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Uma Dogra: Dancing is my first love
- Vijay Shankar

August 10, 2014

Kathak exponent Uma Dogra has established the Sam Ved Society for Performing Arts with the intention of promoting classical arts by organizing two major festivals every year, for the last twenty four years. Uma Dogra talks about her career that spans more than four decades and her role as a teacher, performer and impresario.

Could you tell us about your family background?
Hailing from a classically inclined artistic family, the ardour for Indian classical music came very naturally to me. My father being a well renowned sitarist, he had a lot of friends from the art field. Our home would resound with the notes of the melodious sitar or the mellifluous vocals of Pt. Amarnathji - a renowned vocalist of our times - or for that matter the lofty beats of the tabla by Pt. Chaturlalji. Growing up with such enchanting vibes and atmosphere, the initial seeds for an artiste was laid within me. My first love was the sitar. I'd be mesmerized watching my father practicing or teaching his students. The only desire that I had then was to hold my father's sitar some day and play music which would make him proud.

When did your fascination for dance start?
My mother saw my depression with the constant denials coming from my father. She decided to redirect my energy to dance. Thus from the early age of seven I started learning Kathak. This period of my life sailed through like it does with most kids this age. Class would take place twice a week. At the age of nine, I was initiated into Kathak Kendra. From then onwards, I have a vivid memory of my years of learning. My mother holds a very important position in my life. I was too young to travel on my own. We lived in South Delhi. Kathak Kendra was situated near Mandi House, Connaught Place.

I joined Kathak Kendra under the able guidance of Reba Vidyarthi and completed my Junior Diploma. After this, I graduated to Pt. Birju Maharaj's class for my senior diploma. All through these years, my main focus was to simultaneously balance school and the dance classes. However, during my tenure in Maharaj-ji's class I felt a sense of apathy. I could sense a lot of energy within me going haywire. I am not sure why this feeling crept in, but it could be due to two reasons. Either I was not very competent enough to follow the guidance my guru was trying to give me or I actually was hankering for a more concrete, soulful learning which I could not follow. This was the time I had begun to perform and actively participate in the activities of Kathak Kendra. The sense of acute claustrophobia being in that environment led me on to take a drastic step. I decided to leave Kathak Kendra.

This was no doubt the biggest decision I had taken. It also proved to be the turning point in my life. As I have mentioned earlier, music was my first love. I had never dreamed of becoming a dancer. But those 15-16 days of life without dance made me realize that I was born to dance. Dance is my present, my future destination for life.

My association with my guru Pt Durgalal, the torch bearer of Jaipur gharana, made a big difference and the most powerful influence on my life. I learnt under Pt Durgalal for over 18 years. I am his ganda bandh shahgird. I consider him the best male dancer that I have ever seen. His persona and performance were so powerful to such an extent that it created a lasting impression on my life. It is sad that destiny snatched him rather early in life.

There is this impression that Jaipur gharana concentrates mainly on pure dance and ignores abhinaya, Your comments.
No, I do not agree with this. Abhinaya is an important and integral aspect of dance, one cannot ignore it. I agree that Jaipur gharana dancers do believe in 'Taiyaari' because compositions are very 'layadaar' and difficult. You need lots of riyaz and stamina. That is the reason people think that Jaipur style has more 'Taiyaari' than abhinaya. I have learnt and watched other mentors from different styles as well, so I do perform abhinaya numbers with equal involvement.

How about the transition from New Delhi to Mumbai?
I came to Mumbai in 1983 and had to struggle a lot to establish myself in Mumbai. Initially I was not comfortable in Mumbai but slowly things changed. Mumbai city is restless and throbbing with life. But my mentor's death was a big blow. Right after the untimely demise of my beloved Guru Pt. Durgalal, I established the Sam Ved Society of Performing Arts in 1991. In order to keep his memory alive in the hearts of generations to come, I pay homage to the master's undying spirit through two main festivals - the Pt. Durgalal Festival and the Raindrops Festival. Pt. Durgalal Festival is a shraddhanjali to my guruji. The festival features renowned artistes of the music and dance fraternity. The Raindrops Festival is organized in the monsoon month of July to encourage young dancers.

What has been your experience as a teacher over the years?
It gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction to pass on my knowledge and creativity to the next generation. And it has also improved me as a dancer. I have only one mission in life. That is to dance and take dance to as many people as possible.

Which role of yours is most satisfying?
Basically I am a performer, performances gives me great joy. I feel the stage is my home. I belong to that space only. Through dance I can connect to my true self.

Your most memorable performances?
My mentor Dr. Daisaku Ikeda invited me to perform for Min-On Concert Association across Japan. Beautiful grand theatres, hospitality of Min-On and enthusiastic Japanese audiences who responded proving that art has no language barrier and is universal. All these factors inspired the artist within me.

Your advice to students.
If you are interested in classical dance you must put your heart into it. It requires lot of hard work and patience. And there is no shortcut to success. My mentor in my spiritual journey Dr. Daisaku Ikeda says, "The noble and far reaching ideals of a great mentor invariably cannot be achieved within a single lifetime. The disciple must carry on the mentor's vision and continue the ongoing endeavour to make it a reality."

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