A teacher-student dance duo devoted to popularising Bharatanatyam in UK

A teacher-student dance duo devoted to popularising Bharatanatyam in UK

When her 17-year-old student Adhya Shastry won the coveted BBC Young Dancer 2022 title recently, her teacher Ananya Chatterjee knew it marks a milestone for Bharatanatyam and Indian classical dance in the UK’s arts and culture consciousness.

"So many people have come up to me to ask what Bharatanatyam is after Adhya's win. I hope her win inspires many other young children from all backgrounds to think about taking up Indian classical dance as their career on national levels," says Chatterjee.

Adhya has been training under Chatterjee's guidance at her Kalakunj institute in Reading from the age of nine.

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"I'm so glad that Adhya won this title because that has brought Indian classical dance to the forefront. So far, BBC Young Dancer had seen winners from contemporary style and street dance," says Adhya’s proud dance teacher.

Ten talented dancers between the ages of 17 and 24 competed for the title in the grand final of BBC Young Dancer 2022 at London's Roundhouse and a win in the tough competition is no mean feat for Adhya. The A-level student was mesmerising right from the start of the competition and earned the appreciation of all the judges unanimously. Her teacher feels she has broken a proverbial glass ceiling as an Indian-origin girl to win the prestigious title for the first time.

While Adhya has also trained in contemporary and ballet and is a National Youth Dance Company member, Chatterjee feels that her training in Indian classical dance has given her a strong foundation and versatility. And her training in other dance forms like ballet has contributed to her repertoire. All these enable her to pick up various dance forms with ease and grace.

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"It wasn't that she was exceptional in the group initially. But she developed herself with time and gradually started taking lessons with senior students. She built up her skills, technical sides, and expressions which we call abhinaya," reflects Chatterjee.

Kalakunj began in 2008 and Adhya started training with Chatterjee from 2013.

"I'm also affiliated with ISTD (Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing). They do all the grade assessments for my students. So Adhya has finished Grade 6 in that assessment. She is very involved and absorbent in all events that we do," the dance enthusiast shares.

Originally from Kolkata, Chatterjee herself is a student of eminent Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam maestro Thankamani Kutty. Besides heading Kalakunj, she also works as a research administrator at the University of Oxford.

"We stay sane and alive because of art in our lives, and this was particularly felt during the pandemic," she notes.

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Kalakunj thrives on the volunteers from within the local community, who are all brought together by their shared love of Indian classical dance.

"At Kalakunj, we are all glad for Adhya's success. Adhya has given us that happiness," says the proud teacher, calling on other talented young dancers out there to come and explore Indian classical dance forms.

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