POOJA KUMAR , a vibrant and dynamic dancer, had her initial lessons in Bharathanatyam from Smt. Sujatha Srinivasan at the age of six. She took further training from Sri A. Lakshman (Chennai, India). Currently, she is taking advanced lessons under the guidance of Smt. Savithri Jagannatha Rao (Chennai, India) and Smt. Shreelatha Vinod (Chennai, India). She also takes abhinaya lessons from Smt. Indira Kadambi (Chennai, India).
Pooja was the 1st prize winner in the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana. She is slated to perform in Chennai during the ongoing music season. She was conferred the title “Nrithya Yuva Rathna” by Sumukhi Rajasekharan Memorial Foundation (Chennai, India) in December 2007. She was awarded the “Lakshmi Vishwanathan Endowment Prize for ABHINAYA” for her excellent performance in Bharathanatyam from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai, India) in Jan 2006.
She was the youngest prize winner at the Lumbini Arts Society’s bharatanatyam dance competition in Ottawa, Canada in 2001 and was selected to go to Europe by a panel of international judges. During the December 2000 arts festival in Chennai, she was awarded the title ‘NATYA KALA BHUSHANAM’ by Natyanjali Trust.
She has given various performances and fund-raisers in Chennai (India), U.S., and Canada. She performs every year for the December Arts Festival in Chennai and has danced at the prestigious venues Shri Krishna Gana Sabha, Brahma Gana Sabha, Hamsadhwani and Karthik Fine Arts and Natyarangam, to name a few.
Pooja has been presenting thematic concerts, collaborative presentations, innovative workshops and lecture demonstrations on this art form. She obtains continuing education from illustrious gurus in India. Pooja is also a dedicated teacher who is conveying this art form to aspiring students. Here is the transcript of the email interview, the edited version of which was originally published in Carnatic darbar.
How did you begin your journey in Dance?
I started my dance lessons at age six, and that beginning became a never ending journey for me in Bharathanatyam.
The role of your parents and family..
My parents have been the backbone in every step of my dancing life. When I was young, my mother took me for dance lessons and observed the class with utmost concentration. She made me practice rigorously daily, incorporating every refinement dispensed by the teacher. I’m thankful to my mother for her constant effort, as she has helped me discover my passion in life. I will never be able to repay what my parents have done for me.
In dance, it is extremely important to flow with the music. My younger sister, Arthi Kumar, who is passionately pursuing carnatic music as a career, is a disciple of Sri Madurai R. Sundar (Detroit, Michigan) & Sri K. Vijayaraghavan (Chennai, India). Her gurus are disciples of Sangeetha Kalanidhi Madurai Sri T. N Seshagopalan. Listening to her sing has helped me tremendously.
I started my initial lessons and had my arangetram with Smt. Sujatha Srinivasan. My urge to further my knowledge in bharathanatyam took me to Chennai, India where I learnt from Sri A. Lakshman for a few years. Then, my passion to delve deeper into the nuances of Bharathanatyam brought me to Smt. Savithri Jagannatha Rao. Savithri Aunty is very loving and caring about each student and brings out the best in each of her students. I enjoy going to aunty’s classes, as I admire her attention to detail, perfection in structure, bhakthi filled abhinaya, and her devotion to the art. Just seeing her gives me an inspiration to do even better! I am also very fortunate to take abhinaya lessons from Smt. Indira Kadambi. She’s also a wonderful teacher!
Since Gurus are based in Chennai, how do you manage?
I travel to India twice a year; 4 months during the summer, and for the December Chennai Music & Dance Season. I’m in India for about half a year, and I’m in the USA for half a year. I practice daily. I attend various dance programs. This enhances my knowledge.
Living in US was it easy for you to share interests with peers?
Yes, in fact Americans are very appreciative of Indian culture. They are in awe of the beauty, discipline, complexity, storytelling and spirituality of this art form.
Cleveland Aradhana’s impact?
“CLEVELAND TYAGARAJA ARADHANA”; the mere mention of these three words kindles in me pleasant thoughts of early childhood when I used to tag along with my parents wearing an Indian silk pavadai to listen to the Musical concerts. Little did I realize, at that time, that this event will become footsteps of my cultural evolution through my adolescence.
Tyagaraja Aradhana has grown from strength to strength under the able guidance of Mr. V.V. Sundaram, Mr. Cleveland Balu (who are lovingly known as Sundaram mama and Balu Mama, respectively) and other organizers.
Music and Dance are inseparable, and thanks to Sundaram mama, the prime force of the Aradhana, dance became an integral part of the festival. This included workshops, competitions, lecture demonstrations, and dance programs which helped dance lovers like me get the wonderful opportunity to learn from renowned Senior Gurus like Mrs. Sudharani Raghupathy, Mrs. Savithri Jagannatha Rao, Ms. Radha, Ms. Roja Kannan, Ms. Narthaki and Ms. Shakthi.
This constant exposure ignited a passion in me, and I became a “slave to dance”.
Are you learning theory & Nattuvangam?
Yes, I am also concurrently learning theory and nattuvangam along with the practical aspects of Bharathanatyam. These aspects are extremely important in developing into a complete dancer.
Do you teach?
Yes, I love to teach and I am teaching dance in Cleveland, USA. I would like to pass on this great classical dance form with utmost purity to the next generation. My role model in this venture is Savithri Aunty.
How do you manage to perform, teach, and be a full time student?
My belief is that I want to give my fullest in whatever I do. My love for dance is so much that I make the time. I don’t get many hours of sleep, as I am awake until 1 AM to study. I have a lot of catching up to do during the weekends.
Have you learned or are you venturing into any other dance form?
No, because I want to fully focus on Bharathanatyam. There is no point in being a “Jack of all trades and Master of none”. This dance itself is an ocean. One life time is not enough to completely learn it.
I like to sing and listen to Carnatic Music. It helps me a lot with my dance. Dance is after all music in motion.
Do you intend to take this up as a profession?
Yes, definitely, because this is my passion and form of prayer! In conclusion, I would like to say,
” Bharathanatyam is a divine art form with deep spiritual significance and I humbly dedicate all my skills at the feet of God. I just love and worship this Art form and hope to share this with the rest of the World.”
Pooja will be performing during the Madras December Festival .
* Dec. 29, 2008 – Karthik Fine Arts (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan) at 4:30 p.m.
* Jan 2, 2009 – Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana (Narada Gana Sabha Main Hall) at 6:30 p.m.
* Jan 9, 2009 – Bharath Kalachar at 6:00 p.m.