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A versatile dancerAn uncompromising purist, dedicated teacher, creative choreographer and above all a professional dancer. This versatile personality is none other than Padma Sri Dr Shobha Naidu of Andhra Pradesh, who brought great laurels to the state as well as the nation for being one of the outstanding exponents of Kuchipudi dance in the world. She was born to Venkanna Naidu and Sarojini Devi in Rajahmundry in East Godavari district. Right from her childhood she has mesmerised many hearts with her creative dance style.

A disciple of Vempati China Satyam and Dr D L Reddy, Shobha Naidu is known for her Abhinaya skills. She presently heads the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Hyderabad. Her depiction of Satyabhama and the nine types of expressions (rasas)of a Nayika (heroine) is remarkable for its subtlety and interpretation. She has been conferred with many titles like Nritya Choodamani, Nritya Vihar, Nritya Kala Siromani and State Government's Hamsa award.Recently the Government of India presented theprestigious Padma Sri award, another feather in her cap. In an exclusive interview, Shobha Naidu shares her experiences with

Interpreting AbhinayaCould you tell us briefly about your childhood?

I used to respond to the tunes from the radio when I was a child. Noticing this my parents enrolled me in a local dance school. I gave a few performances till the age of eight. As my father was an Engineer and he used to get frequent transfers, I couldn't continue my dance for a short period. Later I joined the Kuchipudi Academy at Chennai and learned Kuchipudi dance with such devotion, that I am now able to create ripples in Kuchipudi.

Were your parents supportive of your interest in dance?

Yes. At that time in our family nobody was an artist. In fact even today there are no artists except me. There were only musicians from my mother's side. Thus, all my relatives were against my learning dance. It was my mother who encouraged me at that time. She took pains to admit me to the dance academy at Chennai. My father neither encouraged nor discouraged my learning dance.

Dr Shobha Naidu Is there any particular reason for your choosing 'Kuchipudi' dance form as your career?

Yes. Kuchipudi is a cultural heritage of Andhra Pradesh. Being a Telugu girl, it is but natural that I get a feeling that I should propagate this art in my own way. I was very impressed by Kuchipudi presentation and its Abhinaya. Besides, Kuchipudi was not known beyond Andhra at that time. It is the dance form that gives you scope to perform diametrically opposite characters at one go, as the theme progresses in the form of episodes. A single dancer can perform the entire Kurukshetra. No other dance form offers this opportunity. These are the two main reasons for learning Kuchipudi dance.

Could you tell us about the most memorable show you have given?

Once I had been to the West Indies to perform at Trinidad. After the show, a couple came to me and said that they were mesmerised by my performance. The next day, before leaving I got a call from them saying that they were blessed with a child. They requested me to come to their house to see their daughter, who was named after me. When I heard this I felt so elated and it was really a great experience. Another memorable thing is that we had a festival in Tunish, where dancers from all over the world were participating. I was the only solo dancer, while the other countries were represented through groups with 50 to 100 members in each. I felt very nervous and at the last moment, I reported to the authorities that I was not going to perform. Then, my fellow musicians encouraged me and I managed to overcome my nervousness. I performed for twenty minutes and the very next day, it was reported in the news papers as 'India tops'. At that moment, I felt very proud of being an Indian.

Academy performanceYou have choreographed and created many ballets till date. Which ballet do you like the most?

We have performed about eleven ballets till today and I like almost all the ballets. Above all, my favourite character is Ravindranath Tagore's 'Chandalika', who wants to distribute her love to the world. I was very impressed by that character. Another character that I love is the one of Satyabhama. All the nine rasas can be shown and seen in Satyabhama.

Have you ever choreographed for films?

When I was in Madras, I got ample chances and attractive offers from famous directors. But, I refused all of them only because I went to Madras with a view to learn Kuchipudi dedicatedly. First of all, I didn't want to deviate myself. Films are to earn glamour and money. But, I am not interested in both. My intention is to propagate the dance form and whatever I get, I should get it through dance performances. I always feel very happy to have taken this decision.

Do you feel that classical art forms are struggling for survival in this modern era?

Yes. They always have ups and downs. At present, as the western culture is all pervasive, no one gets time to visit theatres and see traditional performances. People should realise that by being westernised, they are respecting the neighbour's mother and neglecting their own mother. We have such a great heritage and culture that the whole world respects it. We are not able to make out the value of our own culture. As long as electronic media influences the new generation, classical arts will always struggle for survival.

Is there any hope of the revival of these arts?

Of course, the day is not far away when people will come back to our culture. They are bound to get frustrated with routine serials and programmes and western culture.

Graceful MudraDo you think dancers of today are as committed as they were in the olden days?

Commitment is always there. As dance is a very expensive art, the membership has come down. As I said, because of the influence of Western culture, upcoming dancers are not getting solo opportunities. My students are able to participate in my programmes only. If they were given more encouragement from the Government and sponsors, it will be possible for them to exhibit their talent and the membership would increase.

The Government is not encouraging the art of dance...., you mean?

States like Tamil Nadu and Kerala are giving enormous encouragement to the artists, particularly dancers. Of course, the State Government of Andhra Pradesh is conducting festivals and paying little interest for dance now. But what they are doing is not sufficient. Every year one of our students gets Scholarship from the Central Government. Like that, the State government also should come forward with scholarships. They should introduce Kuchipudi dance form as a subject right from the elementary level to the University, so that, whoever is interested can learn dance. Apart from this, they should also create some pensions for old artists. If the government is able to arrange all these, more and more people will surely come forward to learn the art of dance.

Could you please tell about 'Kuchipudi Art Academy' run by you in Hyderabad?

After giving continuous performances for seven years since 1973, I started this academy in 1980 with the sole objective of making good teachers of my students. At present we have 80 students in the academy. We have regular classes here. Apart from dance, we also teach theory, Yoga and music. We teach music because, when a dancer comes to the composing part, the knowledge of music comes to her rescue. Yoga gives a lot of concentration both physically and mentally.

Do you encourage your students to innovate and choreograph their own items?

Yes. All my students are involved in my creations. I discuss all aspects with my students and also with the musicians before I create and choreograph a ballet.

Why do you prefer social subjects mostly?

Being a woman and a Kuchipudi dancer, I thought it is my duty to do something for the society. People also have developed very good taste towards social plays. I believe that only such subjects can influence the people. For example, we did a dance ballet on Shirdi Sai Baba, which received tremendous response beyond my expectations. Through this, I've proved that there is nothing that can't be done in a dance form like Kuchipudi.

What is your advice to aspiring young dancers of today?

Young dancers of today want to finish dance as a course. It is not just like a computer course to learn in a fixed time and become a professional. It needs great practice and dedication. I can only request them not to be hasty in learning. If you learn properly, the foundation will be good, which helps you all the time. And I believe that dance shouldn't be discontinued for any reason. If any one thinks that they may not continue it in future, then it is better not to learn. Because dance is the only form, which gives satisfaction not only to the dancer, but also to the audience who witness it.

Recently you were conferred with the prestigious Padmasri Award. How do you feel to have received that great honour?

I am extremely happy to receive the honour. When I heard that I got the Padmasri, I offered my sincere thanks to God, whom I worship daily. I am also thankful to my parents, my husband and all my well-wishers who have been instrumental in all of my achievements.
-Krishna Chaitanya Karanam

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