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Meet Anisha Rajesh of Upasana Kalakendra

Today we’d like to introduce you to Anisha Rajesh.

Anisha, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am the founder and Artistic Director of Upasana Kalakendra. Upasana Kalakendra was founded in October 2008 with the aim of providing structured training in two Indian classical dance forms, Bharathanatyam, and Mohiniyattam to young kids. We had a humble beginning with a small group of students joining my dance class in 2008. As the student numbers grew after a year, we found the need to have our own facility. In 2009, we purchased an acre land in Katy with the earnest ambition of constructing our own studio. After going through many ideas and changes, we ended up in the decision of constructing our Katy studio.

Although it was a huge personal financial responsibility for us, my husband Rajesh and I decided to go ahead with our plans. The most important factor we considered was an engineered dance floor suitable for Indian classical dance as we stomp the bare feet to execute the abstract dance movements in Indian classical dance. Our shock-absorbing dance floor is thus equipped to protect the dancers from joint and bone injury.

We moved to our own facility in February 2014. Meanwhile, in 2012, I joined the Ph.D. program in dance at Texas Woman’s University with a research focus on an Indian classical dance called Mohiniyattam. The research program at TWU had a huge influence on me as a dancer and dance educator as the program equipped me to engage kids as well as adults from diverse and multicultural backgrounds to explore the movement vocabulary of Indian classical dance.

Upasana Kalakendra has experienced a steady growth during the past 10 years. In 2017 we added two more instructors, one for dance and the other for music.The same year, we added a program in Carnatic music which is a classical music system from the Southern part of India. Over the course of these ten years, Upasana Kalakendra has hosted many performances, workshops, and master classes with various guest artists.  Upasana Kalakendra faculty and students have also taken part in various outreach programs extending our contribution of art to reach the community. Every year Upasana Kalakendra hosts its signature dance recital titled DAKSHINA. Outside of the studio space I have actively pursued my performance and research interests contributing to the field of Mohiniyattam. My research papers on Mohiniyattam were accepted by the Congress on Research in Dance and I had the privilege of presenting my research for 5 years consecutively from 2012 to 2017.

At Upasana Kalakendra, as more parents and students understood the long term benefits of our structured training program, they embraced our philosophy of training in traditional art forms. Our programs are well received, and at present, we have three training centers: Katy, Sugarland/Missouri City, and Spring/Cypress.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There were so many challenges along the road including financial burdens. The very first of them was finding our own space for training. We have overcome those with proper planning and timing. There were also challenges which came as part of teaching a cultural dance form to kids living in another country. My dance education at Texas Woman’s University, Department of Dance did help me a lot in training the kids who are brought up here in the United States.

The concept of the teacher and student is entirely different from the culture I came from as the teacher is unquestioned authority in India. Here kids need a very logical way of thinking when teaching anything and this is applicable to dance also. They ask questions, and the teacher is supposed to answer each question in a sensible way. I had a good learning experience through teaching dance students here in the US.

It was not a smooth road, but it was a fun ride. We have very few dropouts from our dance classes, and the majority of our students are very passionate about the form. They all enter the studio with enthusiasm and enjoys the precious gift of stylized movement. Over these years I have formed a bond with my students, the common thread which binds us being dance technique.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Upasana Kalakendra – what should we know?
Upasana Kalakendra provides training in two Indian classical dance forms, Bharathanatyam and Mohiniyattam, and Indian classical music (Carnatic Music). We provide structured training in these art forms.

We make sure that our students enjoy the process of learning techniques of these traditional classical performing art forms culminating in its performing aspect. Our program is multidisciplinary, connecting dance with various disciplines including literature, history and other academic fields.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Yes, there are so many people who had enabled my journey as a dancer. My parents who gave me the gift of dance by providing an opportunity to learn both dance and music. My father who opened the doors to vast repositories of literature. My teachers who taught me these art forms. My teachers who taught me how to choreograph dance through writing.

Dr.Neena Prasad who I had trained with when I restarted my training in dance after a long break. My professors Dr. Linda Caldwell and Dr. Rosemary Candelario who entirely deconstructed my set notions on dance and engaged/enabled me to look at dance through wider and encompassing perspectives. My colleagues who were part of my Ph.D. cohort whose practices of very different dance forms gave me a worldview of art within and beyond.

Thankful to this country, as it has given me lot of opportunities, without asking for one!!

Last but not least, I am grateful to my children and my husband Rajesh who stood with me, wholeheartedly supported and encouraged me to pursue my passion of dance.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Amitava Sarkar

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