1. How did you interest in performance arts develop?
I was born in the Eastern Indian state of Kolkata to my mother Anjana Basu, who is also a musician. She has been the driving force in my life and my journey as an artist. I have been dancing ever since I could walk.
2. Your early education also included Indian classical music.
Yes. I started at four years of age with Bharatanatyam, which is a classical form of dance from the Southern states of India, and then moved on to other folk dances and Kathak, which is from Northern India. I also developed a keen interest in music and got my Master’s degree in playing the table and enrolled in Prayag Sangeet Samiti, a centre for Indian classical music.
3. When did you decide to be a professional performer?
While studying at Prayag Sangeet Samiti, I had the opportunity to travel around and perform all over India. With the travels, my interest in dance increased exponentially. Dance, for me, is an expression of my soul. It is a way for me to be connected to my God, and through dance I display my devotion to the public.
4. So there is a tangible connection between spirituality and dance.
Bharatanatyam and Kathak are not only dances that focus on flexibility of technique – it is also about your connection with the divine. But it is not necessary that you believe in a specific religion to understand dance. Art can be your religion, and your body can be your temple. If you believe in yourself, and consider your body to be your temple, you can transcend the mechanics of the dance and reach a form of self-realization and peace. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, but dance is my true calling. I wanted to convert my passion into a profession, and I have never regretted my choice.
5. What brought you to Colombia?
I am a follower of Sahaja Yoga Meditation, which propagates meditation based on self-realization. As a devotee of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga, I wanted my life-partner to be selected by her. My husband, Andres Alarcon, who is also a follower, and I were selected for each other by my guruji, following which I came to Bogota in 2006, and have been here since.
6. How were the first few months in Bogota?
This was the first time I had lived outside India. I immediately fell in love with the city, and started learning Spanish. I felt very welcome and at home, and this has continued over the years.
7. And your first steps as a teacher of Indian dance in Bogota?
I was interviewed by the Javeriana University for the position of Indian classical dance instructor in 2006. They were impressed by my portfolio, and offered me a job immediately. There was an emerging interest in Indian dances, but there weren’t any established dance teachers to encourage that.
8. What were some impressions about Indian dance with your students?
When I first came to Colombia, awareness about Indian classical dances was limited. Dance groups came sporadically, and their influence did not permeate into the masses. People used to come to my classes thinking I was going to teach them how to belly dance. Initially, even the language was a barrier and I had to break all their misunderstandings about Indian dances.
9. And other stereotypes about your country India?
I was working with raw talent and people’s impression of India that was restricted to the grim poverty of our villages, or the fake glitter of the Bollywood film industry.
10. How was your first class as a teacher at the university?
I will always remember my first class. It was such a culture shock for me and my students. I had a group of about 15 come to learn about Indian dances. At first, they were shocked that the belly dance they thought was Indian is in fact Arabian. They also couldn’t believe that Bharatanatyam and Kathak focused more on the feet and hand movements, and not the torso.
11. Is teaching in India different from teaching in Colombia?
The Indian teaching structure has a very strict protocol in the student-master relationship, and introducing this concept to them was quite a challenge. I am willing to be their friend and their confidant, but my role as an educator of dance is of prime importance. After my first session with them, I didn’t think anyone would come back. I was convinced that it was a disaster.
12. How did you get them interested again?
Some of students did come back, and I realized that in order to generate interest in the classical dances, I had to first work with what they were already interested in – Bollywood and folk dances. The students were more receptive to them, and it was easier to explain. As time progressed, I began explaining the origin of each hand and foot movement to its original classical form, and saw an increased interest in learning classical dances.
13. So your role has also been one of promoting Indian culture.
Yes. It took almost four years to introduce Indian culture into their lives, and now we focus heavily on classical dances. My students now understand that Bollywood dances are not the heart and the essence of Indian dance, and have grown fonder of the classical moves. Six years on, I have more students enrolled in the classical routine than in Bollywood.
14. How has dance changed the lives of your students?
I teach six to seven classes for three hours each, every week. I have students from the age of four years to 50. I try and inculcate the traditional Indian form of living into my students. I tell them to meditate and dance to find inner peace, and I see my dance and myself as their guide. My students have adopted the traditional Indian lifestyle as their primary identity, and can’t wait to visit India. Through their studies of Indian dances and culture, they have found peace.
15. How has your life changed since you first arrived in Bogota?
I got married at 24 and came to Bogota immediately after. I brought my culture and my talent to Colombia, and was welcomed here warmly. I don’t know of a life without dance, and my students have become my family. I have received love and respect from the country despite being an outsider. I have seen my students grow up as professional dancers in front of me. I feel like a very big mother of eighty children, and that is a very fulfilling.
16. What does the future hold for your students?
We are in the planning stages of building a full-scale foundation for Indian performance arts, known as Fundación Kalakendra. The foundation’s primary purpose is to encourage Indian dance and music, and thereby enhance cultural ties between India and Colombia. This will contribute to improvement of quality of life of the country and better understanding of the Indian culture. We will invite new artists and professionals from India every year, and hold more workshops for the students. We are aiming for a whole new level of understanding of Indian dance.
17. So Indian dance will have a new home in the city.
We want to channel the interest in Indian dance and convert it into an academic endevour. Currently, we have a process where students enrolled in Fundación Kalakendra give exams every six months, which are then translated by me and sent to India for review. Upon successful completion, the students are given certificates. So far, twenty of my students have been certified, and more are expected this year.
18. So there are real changes for students heading to India to become professional dancers.
Ten of my students will also be traveling to India this year. There, they will perform to an Indian audience, the real critics of their talent and skill. They are very excited about the trip, and are working very diligently to impress their Indian colleagues.
19. What does the future hold?
We have accomplished more than I could have ever expected. To have thirty students, solely dedicated to classical dance from a country so far away from India, is a huge personal achievement for me.
20. How do you see India today?
India is a complex country with so many paradoxes, and can easily overwhelm an outsider with the sheer volume of information it has to offer. It is as difficult to understand, as it is to explain yet despite that, people have accepted my art. I am just getting started, and I have high hopes from my students, Colombia and my native land.