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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

“Don’t Contemporise Dance Without Thought And Reason,” Kathak Dancer Nayantara Parpia

  • IWB Post
  •  February 19, 2018

“To dance is to be out of yourself, larger, more beautiful, more powerful.” Borrowing these words to introduce to you a beautiful Kathak artist, whom I met this weekend, and whose beautiful performance on ‘Shringaar’ has me enthralled for life.

Disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj and renown Kathak guru Yogini Gandhi, Nayantara Parpia, was in Jaipur recently at the city’s famous design store, Anantaya Décor, run by the wonderful Geetanjali Kasliwal. The afternoon opened with Nayantara talking about how beauty lies not in one’s looks, but within, and then she graced the audience with a live performance on the same. It being the launch of Sova at Anantaya, a brand of natural beauty products, was an apposite occasion for people to learn about the ‘art of beauty ‘ through Nayantara’s discerning performance, Shringaar.

Nayantara Parpia

Learning dance from the age of seven, Nayantara now runs her own dance academy in Pune and conducts workshops throughout the world. A happy and enthusiastic conversationalist by nature, she is contributing to the world of dance as actively with social media articles, as through her art. Word of suggestion, don’t miss checking out her Instagram!

Back to the beautiful February afternoon, after a long wait of watching people showering her with all the deserving compliments, I finally make my way to the backstage for a quick interview.

Intriguing excerpts below:

You performed on ‘Shringaar’ i.e. beauty, and I can’t express enough how beautiful and mesmerising the performance was!

Thank you. Well, like I said, the idea of beauty is different for everyone. For me, it is about finding confidence in oneself. When I think about the women that I feel are beautiful, there is no connection with shape or looks, only one thing that weaves them together and that is confidence.

Nayantara Parpia

And in what manner did dance help you rediscover the beauty of body?

First and foremost, it was my mother, she was the one who got me into dance and wanted me to become a dancer, and then my guru, Yogini Gandhi, who is absolutely the epitome of beauty and grace. And then the dance in itself, having spent so many years with an art form, it grooms every part of you. Also your mind, your thoughts, the way you conduct yourself, and the way you handle relationships and people.

Even this conversation with you for me is a beauty. If a woman knows how to talk to people, how to treat people, it’s beautiful. For me, it reflects in every gesture, whether I am off stage or on stage. People say I talk in mudras and have a very expressive face even while talking, and I can’t help it, she laughed. Dance gives you discipline, it becomes a part of who you are, and after a point, there is no separation, you are the dance and the dance is you.

Nayantara Parpia

Amazing. Since we are talking about beauty, tell me a little about your pre-performance beauty rituals?

Uhmm, I am horrible at beauty rituals, in terms of pre-preparation. But to keep it good, you should treat your skin and hair well because all the makeup and hairspray tends to take a toll. I don’t do anything for it I should, but I am very passionate about makeup. I do it myself and absolutely love it. For every performance, it takes me two and a half hours applying, and two and a half minutes taking off with baby oil and cotton. And not just makeup, I also dress up by myself, except for times when my husband is along, he happily helps me with safety pins etc., she laughed.

Nayantara Parpia

Wow! And I gathered from your Instagram that you recently celebrated your fifth wedding anniversary. How else is your husband a part of your dance?

Oh gosh, sometimes the reason I think I got so much into it is because of him. My mom is the one who got me into dance, but when I moved to Singapore after marriage, something about the environment and the way he encouraged me is what helped me take the plunge. He‘s a big part of the journey for sure, and also the kind of support he and my in-laws provide. My studio is my next-to-home bungalow that used to be his office, and he wouldn’t mind playing my tech guy any moment.

A day late on Instagram, but Happy birthday to my mostest favouritest man-child @dhruvparpia who makes my life so complete. We’ve been together for 6 years, almost 5 of which we’ve been married. And all I can say is… I am one lucky girl 😍 #dhruvtara

2,179 Likes, 44 Comments – Nayantara Kurma Parpia (@nayantara_kathak) on Instagram: “A day late on Instagram, but Happy birthday to my mostest favouritest man-child @dhruvparpia who…”

Awww. Any fan moment by him that you will never forget?

Well, for me the smallest gestures also matter as much. You know when he says, “oh baby your phone isn’t charged, let me charge it for you”, or when I’m looking for my phone and he’ll be like I put it into charge, and I’m like awww, so cute!

And as I shared I am a huge makeup lover, so I keep searching things online and thought he would never show interest, which by the way is one thing about him that really annoys me, all the more because I am a good talker, ha-ha. But recently he was visiting Malaysia, and to my absolute surprise, bought me Rihanna’s brand Fenty Beauty’s eyeshadow palette, which oh my god I had been wanting for so long. And also went to four shops to find the exact shade of Sephora lipstick I had been looking for. I was like oh boy now how does one up that, ha-ha.

>>SWIPE>> OMG my husband is the absolute BESTEST! I look like s*** and I’m making psycho eyes because I can’t contain my excitement at receiving this surprise present from my phoreign-return pati-dev @dhruvparpia. Swipe to see me unbox THE #fentybeauty #galaxypalette and #stunnalippaint that I’ve been dreaming about for weeks 😍😍😍 * #christmascameearly #unboxing #makeupgeek #myhusbandisbetterthanyours @fentybeauty @fentybeauty.giveaway @___badgalriri____

1,389 Likes, 55 Comments – Nayantara Kurma Parpia (@nayantara_kathak) on Instagram: “>>SWIPE>> OMG my husband is the absolute BESTEST! I look like s*** and I’m making psycho eyes…”

That’s awwdorable. Getting back to dance, do you have the memory of your first performance?

I must be seven when I first performed on stage, so I don’t have my own memories, but the plethora of the ones I am told by my family. You know like how it happens when you don’t remember something but because you have been told like that, they tend to become your memories. So yeah, many funny little things I have been told, like my first performance was with a group, and my mum tells me that when on stage someone made a mistake, I had ended up laughing. I used to be a little nautanki, and I didn’t care so much about dance, I would be bindaas on stage.

Nayantara Parpia

But the actual performances started with my guru, Yogini didi, when I joined her group after my tenth standard exams, which added a lot to my perspective about dance, and life.

I read that you studied economics after tenth. Then when did the shift to dance-education happen?

Oh, economics was just because my mother had done that and she said I could take up economics. So I did, but oh my god I sucked at it. Even today I can’t make a demand-supply curve, ughh. So yeah, that’s how economics happened, but I am never going back. And I turned to dance academically a bit later, which initially was with an idea of doing it for a year, but then it continued, and now here I am. 

Speaking of which, you are currently undergoing vocal training and also learning tabla. It is perceived to be a rather male-dominated musical instrument, right?

Yes. Well, my guru Yogini didi has also learnt Tabla, and it is essentially a part of your dance training to understand the sound that tabla creates and how it works with your feet. So to be able to communicate with the tabla player, if you know a little bit of what he is doing, then you can interact better. Because of which she always encouraged us to learn these things. And yes, I know it is a male-dominated musical instrument. I think everything needs a push and somewhere down the line change happens, so hopefully, that will happen with percussion, too. Like even in the west, how many girls play drums, but seeing those who do, it is a positive and good change that is coming.

Nayantara Parpia

Indeed. Moving further, did you ever have to experience gender barrier?

Yes. But the other way, for men, her eyes sparkled. The dance world earlier belonged to men, which is why so many of the old gurus are all men; women weren’t allowed, and were associated it with devdasis and not respected. But now the situation has completely reversed, it is so female-dominated that now men are looked down if they want to take up dance.

Families don’t want boys to go into dance because they fear their gestures would become feminine, and also because it is not a stable career financially. You’ll get all the joy you want, but who is measuring joy. So either they are not allowing them to explore or don’t send them. And those who wish to explore, they have to battle, until of course, the money comes in.

Nayantara Parpia

Hmmm. Do you have boys training at your dance institute in Pune?

No, I don’t. Sometimes in workshops, there do come a few. Even though every time I advertise for new batches for my institute, I write ‘boys or girls of age six and above’ or ‘adult batches for men and women’. But none so far, so there certainly is a bias.

On that note, tell me a little about your relationship with your gurus outside of class? 

It is very different outside of class. Like Yogini didi is very traditional in her views w.r.t dance, but in everything else, she is extremely modern and liberal. I am associated with her from the age of seven, and dance or not, we have come a long way since. It’s almost like the relationship with mother; she’s seen my teenage drama, and through all my highest highs and lowest lows. So with someone like her, I can sit down and talk about anything to her, we go for lunch and shows together, and I often call her to see my students in class. Our relationship is very symbiotic, happy, and comfortable one.

Pranaams to my guru, Pandit Birju Maharajji, on his 80th birthday! I have spent years trying to follow his work and his teachings, initially through workshops and subsequently by travelling to New Delhi to learn in his home and at his institute. I can’t describe how much being under his tutelage and even just in his company has shaped my mind, my dance and my creativity. All of us, in the dance community, wish for a long and healthy life for Maharajji. May he continue to shower his blessings and inspire many more young artists in the years to come 🙏 * Delhi friends, see you all at Kamani auditorium at 3.30pm for the last day of Vasant Utsav! Especially excited to watch @aditimangaldas Didi and Durga Arya didi cast their magic on stage! ❤️❤️ * #nayantaraparpia #panditbirjumaharaj #birjumaharajji #newdelhi #vasantutsav #kathak #guru #indianclassicaldance #gurushishya

2,543 Likes, 41 Comments – Nayantara Kurma Parpia (@nayantara_kathak) on Instagram: “Pranaams to my guru, Pandit Birju Maharajji, on his 80th birthday! I have spent years trying to…”

With Birju Maharaj Ji, it’s a little different. At his age, status, and aura, you can’t just sit and chat informally. For him, I think my love and respect comes in everything to do with his dance. When I watch his performance, it is very different for me, he’ll do one movement and my heart melts. I respect him that much; he’s simply a genius. Because of him my imagination and creativity have grown leaps and bounds.

Wouldn’t be wrong to say that you got the best of both the worlds! Absolutely, and yet I am independent, what can be better!

And how does it feel being on the other side of the table now; how is your relationship with your students?

It’s amazing to see life come full circle. Now it is I seeing them go through their high school and college stuff from the other side. But I am not a very strict teacher; they don’t fear me except for the little that is needed. But I am not the type of teacher from whom they have to hide anything.

Hindustani vocal music training is one of the 3 main streams that all students at Tridhaara train in. The name “Tri-dhaara” itself refers to “3 streams” – Dance, Music and Yoga – which together form a holistic approach to the arts. I am only a Kathak teacher; I am not a certified yoga teacher or music teacher, but I try my best to initiate all the students in the basics of these 2 other streams, without which I think classical dance training is incomplete. January onwards, the Tridhaara Studio will also open up yoga and classical vocal classes for non-dance students! Any one who wants to join, stay tuned for more information. I promise to get really good teachers on board for all of you ❤️ #nayantaraparpia #tridhaara #tridhaarainstituteofkathak #pune #kathak #kathakclasses #indianclassicaldance #indianclassicalmusic #yoga

1,464 Likes, 24 Comments – Nayantara Kurma Parpia (@nayantara_kathak) on Instagram: “Hindustani vocal music training is one of the 3 main streams that all students at Tridhaara train…”

Does talking about body positivity also finds way into your discussions with them?

At my institute, I make my students do functional exercise, yoga, and stretching. So that is for a dancer, but if you’re not a dancer, it’s a different thing. Though I still would want people to look after their body, which is not about the size but simply valuing your body. But I think body positivity for a dancer is a little different from its definition in the social spectrum. Understanding that you need to be a kind of shape and stamina is a part of our body positivity. Students themselves feel bad if they stop because of their stamina, which I believe is enough guilt; I don’t have to do anything.

Pre-dance yoga with my intermediate-advanced Kathak students. No session is complete without the presence of the Pingzzz 🐶 #pinga #tridhaarainstituteofkathak #pune #dogsofinstagram #adoptdontshop #kathak #indianclassicaldance #yoga

712 Likes, 7 Comments – Nayantara Kurma Parpia (@nayantara_kathak) on Instagram: “Pre-dance yoga with my intermediate-advanced Kathak students. No session is complete without the…”

Ah, yes. And now let’s head to your Instagram, I read one of your recent posts that talked about ‘creativity rooted in traditions’. Do you feel some traditions have outlived and need to be taken care of?

Oh, my god, this is my current favourite topic, I love talking about it because it is kind of troubling me in my head. Well, I don’t feel there’s anything that needs to be done rather there are things that don’t need to be done. Which is what I’ve written an article on, recently. Just as creativity in language is not about inventing new words, but to weave your thoughts together using the language and grammar; similarly, when you’re talking about a traditional dance form, to move that structure within the boundaries and be creative is where the fun is. And a lot of artists are working on it, producing great “contemporary” work.

Nayantara Parpia

Lastly, speaking of contemporary, what are your thoughts on ‘conservation of kathak’?

I think it all comes down to right education. There are a lot of dance schools today, every lane has one, but unfortunately, only dance is being taught, the art and thought are getting left. And in my opinion, it is the Guru who should teach it. Dance is not just a movement, there is a thought that goes into it, and it calls for focus. And neither is it for pure entertainment purpose, classical dance has so much more to it.

You have to be, first, patient in the process of learning the art form, let it take the number of years it demands. But learn the thought, the morals, principles, and values attached. Some gurus are taking care of it, but I feel most schools are not; they are making dancers, not artists. And that’s what I want to use social media for, to educate them of this important perspective. Students coming from small schools and cities need mentors and correct thorough guidance.

Nayantara Parpia

Contemporisation is not a problem, evolution is natural and it will happen in every field, and one shouldn’t think of stopping it. Even what you saw today is not what it was 20-30 years ago, then it was not as polished and drama, but more simple and raw. So these kinds of changes will come, but no matter what you’re doing, there has to be a reason, and not just the reason to make something new for the sake of it. You need to feel and think through the ‘why’.

And we wrapped up talking about another beautiful phenomenon, which is ‘dance appreciation’. When I happened to tell her that even though I loved watching her dance, I felt that I didn’t have an eye to watch it, and if only I could learn, not to dance, but to watch it – she told me that she conducts art-appreciation workshops. Now, how amazing is that!

Nayantara Parpia

You can visit Nayantara’s Website or Instagram, to know more about her classes and workshops.

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