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Club Elite Magazine

by devaniya on September 2, 2014

“Nimble Footwork” – writes Vandhana Kumar in Club Elite about Jigyasa Giri – May 2014. Here is a transcript of the article:

Club Elite Magazine

What made you learn Kathak?
Tell us about your experiences as a Kathak dancer, teacher and choreographer
I started learning dance at the age of 7, when my mother, late Dr. Devayani patel, insisted that I must learn a classical dance form. Being in Chennai, Bharatanatyam was the only viable choice, so my first dance Gure shri V. Krishnakumar, used to come home to teach me.
My tryst with Kathak began when I was 17 years old. Until then it was Bharatanatyam. I remember my classes pretty well….I used to hate (& I literally mean hate) having to learn! I remember how I used to fuss & cry & feign tummy aches before almost every class! I take my hat off to my mother’s determination & my Guru’s affectionate patience. I would never have traversed this journey without them. God bless their souls.
As a teacher of Kathak, it has been a slow and steady journey, but an extremely interesting one! When I started teaching Kathak in Chennai 15 years ago I had very few takers. It was not so popular in Chennai then, and very often people would think it is Kathakali. But then, slowly, with more kathak performances happening in Chennai and the exposure through TV, You Tube etc. the interest in this beautiful dance form has grown. Yet, it is not so easy because there are not many musicians here trained for this dance form, not many tailors who understand the costume nuances etc. But challenges are a great way to progress and I take each one in my stride.
I have trained more in the Banaras Gharana and later in the Lukhnow Gharana too. So my comfort in choreography lies in a confluence of both these Gharanas or styles.
Today, Devaniya has over 180 students ranging from 8 year old children to senior citizens. My ethos is simple – anyone who has the passion & deep desire to learn deserves to have that opportunity. There is no age bar at Devaniya (except starting age to be 8 yrs & above). And therefore, Devaniya is a warm loving family of young & old, proficient and not so proficient dancers….all seekers of the art, dancing with joy, from their souls & for the Lord above. I believe that one must primarily enjoy the process of learning rather than learn only to perform on stage. I often say that at Devaniya, I do not train race horses. In these modern days, everything from a pin to education, to arts has become commercialized. That is not the true spirit of art, in my humble opinion. So what if a 50 year old person wants to learn? All I do is make the movements simple for them! This way, they get to pursue something that their hearts desire. Not everyone who learns can become a performer, but at least they get to understand and appreciate the dance form. And most importantly to me, I love the joy that I am able to spread through this learning process.

How important is dance to you? Is it your best form of self expression?
I would definitely say I am my truest and best self at “Devaniya”, whether I am dancing, teaching or choreographing. . It is my soul’s calling.

How was Devaniya started?
I never took my kathak guru’s words seriously when he said that I should teach. It never was my plan, so to speak. But I guess it was my destiny. Many years after he expired, I was in Bangkok and there I received my first opportunity to teach dance to children of the Indian women’s association. It was years later that I re-settled in Chennai & started seriously teaching. I began about 15 years ago with 4-5 students and zero experience in teaching. It has since been a most beautiful, most magical journey of learning to teach, of teaching and of continuing to learn & grow, and evolve each day. Over the years of teaching Kathak in Chennai, I have formulated a methodology that makes the learning process of this dance form more understandable by breaking up its nuances and speaking about it as I teach.
In 2009, with the help & encouragement of my friend & partner (in my cookbook journey), Dr. Pratibha Jain, I formalized my dance school & gave it an entity. I named it after my mother DEVAYANI & my grand mother-in-law, Vani bai, both ardent patrons of classical dance & music. Thus was born my humble endeavour – DEVANIYA, which means – that which is divine.

Which is your best performance to date according to you?
My most memorable performance was one in which I was dancing a solo piece many decades ago. Towards the end of the item my false braid started slipping down. If it had fallen off it would’ve been alright. But instead it just hung down on the thread it was tied with so it ended up looking like a tail. Of course I got quite a few snickers from the young audience back then, but I just continued to dance as my teary eyed Guru, Shri Krishnakumar Dharwar continued to recite fornme. The piece had to end with 24 pirouttes, which I executed despite the ‘tail’ flying wildly around me.
At the end of the show I received a standing ovation. I learnt that day, that confidence in oneself combined with Guru Bhakti and humility are very important tools for a dancer….in fact for life itself.
That was a long time ago! Today, as a teacher and choreographer every performance of my students is special.

Tell us something about your association with My school Satya Surabhi.
A large chunk of my heart resides in “My School Satya Surabhi”, a school in Attuvampatti, Kodaikanal, which was started by my aunty Padmini Mani for the economically less fortunate, of which I am a trustee. I hope I can do A LOT more for the school and for the betterment of those wonderful children of the hills in the years to come.

Tell us something about your relationship with your husband Mr.V.V Giri. Tell us something about your family. How do you balance your professional life with your personal life?
We have two wonderful children who are grown adults now! Balancing personal and professional life can be quite a challenge at times, but overall the balancing act has been an exciting journey .

Is cooking a passion as well?
As regards cooking, it isn’t really a passion, but I can cook up a delicious meal when I do it with love and excitement. When it becomes a chore, then it could be bland at times 

What are your thoughts on vegetarianism? Ayurveda?
Annam param Bhramam. Food is God. I neither propagate nor negate vegetarianism or any other food culture. I respect food and healthy eating habits. Ayurveda is a magnificent ancient science. It is a way of life. I feel extremely blessed and honoured to have written “Sukham Ayu – a cookbook with Ayurvedic insights into daily home cooking”, along with my friend Dr. Pratibha jain. The research and writing process took 3 years and it was nerve wracking…but the end result was worth every moment of the journey. And when it was declared as the 2nd best health & nuitrition book in the world by the Gourmand cookbook awards at Paris in 2009, it made us truly proud to have taken Ayurveda to a world platform.

What are your other interests (hobbies)?
I love to read, watch movies and spend quality time with chosen friends and family.

If God were to grant you three wishes what would you ask for?
For all the youth I lost, I have a garden of young minds in my dance school that bring alive my own youth. For all the money I lost, I have more than I shall ever need. For the advanced formal education I lost out on, life taught me well enough to be revered as a teacher myself… and what shall I say of love?? I am surrounded with love, drenched in love, resurrected by love! There is nothing more I have to ask of God, except to once more fill this chaotic world with the sweet music of love and peace.

What are you currently looking forward to?
Currently, the seed of a beautiful dance production has just germinated in my mind. I am looking forward to see it actualize itself on stage very soon. Apart from that, I am working on a book of poems which I hope will find an eager publisher some day!


(As seen in Club Elite Magazine)

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