It was a thrilling moment for dance coach Sanil Kumar when his students Arjun K S and S Mahalakshmi were crowned Kalaprathibha and Kalathilakam at the just-concluded Kerala University Youth Festival in Chengannur. But there was something more. This was the second time that his students had brought home the coveted titles. ''After a gap of 15 years!'' said Sanil.
In 2001, his students Sreekanth K and Archana Avanee had made him proud by bagging the two titles. ''My students have won either the Kalaprathibha or Kalathilakam title in-between. But this is only the second time when both titles came in search of us,'' said Sanil, who runs the Sri Nataraj Dance Academy at Peroorkada with his wife Jisha Sanil. "This is my second home, I've never felt that I'm attending a dance class," said Arjun. ''Here, we don't learn dance for competition, but we are trained to believe that it is a part of our life," said Mahalakshmi.
Sanil considers his mother his first 'Guru,' but he obtained a proper training in 'Mohiniyattam' under Kalamandalam Vimala Menon. He later moved to Chennai for higher studies in dance. He spent a great deal of time mastering Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam and Kuchipudi. ''Bharatanatyam I trained under Raja Kumar, Mohiniyattam under Leelamma and Kuchipudi under Sathyapriya,'' he said. Since his marriage to Jisha 11 years ago, she has been assisting him in his teaching. Jisha had started her career at Kalamandalam, and she completed her post graduation from Kalakshetra. Jisha is a faculty at Kalaikaveri, and continues her studies under the guidance of C V Chandrashekaren and Brigabasail.
Sanil says he teaches his students not just one or two dance items, but follows a full 'margam' (a set). "It has a systematic system and structure. I used to follow it very strictly,'' he said. "Most parents think that as soon as their children start learning dance, they must step on to the stage. I believe what my gurus taught me, that you should train in the basics for at least one year,'' he said.
Earlier, Sanil used to encourage his students to stick to dance, but today he is more practical. ''Now I tell them to get a job so that they can make a living and continue to dance. I have students who come from poor families, and it is difficult for them to earn a living otherwise,'' he said.
Youth festivals, he adds, are big money events, but in Kerala they offer the only stages for talented dancers. ''Kerala is a place where few 'sabhas' (dance events) happen, unlike Chennai. So, youth festivals provides openings for an artist,'' he said.