ – Dec 2018. Invited to perform solo at the annual dinner of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, NJ branch.
  • Natya festival, NC – Oct 2018. Organized by Laasya Nritya and Natya, a non-profit organization. Performed solo and served as a role model for the students of Natya. Honored to be felicitated by Guru Sridevi Jagannath.
  • Rays of Hope, India – Oct 2018. An article about me as an Kathak artist detailing my background, career, and current activities was published in The Dance India magazine’s October issue.
  • Mudra dance festival, PA – Sep 2018. Organized by Philadelphia Ganesh festival, performed a solo and group with my students. A review about our performance was published in a leading newspaper -The Statesman, India . 
  • Bharat Mela, NJ – Aug 2018. Directed and choreographed a group performance with my senior students to showcase Kathak art at the iMela, flavors of India. Honored by the presence of the Mayor and other dignitaries at the event.
  • Utsav -Jul 2018. My senior students performed mesmerizing Tarana and made me proud by winning third place in the classical dance category. 
  • TV Asia for World Hindu Day, NJ -Jun 2018. Organized by OM Kriya Yog. Blessed to be the only Kathak artist to share the art at such an important occasion. The event was broadcasted on TV Asia channel.
  • Chinmaya Mission, Vrindawan Mela, NJ – Jun 2018. Danced on the stage inside the temple in front of Balaji! Choreographed Abhang and Kathak blend for this special auspicious venue.
  • Guru Shishya Tradition, NJ – Jun 2018.  Danced a solo performance keeping the legacy of guru-shishya tradition concluding the 4 days exam sessions with Guru Prajakta Atre.
  • Vasant Utsav – Apr 2018. Organized by Marathi Vishwa Mandal. Directed and choreographed 18 beginner students  to perform at the Utsav. Was fun to watch the little ones give an engaging performance.
  • Naach Revolution – Apr 2018. My adult students debuted their Kathak performance and won first place in the classical dance category. My second group of beginner students won first place too. Interviewed by TV Asia.
  • MET museum, NYC- Oct 2017. Performed solo at the Diwali event organized by Asian Women In Business (AWIB), representing women in art.
  • Vasant Utsav – Apr 2017. Organized by Marathi Vishwa Mandal. Directed and choreographed a Sargam Bandish for a group dance by my beginner students.
  • Utsav – Jul 2017. An initiative by the non-profit volunteer organization Asha for Education. Directed and choreographed a group dance for the competition. The choreography won first place for Junior Classical Dance.
  • Naach Utsav – Oct 2017. Directed and choreographed for two group dances for the competition. Both dances won first place in the classical dance category. 
  • Hindi Mahotsav (Festival) USA – May 2015 and 2016. Honored to be a judge for Hindi USA in their 15th and 16th celebration festivals at J.P. Stevens High School, Edison.
  • Dance Pe Chance – 2015. Honored judge as a part of India’s 66th Republic Day celebrations for FIA (Federation of Indian Association) in the tri-state: NY, NJ, CT for the Bollywood competition in  the State Arts Theater, New Brunswick.
  • 35th India Day Parade, Madison Square, NYC, by FIA – Aug 2015. It was exciting to be a part of the Independence Day celebration here in the USA, choreographed and performed both solo and group dance.
  • Radio Zindagi – radio station, 104.7 FM, NJ – Sep 2015. Interviewed in the capacity of Kathak artist and guru as the director at Nrityanjali Arts.
  • Interfaith Holiday Celebration by SACO at NJ – 2015. This celebration included performances from many international cultures. I showcased the Indian classical dance.
  • Rangeela, by March Of Dimes, Plainsboro NJ – 2015. Blessed to be part of such an incredible fund raiser. Performed both solo and group dance.
  • International flower show Philadelphia – 2010. Showcased Indian classical dance – Kathak on this international platform.
  • Zhalak – 2010. Honored to be invited as a featured artist at this event. Performed a solo Kathak dance piece and was grateful to receive rave reviews from the audience.
  • Annual shows of Archana Nrityalaya, USA – 2009 to 2014. As a teacher, it was exciting to perform for the annual show and also witness growth in the students.
  • Guru Poornima and Annual recital of Archana Nrityalaya – Sep 2008. Performed duet at my school’s annual festival, review was published in Mumbai Times, city news supplement of the leading national newspaper – Times of India.
  • Zara Nach Ke Dikha, Mumbai – 2008. Assistant Choreographer to Mouni Roy for the dance reality show, worked on the choreography of popular Hindi film song, “Kahe Chhed” from the movie, “Devdas”.
  • Nalanda Nrityotsav, Mumbai – 2006. Organized by Dr. Kanak Rele of Nalanda Dance Research Center, was honored to perform solo dance at such a prestigious event.
  • Sangeet Natak Akademi Festival, Delhi – 2005. Organized by Sangeet Natak Akademi, National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama. Performed both solo and duet at the the Akademi’s  festival, a review of our dance was published in The Hindu, leading national newspaper.
  • Haridas Sangeet Festival, Mumbai – 2005. Invited to perform at the festival as a recipient of Sringar Mani. On this special occasion performed a duet with my Guru bhagini Prajakta Potnis, my Tatkaar and her Bhaav were the highlight of the event and our art was very well appreciated.
  • Johnson & Johnson Ltd, Mumbai – 2004. Performed both solo and duet at the Johnson and Johnson conference organized by Ananda Cultural Center.
  • 14th Raindrop Festival, Mumbai – 2004. Organized by Samved – Society of Performing Arts. This is one of the most prestigious festivals in the Kathak fraternity. Was honored to perform a solo and its review was published in Loksatta, the leading state newspaper.
  • Kal Ke Kalakaar Conference – Mar 2003. A national level competition for budding artists of the future, organized by Sur Singar Samsad. Earned the title of “Singar Mani” as an extraordinary dancer.
  • Pt. Birju Maharajji’s Sadhana festival, Delhi – Mar 2003. I was invited to perform at the festival on the prestigious Kamani Auditorium stage as one of the best dancers of my guru. 
  • Manikchand, Pune – 2003. Performed solo dance at the celebrations for the launch of Manikchand. 
  • Cultural Center’s Youth Festival for Dance and Music, Mumbai – 2002. Organized by the youth center of Dadar-Matunga, performed a solo ballet. 
  • Alpha Gaurav Awards, Goregaon – 2001. Organized by Alpha TV (now Zee Marathi), performed a traditional classical routine with a group of dancers at the awards show.
  • Nehru Center, Mumbai – 2001. Worked with senior folk dance artist Ramesh Purav. Loved being part of their earthquake relief efforts project.
  • Shanmukhanand Hall, Mumbai 2001. Celebrations were organized for 75th birthday of the late Shiv Sena leader, Balasaheb Thackrey. Performed a group dance ballet.
  • Shila Mehta dance troupe, 2001-2007. Performed with renowned Kathak dancer, Shila Mehta and her troupe at various prestigious occasions across India for almost 6 years.
  • Maharashtra Chitrapat Mahotsav (Maharashtra Film Screening Festival) at the Dadoji Konddev Maidan, Thane, Mumbai 2000. Performed group dance with renowned artist Ashok Hande.
  • Bandhini – Apr 2000. Acted in the Marathi TV series on national Marathi Channel – Sahyadri, created by Adhikari brothers.
  • Nrityangana, Mumbai 1999. An inter-collegiate youth festival organized by Sydenham College. Secured third place trophy for classical Kathak dance category.
  • Dance ballet productions of Archana Nrityalaya -Rutu Raag Darshan, Dawn, Jatra – 1992 – 2000.