When classical dance meets martial arts

As Dr Vyshnavie Sainath performs at the South Indian Cultural Association’s annual dance festival, CE speaks to her about journey, learning multiple art forms and more.
Dr Vyshnavie Sainath
Dr Vyshnavie Sainath

HYDERABAD : Born with a natural flair for dance, passed down by her mother and guru Dr Rajeshwari Sainath, the 33-year-old Dr Vyshnavie Sainath is one of the finest danseuse of her generation. Her passion for dance has led her to explore not just one style but four different styles — Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi and contemporary — along with integrating yoga and martial arts into her performances. Her skill in synthesising multiple dance forms has been acknowledged by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. As she performs at the South Indian Cultural Association’s annual dance festival, CE speaks to her about journey, learning multiple art forms and more.

Tell us about your journey in dance?

Dance is pretty much in my DNA. My mother, Dr Rajeshwari Sainath, is an internationally acclaimed artist who has been performing for five decades now. From the word go, the atmosphere of fine arts was always present at home. Additionally, my dad, K Sainath was a cricketer. So, for me, the DNA was always either dance or sports. When I chose dance, I wanted to experiment with different styles because India has so much to offer. While studying in the 12th grade, I decided that I wanted to be a professional dancer and be known as a classical dancer. I went to Bhubaneswar, stayed there, and learned Odissi with Durga Charan Ranbir. Then, I moved to Bengaluru and studied contemporary dance at Attakkalari, India’s premier dance institute. From there, I ventured into Kalaripayattu, then Kuchipudi.

When learning these styles, I aimed to reach a level where I could perform them. So, I went to each guru, learned, and got myself accredited. That’s my journey, and I’m very lucky that despite having a mom who is deeply into traditional Bharatanatyam, she allowed me to explore other styles.

All the dance styles are from different states. What were the challenges faced ?

While pursuing Odissi, I was staying in Bhubaneswar. One major challenge was the huge language barrier. The food, culture, weather, and the place itself were all very different, and it wasn’t easy. I mean, as much as you’re learning an art form and enjoying it, the journey is definitely not easy. You find yourself in a very uncomfortable space. But just the pure love for the art keeps you going. Every time I watched Guruji and his students perform, I thought, ‘Someday, I want to see myself here,’ and all of the discomfort didn’t matter.

You are trained in yoga and martial arts like Kalaripayattu and gatka. How do you integrate them into your performance?

This is where my dad’s DNA played a role — the need for adrenaline. For me, using Kalaripayattu, yoga, or Gatka helps showcase a strong feminine personality. It’s not just about a woman being graceful and beautiful; it’s also about showing strength. That’s why I learned these art forms and I combine strong movements with grace in my performances.

How do you choose a presentation for a certain set of audience?

It’s very audience-driven. For example, if I’m performing for the South Indian Cultural Association (SICA), my items will have a more traditional repertoire and approach. Even when learning different art forms, the idea is to never lose sight of the fundamentals of the art form. Even if you are doing a fusion, the core foundation of the art form has to stay strong.

On the education part, you have multiple degrees. How do you balance both?

At the cost of not sounding very preachy, I feel like parents nowadays should really encourage their children to learn different styles and things because time management is very important. That’s been a huge part of my upbringing. Just because I’m dancing doesn’t mean I can neglect my education, and if I have an exam, it doesn’t mean I can’t perform. Time management is crucial because, in our generation, having just one skill isn’t enough. You need to have multiple skills to really excel. Whether it’s for financial stability or emotional well-being, working hard and managing your time effectively is essential.

You are leading the next generation by training so many students. What is your message for the upcoming artists?

This message isn’t just for young students; it’s for everyone. Dance is something so beautiful that you can embrace it at any age. For a lot of women in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s, if you really love the art, please go and learn it. My most senior student is 67. She joined my class when she was 55. Don’t ever feel that you’ve missed out on this in life. Seize the day and go learn.

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