FeaturesRays of Hope

Winning Hearts With Performing Arts

Text By : Paul Nicodemus

Her friends look up to her for inspiration; some even call her a celebrity. But fame and public attention has not dithered ShwetaVenkatesh from her passion and love for dance. At the age of 23 years, this girl from Bengaluru has travelled far and wide, teaching and learning two dance forms and excelling in both. We look into Shweta’sLove Story with dance.

Born to parents who are ardent lovers of art, her dalliance with dance began at a tender age of five and grew with time. When you are born to parents who are passionate about art and culture, especially performing arts and stagecraft, it’s sure to have an impact on children and Shweta is no exception. Shweta’s mother Dr. SuparnaVenkatesh has been a teacher of Bharatanatyam for several years and her father SaiVenkatesh has been a light and stage designer for classical dance performances for the last thirty years. “My mother and my father have been my guiding source in the field of art,” says Shweta.

Being born in a family, which is closely associated with dance, her whole world revolved around the art form. “I’ve been witnessing classical dance performances right from my childhood and it made me passionate about dance. Now I cannot imagine or associate myself with anything else other than dance,” she says. Despite having her mother as a Bharatanatyam teacher, Shweta initially refused to learn from her. In fact, she insisted on learning from someone else. “It was difficult for me to accept my mother as my teacher, especially when she corrected me,” smiles the 23-year-old. On her insistence, teacher Nandini Mehta trained her and gradually she accepted her mother as her teacher.

Any classical dance form needs passion, dedication and years of hard work to master. For many, learning a single art form could be a task of a lifetime. But thanks to her desire, devotion and dedication, Shweta managed to master two classical dance forms at a very young age. Right from childhood, she has been watching her mother and Mysore B. Nagaraj perform Kathak and her family’s association with Guru Dr. Maya Rao and Natya Institute of Kathak provided her the inspiration and opportunity to become a Kathakar.

Even while learning Bharatanatyam, she was fascinated by Kathak performances. Finally, she started learning Kathak at the age of twelve years from the Natya Institute of Kathak. “I relished the choreography and training under the guidance of Guru Dr. Maya Rao and teacher Mysore B. Nagaraj, whose performances I have admired right from the time I was a little girl,” says Shweta.

Bharatanatyam, which traces its origins to the Karnas in the temples of Tamil Nadu, epitomises geometric excellence, while Kathak, which comes from nomadic bards of ancient northern India, embodies a free spirit. Embracing both these art forms, Shweta developed into a beautiful youngster with a deep soul. Instead of experiencing difficulty in learning these two genres, Shweta enjoyed the experience embedded in these classical dance forms that are different in their own ways. “I enjoy the geometrical perfection expected in Bharatanatyam, which is the Natya dharma, while relishing the grace and freedom of movement in Kathak, which is the Loka dharma,” she explains.

The eminence of the disciple depends on the mastery of the teacher and every great artiste was once an obedient student. Like all accomplished artistes, Shweta too attributes her success to her teachers. Apart from her parents, Guru Dr. Maya Rao and teacher Mysore B. Nagaraj who trained her in Kathak played an important role in transforming Shweta into an accomplished artist. Speaking of her teachers Shweta says, “Our entire family has been extremely fortunate to be the disciples of Guru Dr. Maya Rao.”

Inspiration is a key aspect for the creative process to take shape and artistes have their own means of deriving it from various sources. Shweta’s inspiration emanated right at home. Her father SaiVenkatesh has organised dance festival ‘SaiNrityotsav’ on the first of every month for the last seven years. Shweta grew up watching artistes from different corners of the world perform at the festival, hearing their stories and being inspired. “I’m inspired every time I witness their performance and hear their story,” she says. At home, mother Dr. SuparnaVenkatesh has been training five boys and ten girls who are visually challenged and of articulate ability in Bharatanatyam for quite some time now. And watching them train and perform has been a wonderful experience in Shweta’s life. “Personally, watching these boys and girls perform wonders on stage, overcoming all their barriers and fighting their disability was very inspiring and uplifting,” she says.

Shweta’s inclination towards dance runs deep into her soul and all her passions revolve around it. She likes playing the NattuvangamTala and enjoys Yoga. After all, a healthy body and mind are essential for creative art. Her morning starts with exercise and continues with special classes in Bharatanatyam, followed by theory and practical classes in the dance form by different teachers in college. In the evenings, she attends Kathak classes and whenever she isn’t training, she assists her mother in training others. 

Shweta aspires to be an ambassador of dance and spread the love she has acquired. In the days to come, she wants to see herself performing at prestigious dance festivals and also at places where Indian classical dance has not had significant exposure. She wants to teach dance at Sai Arts International and conduct workshops. Encouraging the love of dance among people is her primary motive.

Challenges can’t be separated from life, just like memorable moments. The most challenging moment for this young and vibrant woman came when she toured the USA with visually challenged yet immensely talented artistes of Articulate Ability. Also, like all the firsts, the best moment in her dance career happened when she received her first KathakGhungroos from Guru Dr. Maya Rao. “I cherish those blessings forever,” she recollects.

When it comes to classical dance forms, though there are novel ways of presenting it with experimental overtone, everything has to be done without altering the structure and Shweta too believes the same. She says, “Experiments are definitely good for the survival of any classical dance form but then everything has to fall in place and within a framework.  Experiments are a must.”

A career in Engineering, Medicine, and Administration has always been the common pick. But thanks to youngsters like Shweta, performing arts is now being seen as a professional career option. Her educational growth with a Master’s degree in Bharatanatyam from the Bangalore University is a clear sign of dance gaining ground as an academic subject. Her accomplishments prove that being successful in life doesn’t mean you have to tread the beaten path. “Currently, I’m pursuing a Masters degree in Bharatanatyam and my friends look up to me as an inspiration. Some even call me a celebrity. Of course, I don’t feel or act like one. Once they meet and talk to me they know I’m a normal girl,” she smiles.

To pursue dance as a profession you must be thoroughly passionate about it. According to Shweta, “When you offer your dance as worship to god, you would certainly realise the beauty in the art form.” With these qualities in line, taking up dance as a profession guarantees a successful career. In fact, every classical dance form of our country is a great way to meditate. Shweta’s training in dance has uplifted her to sublime thoughts of Gods. Besides, a lot of Indian classical dance compositions have lyrics based on gods and constantly thinking about their names or listening to the lyrics enchants her. “The whole procedure uplifts me spiritually and I’m sure it definitely brings a change in every individual,” she says.

Teaching classical dance is a daunting and noble task, but teaching it to the differently abled is a sign of a beautiful inner being. Inspired by her mother, Shweta grew keen on teaching dance to the differently abled children. “I know it would be a challenging task for me, but I want to try my best to ignite the passion in each and every individual’s heart. Helping people explore the beauty in the Indian Classical Dances is what I want to achieve.”

Though barely 23, Shweta has already proved her ability by receiving several awards and accolades. She has been a CCRT (Centre for Cultural Resources and Training) scholarship holder in Bharatanatyam since 2004 and also been a graded artiste at Doordarshan for Bharatanatyam and Kathak in 2015. She won several prizes at various competitions and is the recipient of prestigious awards like Naatyavedha award (Bengaluru) in 2014 and Sathyabhama award (Visakhapatnam) in 2015.