My tryst with Odissi had started long back, when I was in school and my parents got me and my sister to learn classical dance and music. I come from a family where pursuing any classical art form apart from a regular career, is very encouraged. Even my paternal aunts are professional classical singers. Hence, it had to be no different for us either. Me and my sister started learning Odissi and Hindustani classical.
Initially, having been a rebellious child, I never saw a point in learning both. It used to be a task getting up early in the morning and doing riyaaz and practice. People often told me that I was gifted in classical art forms but I often shrugged it off. I pursued Odissi and Hindustani classical as a course, having completed few years in both; until life caught up (like it does with most of us) – higher education, job, commitments and responsibilities – the usual cycle.
After a few years, I started getting a feeling that the art forms which I used to be so complacent about, actually were a part of who I am. I started feeling a void that had to be filled. The feeling became stronger with each Odissi show and recital. Seeing the other dancers, I wished to start learning again.
Last year in February, my fiancé (now husband) suggested I go and meet an Odissi teacher – Masako Ono, and get back to Odissi again. I met her and told her of my dilemma, of having learnt it as a child but unsure if I can get back again.
She took me in, and then onward has been a journey of pure delight. Having someone as a Guru, who didn’t belong to Odisha but displayed an unwavering passion to our traditional art form, fueled motivation within me. I feel she has contributed more to this state than a lot of us locals! I felt blessed but I was cautious too. These years without Odissi taught me it’s importance in my life.
I got back to Odissi with renewed vigor, determination, passion and perseverance – to keep learning this art form for as long as I can. I constantly strive to make myself better at it every day.
I have my own career, and I absolutely love my job but Odissi fuels my creative side. It makes me happy. I believe people can be very good at their careers and yet have a prolific creative hobby that helps them grow spiritually too. And what better than our own traditional classical art forms! It’s upon us – the people of this generation to keep our culture alive.
Odissi is such a beautiful dance form – the mudras, bhangis, postures, abhinayas; it can make any woman look divinely graceful and beautiful while dancing! My Guru has been very patient and giving, teaching us with love and giving us so many opportunities so soon into learning it! I have always been a very on-the-stage person; dance, music, debates, speeches, anchoring, I have excelled at all of it. And now thanks to Masako Ma’am, I’m getting to perform Odissi on many platforms. The recent performance at Lucknow on Utkal Diwas celebrations was a personal milestone in my journey. From being unsure to being felicitated by the Governor of UP, and performing our state’s traditional art in a different place was an enriching experience. We got a good media coverage, but I believe we should be more committed to the actual classical art than the accolades or the publicity that it’s getting us, for those accolades are temporary and a bonus; but the love for, and commitment towards an art and its ethos is permanent.
My father is an army officer, and since childhood I have grown up in different parts of India, having had a good exposure while growing up, meeting new people and seeing new places every 2 yrs. Though our location and life was always on the move, my love for Odissi always stayed with me. I want to keep pursuing my state’s traditional art to satisfy my own creative hunger, and hope that in the process I can contribute at least in a small way to this beautiful and the oldest classical dance form of India – Odissi.
[A photo story by: Sheersha Dash with few editorial edits by TBS]