Graduating as an Indian Classical Dancer

I have been dancing all my life – born and brought up in Kenya I learned ballet and Indian dance; then I took up dancesport, competing in modern and Latin ballroom on the university circuit during my undergraduate degree reading Human Sciences (BA Hons) at the University of Oxford. My dissertation explored “Why have humans continued to dance?” from both biological and social perspectives.

Since graduating in 2010, I have been training in Indian classical Kathak dance with my Guru Sujata Banerjee MBE, completed all the ISTD Vocational Grades with high distinctions and am a senior dancer for her company with which my peers and I have enjoyed touring innovative Kathak dance across India, Europe and the US. I also supplement my professional development by attending workshops, and freelance with other dance companies from time to time. I am Artistic Director of Sona Lisa Dance Company, founded in 2018, through which I explore my own Kathak inspired performance, choreographic and learning/participation work.

There is no undergraduate or Masters degree in Kathak in the UK to my knowledge and I would have been very interested in pursuing such a qualification if it existed for us here. However, I am mindful that it would be a huge financial investment and I’m not sure my career opportunities as a South Asian dancer would have been that different, taking into account UK’s present artistic ecology. I feel the ISTD qualifications offered me a great structure for learning and artistic development.

Having graduated a decade ago, my message to 2020 graduates would be to encourage them to have commitment and conviction no matter how daunting life seems in the present term. In 2010, when I left university, we were still bearing the toll of the 2008 economic crash and things seemed pretty bleak. A dance journey is a marathon not a sprint. It’s about sticking with it through thick and thin. I would also remind dancers of the sheer variety of ways in which we can stay connected to dance; when I graduated I couldn’t see beyond dance performance, teaching and perhaps choreography. But there are so many possible ways to be connected to dance – dramaturgy, rehearsal/movement direction, costume/set design, dance therapy, dance journalism to name a few so for whatever it’s worth, I’d encourage graduates to be really open minded and organic with their dance journeys.


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