CHENNAI: A recipient of several scholarships, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and A-grade Doordarshan artiste — Sangeeta Dash’s accolades and laurels might never fail to amaze a person. However, the dancer who has been performing from the age of eight, surprises you with a revelation, “I was a reluctant dance student. I was too lazy and always tried to escape from dance classes, since it was so tiring,” she says .
Sangeeta was in the city, as part of the intensive programme at the SPIC MACAY 2nd International Convention at IIT Madras. Training a group of students who are in various stages of dance training and from different forms of the art, Sangeeta says that the intensive form involves a lot of work. “There is a lot of pressure because they are students on day one and become performers on the last day. Initially, I was wondering why they roped in veterans for the intensives. But then I realised they are not sharing just their knowledge, but also their experience. Yesterday I saw singer Girija Devi perform and I realised age can never be a factor in art,” she adds.
Hailing from Cuttack in Odisha, Sangeeta was enrolled in music classes when she was barely seven. “A teacher came home to train in me in music. Since he knew dance, I learnt a few steps from him. After three months, the classes stopped, but a ladies club in the township near Bhubaneswar, where I was, began organising music and dance classes for children. It was there that I met my odissi guru, Durgacharan Ranbir, who was called to organise an annual programme for the club,” she says. After coming under his wing, Sangeeta was involved in a structured and systematic dancing class that pushed her to take it up more seriously. “Though I used to be very reluctant, the dance lessons always kept running in my mind and I kept correcting the steps. My dance practise used to go on for hours every day and it soon became my passion that continues even today,” she adds.
Despite the initial reluctance, it didn’t take much time for her to take to the form, as she began receiving scholarships and started performing at the same time. Later, her guru’s guru Debaprasad Das began training her in his style. “It is very different from the legendary Kelucharan Mohapatra’s; it is a unique riyaz style. Over the years, my guru too has played his part in evolving the new style,” she says.
After the passing away of Debaprasad Das, her guru began taking it ahead by adapting his teacher’s guidelines. Sangeeta says that the style continues to evolve, she is happy to have students who are taking forward the legacy. “I tell my students that they are part of the phase when another chapter in the history of odissi is being written,” she says. Performing across Odisha, within India and in China, North Korea and Bangladesh, Sangeeta observes that with every trip to Chennai she has been seeing an increasing acceptance of the dance. “I have performed here during the December season and I regularly come for shows at the Jagannath Temple here. The city is opening up to other dance forms and it is a welcome change. There is nothing to complain, even in Odisha it is the native dance form that finds prominence. There is so much scope for growth here as there is a great understanding of arts and culture,” she adds.
An odissi teacher at the school in Puducherry Ashram, Sangeeta has been training native learners and artistes from across Indian and abroad. “I have students in Germany and Singapore who have opened their own dance schools. In fact, the floating crowd of learners is huge and when I have to put up a show, I find myself alone,” she says with a laugh..