Nritya Sadhana – Colleena Shakti
- Nisha Jalori | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. It’s the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness, and envy”. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”
And our Cover Story this month features one such International performing artist COLLEENA SHAKTI, an American born contemporary fusion dancer, who has immersed herself in the culture and traditions of India, for the past 20 years, studying Indian classical and folkloric dances- Odissi and Kathak dance, Yoga, Kalaripayattu and Rajasthani folk.
She is also the founder and director of Shakti School of Dance at Pushkar where she teaches these dance forms to students from all across the globe. She has performed for former President- Smt. Pratibha Patil, royal families across Rajasthan, Indian Embassy at Cairo, Chidambaram Nataraj Temple, Lakme Fashion Week, and arts festivals from Japan to Australia. In conversation with Colleena, where she talks about her dance journey and many other things.
What made you pursue dancing?
I visualized myself as an artist from a very early age looking for colors, textures, and design. I was into painting and photography from a young age. Then, I discovered dance and it was Belly dancing for many years. In the 1980s, Tap Dance was also very popular with young girls in the US, so I did different styles of Western Dance.
I studied dance during college and one of the classes was on Middle Eastern dance. When we finally got to Indian dance, it truly fascinated me and I felt that this is what I want to do. Indian music totally captivated me and I just headed in this direction. “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance”, is the crux of it all.
Tell us about your fascination for India especially Rajasthan?
I came to India to study dance – Odissi in particular so I went to Orissa. Things were very difficult for me as I did not know much about Indian culture except for dance. Everything seemed new to me – the language, way of living, and to learn Indian classical dance, which is very traditional. Odissi is very codified and it connects to complex music.
I also knew about Rajasthani folk dance so I went to Rajasthan to learn Kaalbeliya. It was not an easy find as there is no Institute that teaches this form like the Indian classical one. So, it involved a lot of travel, meeting, and interacting with the Kaalbeliya to learn the nuances of this form. Basically, Odissi and Rajasthani folk are what fascinated me to India, and truly speaking, Rajasthan has stolen my heart. “Dance enables you to find and lose yourself at the same time” and a true artist that Colleena is found her way out.
India has innumerable classical dance forms, but you decided to be trained in the Odissi form. Why?
When I saw the Odissi dance for the first time, I went mad about wanting to learn it and I decided on going to India to study this dance. I found out about it and then went to India on my own to find a teacher in 2001. I finally saw Sujata Mohapatra who is the greatest Odissi dancer and she has been my huge dance inspiration, and finally, she became my dance guru. Just never thought it would be possible because she is ‘THE’ great Sujata Mohapatra. Finally, I had a chance to study with her and instantly felt a connection with her.
Coming to the Shakti School of Dance, what challenges did you face starting your own school here being a foreigner?
I will not say that it has been very challenging, though there were some challenges initially. People in India especially Rajasthan are very welcoming and supportive. They extended me full support and were extremely happy to see a foreigner promoting their art form and culture. So overall, it has been smooth sailing.
How do you select students for your school?
It is through an application process, wherein we mention that it is not a training itself, but a cultural immersion. Not many students who come find it easy to adapt themselves to the culture here, so it is brought to their notice right in the beginning. More so, our school is in the Rangnath Venugopal Temple which has a divine atmosphere around. We are doing Odissi here which is historically connected to the temple dance tradition. So, it is steeped in religious ideology, spiritual ideas, and philosophy. We also practice Yoga and Meditation here, so it is an eternal spiritual experience in art. It is important for students coming here to understand all of this before they come so that they are comfortable. “The most essential thing in dance discipline is devotion” and this is imbibed in students before enrolling for the Shakti School.
You also keep doing lots of shows for events, so how do you select music for your performances?
(Says laughingly) – I have been spoilt for years in Rajasthan with incredible musicians. Have a deep love and connection with the folk artists – Langas and Manganiyars, am greatly inspired by their music. But it is difficult to find fusion music for my fusion performances, as I like to fuse Middle Eastern with Indian music which has only a few tracks. Am not for Bollywood music and mostly prefer to perform with live musicians.
Tell us about your jewelry line – Nakarali.
That’s an interesting question. Well, one has a totally different feel when adorned with jewelry. And Nakarali is an expression of my deep, deep love for Rajasthani culture because culture is represented through dance and music, which I love to be a part of. I started by collecting antique and very traditional jewelry, replicating and recreating old designs that have disappeared. And now the latest evolution of Nakarlali is that I’ve completely designed my first collection which is not a remake of a traditional design but is very modern. My jewelry company is in a transitional phase and we will be relaunching Nakarali soon.
What are your future plans?
(Says excitedly) Just waiting to return to Rajasthan and hopefully, we should be back soon. In the last few years, my husband Matthew and I have opened a Retreat Centre in Greece where we host Yoga, Dance, and Music Retreats in the beauty of the Greek islands. But right now, just waiting to be back-to-back to the shows, back to the stage.