If you can walk, you can dance, says Tanusree Shankar | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

If you can walk, you can dance, says Tanusree Shankar

Jun 23, 2024 07:02 AM IST

Dance is a medium of storytelling and self-expression communicated by the body, says Shankar. “Whether you’re a trained dancer or not, there are some movements that come naturally to one’s body”

MUMBAI: A couple of months ago, Kolkata-based acclaimed dancer and choreographer Tanusree Shankar’s team put out an Instagram post offering to start the Uday Shankar school of dance sessions in Mumbai. Since past efforts (in 2014) to offer a three-year course was unsuccessful, as “people were pulled way on office tours or school work”, Tanusree decided to gauge people’s interest for short-term courses. It worked and from August, Shankar will offer 12-class capsules in studios across the city.

If you can walk, you can dance, says Tanusree Shankar
If you can walk, you can dance, says Tanusree Shankar

Dance is a medium of storytelling and self-expression communicated by the body, says Shankar. “Whether you’re a trained dancer or not, there are some movements that come naturally to one’s body. Late dancer Uday Shankar delved so deeply into this instinct that without any formal dance training, he pioneered a whole new type of dance,” she says. The Uday Shankar style of dance is robust, energetic, theatrical, fresh, and above all, original. Tanusree Shankar, who has been teaching the dance style her father-in-law founded at the Tanusree Shankar Dance Academy (TSDA) in Kolkata in 1986, is now opening six centres in Mumbai.

“The Uday Shankar style of dance is Indian in origin and spirit and modern in presentation, with a universal appeal,” she tells HT. The dance can seem familiar at times, recalling elements that one might have noticed in Indian classical forms or in western styles of movement. But the Uday Shankar style is not just a simple fusion of these types. It’s a whole new technique in itself. “He innovated moves of his own and created a whole new genre. His approach to dance was refreshing and different. It opened the window of Indian dances to the world,” adds Tanusree.

Uday Shankar was born in Udaipur, Rajasthan, in 1900, and spent his early years in the Nazratpur village near Varanasi. From folk dances to nautch and other forms that the culture around him offered, Uday observed widely and absorbed deeply. But he trained in painting, learning at the Sir JJ School of Art. He then went on to study at the Royal College of Art, London, under Sir William Rothenstein, where he completed his five-year course in three years.

During this time, Uday delved deeper into his culture through books about miniature paintings, cave paintings and sculptures, and other Indian art. What he saw fascinated him so much that he decided to mimic those poses and create his own movements. In 1922, he performed the ‘Sword Dance,’ for the first time in London. It wasn’t long before the famed ballerina Anna Pavlova reached out to him. He joined her troupe and as part of it, toured the US and Europe. He then founded his own troupe which comprised much of his family, including sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar. The troupe performed in Paris and met with grand success.

After several years of performing, first with Pavlova and then with his own troupe, Uday returned to India. He opened the Uday Shankar India Culture Centre at Almora, where his students included the likes of Guru Dutt and Zohra Sehgal. But the centre shut down soon after. Uday then went on to create the 1948 film ‘Kalpana’, starring himself and his wife Amala Shankar, where his dance featured heavily. Tanusree explains how she closely analysed the dances in the film to find the original movements and create a basic grammar of the language he was expressing himself in. “That grammar became the syllabus of the style we teach.”

Tanusree has been a student of the Uday Shankar centre which later opened in Kolkata. From the age of 12, when her father, an army doctor, was posted in the city, she started learning dance at the school. Besides the Uday Shankar dance style, she also learnt Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and Manipuri there. It was also at the institute that she met her late husband Ananda Shankar, the revered composer. Having been well versed with this style for over five decades, Tanusree is excited about taking it forward and introducing it to new students. “It’s not a stagnant style. It’s a developing style, a process,” she explains.

The six centres opening in Mumbai are The Square in Powai, Aco Dance Studios in Kandivali, Violet Studio in Navi Mumbai, The Danceworx in Andheri, ASTRA School of Dance in Thane and a venue, soon to be announced, in Tardeo.

Much of the dance will be synced to Ananda Shankar’s music, which is a combination of Indian and western instruments coming together to create an interesting new sound, a type of world music well suited to the dance. While senior teachers, who have been students of Amala, will be teaching the Mumbai classes, Tanusree will do a minimum of three masterclasses with the students across the three month course. In the course, students will learn warm up techniques, basic steps, body coordination, body balance, expression and other elements of the Uday Shankar dance style. They will also learn three choreographies and become practitioners of a unique and vibrant dance style.

“He [Uday] used to say ‘walk to dance’,” recalls Tanusree. “Anybody who can walk, can dance. From a basic walk he would create a movement, a phrase.” It’s this journey from walking to creating a dance that students will learn at the TSDA.

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