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Nilesh Singha: Dance is expression of the soul
- Vijay Shankar

March 24, 2017

Acclaimed as one of the best male classical dancers of Mumbai, having won several accolades, Nilesh Singha is gaining recognition as a painstaking teacher and choreographer and his institute, Shivoham Institute of Performing Arts has successfully completed eleven glorious years, having produced students who have become professional dancers as well. Nilesh narrates his experience as a performer and teacher that spans more than two decades.

How did you get fascinated with dance?
Dancing has come naturally to me. When I was a kid I started dancing at the start of music on the radio or television. My parents observed my passion for dance and decided to put me into a dance class. Those days we used to live in Dombivali in Thane district. The class that I was enrolled in was for Kuchipudi and the teacher was the established exponent Guru Vijaya Prasad. After completing the course, I started participating in competitions and become a regular first ranker for more than ten years at the competition organized by Swar Sadhana Samiti at the national level.

Did your parents support you in pursuing dance as a career?
Initially they were hesitant, particularly my father, but my mother was working with MTNL and I was a prize winner at the all India competition organized by MTNL as well and it is then that my mother realized my madness for dance and encouraged me to go ahead as a dancer.

Did you experience any difficultly being a male dancer?
Not really as the dance is above me and I consider myself as a medium to reach out to the supreme through classical dance. As you know, classical dance is expression of the soul and it is the soul that dances. Moreover if you are really dedicated it is the quality of the performance that is more important than the gender of the person.

Why did you change from Kuchipudi to Bharatanatyam?

After I met Bharatanatyam mentor Guru Tejaswini Raj, she told me that my body language was more suitable for Bharatanatyam. She was surprised to know that I was a Kuchipudi dancer. I learnt initially from her, but after she migrated to New York, I met Guru Chhaya Khanvate who is among the foremost disciples of the veteran Guru Mahalingam Pillai of the famous Sri Raja Rajeshwari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir. I completed my arangetram under her guidance. I was also conducting classes for her institute Nateshwar Nritya Kala Mandir. At one point, I realized if I have to grow as a dancer and teacher and have a successful career, I should have my own institute, hence Shivoham Institute of Performing Arts was established along with another wonderful exponent Mubina Barve.

What has been your equation with Mubina?
We have been professional partners for more than twenty years and we complement each other very well but we are not linked in any way. I would say that she deserves an award for tolerating my tantrums, as I get disturbed when things don't move in a disciplined manner. On the stage, the audience gets a fine feel of the perfect personification of both Shiva and Shakti, as we dance with fine combination of both vibrancy and elegance.

How and when did you meet Guru Padmini Radhakrishnan?
My mentor Chhayaji advised me to learn nattuvangam from Guru Padmini and you will be surprised to know that Mubina and I are the only dancers whom Padmini akka has taught nattuvangam. Besides being a wonderful person, her knowledge of music is amazing and she is a brilliant vocalist. While I learnt dance from earlier teachers, Padmini akka has taught me the science of dance to the extent as to how to choreograph, which talam or ragam would suit the particular episode or theme. Hence learning from her has been an enlightening experience and I really cherish the wonderful moments with her.

Your most memorable performance?
Last year when I performed for Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at Manhattan, one gentleman came up to me and said that my performance was so engrossing to the extent that he could not vacate the seat halfway, that he was an academic oriented person and in spite of his daughter being a dancer, he was not interested in music and dance. When I get such wonderful feedback from the audience, I always strive to do better and it makes me really happy.

What has been your experience performing in India and abroad?

Dance is a universal language, hence the audience reaction is the same but you get more respect and love from other countries as they really understand the significance of Indian classical dance.

Which role of yours is more important to you, as dancer or teacher?
Both are enjoyable and important but the role of the teacher is more important as you are responsible to carry the legacy forward. My Guru Padmini has taught me how to explore my innate talent in the best possible manner, as the individuality of each person differs with every performance.

Any unusual experience?
Performing in temples like Chidambaram, Brihadeeswara, Kumbakonam along with Padmini akka has been an elevating experience for me and Mubina. I must admit that the divine intervention is most important.

Happiest moment in life?
When I did my second arangetram on the occasion of the birthday of my mentor Guru Padmini Radhakrishnan. Moreover, it was her 100th arangetram. I would say I am a double graduate in dance now!

What disturbs you in life?
I don't like people who are judgmental or criticize others, as we all aspire to do well in life but everybody can't be the best. So we should believe in ourselves.

Your future plans?
To take my institute forward and to dedicate my life to dance.

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