Steps choreographed to bridge past and passion

Angeline who works as a contract worker in the Cuddalore education department office, also runs a dance school named Natiya Siragugal, where she teaches dance for free to financially backward children.
Angeline holds 22 world records and teaches dance for free to children from financially backward families
Angeline holds 22 world records and teaches dance for free to children from financially backward families Photo| Sriram R

CUDDALORE: J Angeline Sheril is a born dancer. As a toddler, there was spring in every little step she took. J Jeeva Jacqueline, her mother, was pleasantly surprised to see how Angeline loved to put up make-up that resembled Bharathanatatyam dancers. At the age of three, Jeeva enrolled her in a dance school. At six, Angeline made her debut stage performance and has since showcased her talent in over 2,000 shows. Besides Bharatanatyam, she is also proficient in folk dances like Karagattam, Poikkal Kuthirai Aatam, Oyilattam, and Marakkal.

Embracing such traditions, Angeline, a 24-year-old dancer from Cuddalore, is not only a performer but also a teacher to many from government and government-aided schools. She also teaches kids from tribal communities and is dedicated to passing on the traditions to the next generation.

“During my stage performances, I used to get mostly applauded for my folk dances, so I concentrated on nurturing them,” she says. Angeline holds a Master’s Degree in both Bharatanatyam and folk dances from Annamalai University and Bharathiyar University, respectively

Initially, she believed that Karagattam, which translates to ‘pot dance’ and historically performed during village festivals and auspicious occasions, was just a dance involving a decorative pot on our head. “Later, I realised that we need a lot of balancing to hold those pots on our heads and perform,” she adds.

Angeline who works as a contract worker in the Cuddalore education department office, also runs a dance school named Natiya Siragugal, where she teaches dance for free to financially backward children.

“My mother, who is a headmistress of an aided school, taught me to dance through all our financial difficulties. Just like me, I have seen a lot of students from her school struggling to learn dance due to economic issues. Hence, I decided to teach the art for free,” she says.

Teaching dance to around 20 students from government schools and training hundreds of them for the past years, Angeline believes that if the government included art forms into the curriculum, it will help preserve the traditions for the next generation and benefit students.

Angeline currently holds 22 world records out of which the recent one is her performing the Marakkal dance with the Karagam on her head for 90 minutes continuously. Her students have also achieved two world records. She is also a recipient of numerous awards including the Kalaiilamamani and Ilanthalir awards from the state government.

Recalling the happiness and excitement on the faces of her students from government schools and tribal hamlets when they were applauded for their performance at Chennai, she said, “For some of them, it was their first time travelling to Chennai, that too by train and car. I am glad that I am taking folk dance to the next generation through children who are deprived of the opportunity for many generations.”

Aiming to pursue a PhD in dance she said, “The government should recognise local artists at least during district-level events. Officials often bring in people from outside, rarely giving opportunities to local artists, and expect free performances while paying outsiders well. Supporting local artists can sustain folk arts through them and help them economically, as many artists depend on art for their livelihood.”

Mothering a two-year-old, she said that her daughter started learning dance forms, and her debut performance is expected to happen soon.

(Edited by Ashyl Paul)

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