CHENNAI: While there are many proficient dancers and singers, it is a rarity to find someone who has one foot cemented in both. For dancer and vocalist Smitha Madhav, this was not a conscious effort, but something that just happened. The young dancer, who was conferred with the Professor Mahalingam Padmanabhan Endowment Award by Narada Gana Sabha recently, says that she did not have a choice but to learn both music and dance, since the age of four. “Belonging to a Tamil Brahmin family, my parents enrolled me in both the classes. As I grew up, I realised that both art forms complement each other and are closely associated,” says the artiste, who has a string of performances — both vocal and dance — lined up for the season.
Smitha, who learnt dance from Nrutya Choodamani Rajeswari Sainath, and music from the Hyderabad sisters Lalitha and Haripriya, says that she is probably the only artiste who can perform both with ease. However, it is no great feat, according to her. “Back in the days, say around 150 years ago, dancers were great musicians too. It is only when dance came out of the Devadasi system, it became more performance oriented. Till then, there was no demarcation. I don’t want to say that I am trying to recreate that era, but I do feel that I am a bridge between the both,” says Smitha.
While she has to manage a busy schedule, especially this season — making sure her throat and feet are in the finest of condition — Smitha says that knowing one form has helped her better the other. “Sometimes the dancer does not understand the exact emotions that the singer wants to be translated, and other times, the dancer expects something that is not within the parameters of carnatic music, or the dancer knows what he or she wants but does not know how to implement it. But I can tell the singer what exactly I want, it makes life much easier for both of us,” she says with a laugh. “Also, when it comes to singing, I get the bhava and connect with the audience much easily, since I am a dancer,” she adds.
A gold medallist in law, Smitha had to quit her legal career for the love of dance back in 2007. The amount of research work for each production, practice sessions and travel around the world around the year for performances led her to make the choice which she does not regret. Amid all these responsibilities, she manages to squeeze in time for teaching dance and music in the school started by her a few years ago. That apart, Smitha has anchored shows in popular television channels, and acted in a couple of movies. “That was a long time ago. I acted as Sita in Bala Ramayana when I was 10, and later did an art film Prithvi. Though I get a lot of movie offers, and I do think it is a beautiful medium, I haven’t accepted any, as I don’t see myself running around trees. But I am open to films and will accept if any comes in tandem with what I want to do with my life,” she says.