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American dancers to perform classical Indian dance

American dancers to perform classical Indian dance

Author: IANS
Publication: NewKerala.com
Date: January 23, 2004
URL: http://newkerala.com/news-daily/news/features.php?action=fullnews&showcomments=1&id=5287

They come from the US, speak with an American accent but know everything about Indian ethics and culture.

And they are not people who are sometimes referred to unkindly as ABCD (American born confused desis), but Americans who otherwise have no links with India.

Five American dancers, including an Indian American, have come to Delhi for a kathak dance performance Saturday with the Chitresh Das Dance Company.

The "Indianness" came through as the five bowed their heads and joined hands to greet their guru Chitresh Das with a traditional namaste.

Chitresh Das, a renowned master of kathak dance has performed internationally, featured in India's celebrated festivals and tours as a solo artist.

Trained from the age of nine by his guru Pandit Ram Narayan Mishra, Das dreamt of making kathak accessible to all.

And he seems to be doing just that as he teaches the classical Indian dance form in a land far from its origin.

"I am the son of mother India and I am bringing the Indian culture to the west," Das told IANS.

He runs five kathak schools in California with 300 students in 40 groups and 15 teachers.

"Blondes and brunettes is all I had when I went there, but the Indian diaspora is growing. Today, many Indian Americans are also joining my school," said Das.

Said Joanna Meinl, 27, one of the dancers: "I completely fell in love with the art form. I have learnt many dances but kathak is the most fulfilling dance form because it is physically, emotionally and mentally very challenging, I love the story telling and the facial expressions."

Though most of the dancers have visited India before, this is their first visit to India as performers.

"We can't study an art form without coming to its origin," said Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, another dancer from the group.

"Guruji forced us to look deeper into our beliefs, he has moulded the Indian culture in us and we are instilling it in other students," said dancer Rachna Niwas.

Dressed in the traditional Indian salwar-kameez, all five said they loved Indian clothes.

"The richness in the Indian culture attracted me more towards the country," said Leah Brown.

"We haven't looked around Delhi but hope that we get to do that as well," said Shaikh.

The group will be performing at the Siri Fort Auditorium on January 24.

Das' contribution to the American arts scene began in 1970 when he received a Whitney Fellowship through the University of Maryland to teach kathak.

In 1971, he was invited by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan to establish a kathak dance programme at the renowned Ali Akbar College of Music in California. In 1980, he started his own school Chhandam, which now has branches in the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, Toronto and Calcutta, India.

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