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Sanjay Shantaram: To learn an art form is not a cake walk
- Lalitha Venkat

June 21, 2013

Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer / teacher Sanjay Shantaram, the director of Shivapriya School of Dance in Bangalore, is all set to celebrate 25 years of his dance school from June 25 - 27, 2013. He started to learn Bharatanatyam from age 7 under GS Rajalakshmi and later from guru Narmada. He learnt Kuchipudi from Sunanda Devi and Veena Murthy Vijay. A dentist, he has also acted in more than 60 films as a child artiste and about 20 popular soaps in Kannada and Telugu. Sanjay has to his credit, several charity programs given to bring cheer to the lesser privileged and old people. He shares his thoughts with on reaching this important milestone in his career.

How has your dance journey been in the course of these 25 years as a teacher? Did you ever think that it would last this long?
This journey of dance has been truly enriching, exciting and humbling. It has elevated me spiritually and made me realise nothing is impossible in this world if we try hard. As a teacher, I learnt to correct so many of my mistakes by correcting the students that in turn has shaped me into a more serious and responsible dancer and teacher. I have been made to realize that I need to be constantly fit and an ideal role model to kids who look up to me and that has helped me work towards my practice and wellbeing. Yes, financial stability and name are bonuses. I never planned when I started so I never gave attention to how long this would go. But this is what I always wanted to do after my dental course and have never regretted ever since.

What differences do you see in students of the earlier years of your dance school, and now?
Life styles have changed, generations have seen immense transformations when compared to us. Working parents, net and gadgets rule the present generation so they tend to, what I would say, lead a gadgety life. Some do follow discipline, some are unfocussed, not very serious about the art and want instant fame, stage and want the learning process to be set as a course rather than understand the art forms deeply. When I started, I had students who shared my mind set, and now I share their mind set to get things going.

Do you think Bangalore dance scene is losing its charm with repetition of a few artistes in many festivals?
Artistes can never get boring if they experiment and present something new in addition to their usual repertoire on and off. This art can sure be watched for hours if it's made interesting. Yes, there are some dancers who do not wish to experiment and have been doing the same things over and over again, setting in misconceptions and monotony about the art form among the layman who also needs to appreciate the art. It is sad that the same people are getting to perform repeatedly and if that trend continues, it may beset saturation among Bangaloreans.

What do you think are the drawbacks of this over exposure?
The one and only drawback would be a low strength in the crowd for festivals and shows, dilution and an attitude exuding indifference... it has unfortunately set in.

Does your busy career as actor interfere with your dance career? How do you balance it?
I would rather call myself a dancer first then an actor. Acting happened because of dancing as a producer spotted me dancing at the age of 7 and cast me in his film. At times, TV can get frustratingly demanding when you are doing a daily soap, and at those times devoting
time for rehearsals could get very difficult, pushing you into a lot of stress and confusion.... stress that you cannot practice much (as the art form requires you to do so forever) and confusion because at the end of the day, you are left wondering about what you actually want! Now I
have learnt to balance my time for both and loving every bit of this artistic ocean.

After celebrating 25 years of your dance school, what next?
I want to touch 50, then you can ask me what next...

How was the scenario of the male dancer when you started out and now?

When I started off as a performing male dancer, the scenario was indeed tough as opportunities were less, mockery was more and not many were willing to embrace the art seriously, calling it a woman's art. No one realized that the actual lord of dance is himself a man.The one who first wrote the text on dance was a man. The most popular teachers were men. It was the last option chosen to take up as a living. Well, god knows what brought in the change... today everywhere, festivals are created specially for male dancers, people flock to watch macho male performers out of curiosity and awe. Dancing and teaching for men are a sure breadwinner. I see positive... only positive changes.

What advice would you give upcoming dancers with regard to fitness and how to avoid injury?
First, understand that to learn an art form is not a cake walk. It's a penance to be done for years to reach a miniscule amount of perfection. Second, embrace the spiritual element of the art form and maintain its discipline and dignity by keeping up the tradition despite the cravings to run up the path of innovation. Learn to teach and give selflessly. It betters you as a person as well as a dancer. You attract what you give. Follow a regimen or routine with practice. Teaching helps you keep fit and keeps your mind innovative, strong, balanced and fresh. Eat five balanced meals and ensure you are fit enough to go on stage. You are responsible for people who come to watch you rather than thinking they would watch anything you give them. Compliment your dance with yoga, walks and any form of cardio... very, very important. Hydrate yourself well and don't overdo or over-dance at any given point of time. Be well aware if your knee gives those clicks, your toes burn or hurt, shoulder has frequent pains etc, that your body is warning you to take it easy. Eat well and happily. Don't get anorexic and look so on stage. Remember, Bharata quotes the nata lakshanas. To end with, this is our tradition, so start the day with prayers, touching your teacher's and parents' feet. It takes little time but is an epitome of treasure.


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