How dancer Aruna Rekha Varanasi is spreading the Kuchipudi form of dance globally. The purpose is to popularize the dance form by dedicating herself to spreading it, be it through online classes, camps and in her institute in Mumbai.
We met Aruna Rekha, an exponent and teacher of Kuchipudi, a classical dance form of Andhra Pradesh, at her institute, where she proudly taught her students during the two-hour-long class that marked the culmination of a dance camp.
Our reporter had a rare interview with a maestro and a Guinness World Record holder Ms Aruna Rekha.
Q1. With your commendable efforts as a mentor, do you identify more as an artist or a mentor and why?
That’s a difficult one to answer. I am a very passionate performer and an artist. For the longest time, I didn’t start classes. After many years of performing, I felt the need to spread the magic of this art form and this experience with many more. So I started teaching.
It is a lovely feeling to be the guru or the mentor as every achievement of your student becomes yours too. Now I get to make many more artists.
Q2. What’s your first memory associated with your profession that still makes you smile?
Kuchipudi is a rigorous art form. As a kid, I was very lazy and would not pay enough attention. I used to literally stomp my feet every time I had to go to class. My guru had to tell my parents that he could not teach me anymore and handed me over to one of his students to teach. When I look back, that innocent childhood makes me smile.
Q3. What are the challenges you faced as a Kuchipudi dancer?
When you sign up to be a dancer and a performer, you also automatically sign up for quite a few challenges. We often didn’t have the best accommodation and no proper loos. This was special tough for women during periods etc. They used to be days when I would fall sick, and yet the practice could not stop for the upcoming shows. There were days when we had to travel the longest distances in trains, from one state to another and perform the very next day. We had back-to-back performances. As an artist, I have learnt never to listen to my body or rather not accept the body’s complains and work with a focused mind.
Q4. What is your vision about dance schools, and where do you plan to take from here?
My vision is to make today’s generation look at the beauty of this dance form. Make them understand that dance helps your body and mind. It gives you flexibility, improves focus and builds your stamina. This beautifies you inside out. I have never been a social media person. But I have started to interact on social media only to reach more people. Yes, our gods or the dance forms don’t need campaigning, but why not propagate it for more reach? I am planning to build both online and offline schools for the same. Many question me about the quality of an online class. I would say it works well; it all depends on how you plan it or make the content available for them.
Q5. How does the culture of dance coaching his a place in a world of the unhealthy market?
No. Let’s definitely not call it unhealthy. The world has become global, and we have a lot of dance schools which teach us western dances, too, which is brilliant. There are Bollywood classes which are especially attracting and take the cream of performers on to its side. In comparison, learning Indian classical dances is a slow process. It involves tuning your body for it before you can learn the actual performing pieces. But slow and steady learning definitely wins the race. Just like we have got influenced by the western market. The west is completely influenced by our art forms. You see a lot of performers there. Yes, in comparison, it is challenging for us, teachers. There is no consistency in the student as there is a wide choice available out there, and one wants to try everything. You can only learn this art form if you sign up for life. Try it for two years at least, and then if you still don’t enjoy it, maybe it’s not for you.
Q6. How can dance be a part of routine life? It would be great if you could share some examples.
Yes. Dance can definitely be a part of one’s routine life. My students learn twice a week for an hour from me, but in that one hour, they are also tuned to how to sit or stand right, no matter what they are doing, throughout the day. How to express themselves in their day-to-day life. Dance teaches you how to be grateful. How to coordinate and connect the mind and the body. Teaches the technique of How to concentrate and completely switch off your mind when needed, from wavering. Teaches you how to look unique and stand out. Classical dance is basically sculpting your body and mind.
Q07. What was the moment of inspiration when you knew that you’d want to become a Kuchipudi dancer?
My first few performances and awards inspired me to become a professional dancer. I was appearing for my dance diploma exam. There were a lot of theory as well as practical courses. I used to work throughout the day for the exam. Neither my Guru nor I have taken a break those days other than to eat or sleep. After all the hard work, I scored the state’s first rank in the exam. This exam has first given me insights into Kuchipudi, which inspired me immensely.
I also watched a lot of dance artists perform as a kid and got inspired to be one.
Q08. Any advice to our budding artists?
Yes, loads. Please do put in a lot of effort. Hard work pays. Worship the dance form. Don’t attend it as just another class. There is a lot of competition these days, and budding artists aren’t getting enough opportunities. Don’t get dejected. Covid has made the world our stage. Make videos. It need not be professionally shot. Just use your phones. Just remember, it is the content that matters and not the looks. Please practice every day and show your passion for it. Nobody can stop you then from shining. All the very best.
Q09. Congratulations on your World Record, So what’s next?
Thank you. I never planned for the world record. It just happened. I will continue to do the same. I have a lot of choreography in mind. I will be working on that. I am so looking forward to turning more and more youngsters or young adults into performers. Goals don’t work for me. I will just work hard like there is no tomorrow.
We thanked her and wished her all the best in her future endeavour. And readers and dance enthusiasts can follow her on social media here.