Dr. Uma Rele is a renowned exponent of Bharatanatyam and a dance educationist who is heading the prestigious Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya. Being an exceptionally well-trained, highly qualified dancer, proficient performer, and an excellent theoretician, Dr. Rele talks about the significance of dance education in India, her journey, and the challenges of the classical dancers today in an exclusive chat with Editor-in-Chief Dr. Vaidehi Taman.
What is the similarity between You, your senior generation Dancer Kanak Rele, and your next Generation Vaidehi Lal?
The similarity between three of us is the love for dance, tradition, culture and of course taking up the responsibility of propagation and dissemination of Dance Academics through Nalanda.
What has motivated you to be a Dancer?
I have always been intrigued by Bharatanatyam — its beauty, its nuances, the way it communicates without speaking a word, and its expressiveness. I always wanted to learn it as a serious study which brought me to Nalanda where I did my Graduation, Post-Graduation, and Ph.D. in Dance.
How would you analyse your growth as a Learner of dance to a Teacher to the position of a Principal?
I am still a learner and will remain till the last breath but yes the thirst of learning and understanding has increased more the moment I started teaching. As the concepts of the world of Dance became clearer, like a diver, who dives deeper and deeper in the ocean to find treasures, I feel I go through the similar experiences every day and every moment as a teacher.
The interest of philosophical, aesthetic, and theoretical aspects of dance helped me to strengthen my “content” aspect of my dance “form”.
As the Principal of Nalanda, my responsibilities have increased to carry on the mantle of Dance Education and Academics at the University level established by my mentor and mother-in-law Padma Bhushan Dr. (Smt.) Kanak Rele. I also feel that today students of Nalanda should be able to multi-task in the field of Dance and in Nalanda, we must equip them well to sustain themselves in the outside world.
Tell us something about Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya.
Nalanda Dance Research Centre’s Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya is a college of Indian Classical Dance permanently affiliated to the University of Mumbai awarding Degrees of Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. in Dance. Bachelors degree in Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam and Masters degree in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, and Kathak. We have Part-Time Courses of Certificate, Diploma, and Advanced Diploma in Kathak of one-year duration each. This year we have commenced with Certificate, Diploma, and Advanced Diploma in Odissi. We also have Certificate Courses in Folk dances of Maharashtra and Gujarat. These all are under the umbrella of the University of Mumbai.
It is extremely important to have classical dance education. The dance was always a part of our education system but when we speak about taking up dance as a profession, be it classical, folk or western, it is pertinent to understand the various allied arts and relevant theoretical aspects too. Today, when people have started learning Dance through YouTube, etc. and performing without understanding the depths of the Shastras, the paucity of creativity and dancing at the surface level is revealed clearly while performing.
What are the challenges these days for classical dancers?
Challenges for the classical dancers these days are to learn, practise, and perform a classical dance in its pristine purity. The lifestyle today has changed and we have less exposure towards our mythology which is the core of Indian Classical Dance; so, every time while teaching dance, one has to be aware to give the kids lessons on the basics of the Indian tradition, mythology, and allied concepts.
What are your biggest achievements?
Biggest Achievement is yet to come in my life. However, I am trying to become a role model in every aspect of mine – Dancer, Teacher, and Researcher are my aims besides being an ideal family person.
How important is classical dance education in India?
Classical Dance Education is extremely pertinent in today’s scenario. Without understanding the Shastras and the allied subjects, it is impossible to become a performer, teacher/choreographer, and researchers. Shortcuts and hob-nobbing from one guru to another without loyalty has become very common. YouTube can also teach an item so you can only learn superficially and that cannot sustain you for a longer time. Dance Education gives a stronger base to you and your art.
Why Classical dance is less preferred to contemporary dance form? Is it complicated to understand or difficult to learn?
I genuinely do not feel that classical dance is less preferred. I have come across many organisers and collaborated with various contemporary dancers and all those times my personal experiences have been very inclusive and memorable. I have been given utmost respect and love and a warm welcome as a classical Dancer. So far as I am concerned, classical dance is always preferred and given its due as and where it fits the frame of the events.
Classical dance is both complicated to understand and difficult to learn; hence, we call it a ‘Sadhana’ and compare it to doing ‘Tapascharya’. As an artist, while performing or even as an audience, one needs to be a true ‘Rasika’ to appreciate Indian Classical Dance. When we perform, we believe in elevating our audience to the right level so that they understand the philosophies and connect with us, this is done through having an introduction of each piece where we give a detailed explanation of our performance to our audience.
Which role of yours is most difficult – Dancer, Dance Teacher or Researcher?
They are all intertwining roles and continuous too. However, being a Dance Teacher is the biggest responsibility and to generate interest in Dance, Dance Education and motivating and inspiring a student to reach a research-level is a continuous process. All these add to your aspect of research and your knowledge.
What is that one quality of Dr. Kanak Rele Ji that you want to be in you?
I would like to inculcate the unflinching devotion and dedication to Dance, determination and many more other qualities of Kanak Rele Ji (Mummy).
What is that one quality of yours that you want your next generation Vaidehi to adopt from you?
Actually, Vaidehi has been imbued with many qualities like sincerity, dedication, hard work, intelligence, deliberation, etc. So, I think she should continue with the same and may God bless her with all the choicest of blessings to carry the Parampara ahead.
Tell us something about your journey as a mother to the teacher, in your daughter’s life, and dancer to daughter-in-law in Kanak Ji’s life.
Mother to teacher: I feel one becomes more critical when she starts teaching her own child. The expectation from your own child is always more, so, I feel there have been times when I have been stricter with her. Since she is the elder one, I think too much was expected from her both in dance and in studies.
Student to daughter-in-law: I consciously avoid this transition even today. I always say to everyone that I have been Kanak Ji’s student first and last. But, frankly, my relationship as a daughter-in-law is more in the house. Also, I proudly say that it’s the Guru-Shishya Parampara continued or re-defined where I stay and have become a family member like any student in Guru’s Ashrama. So, my transition has been from a student to daughter- in- law. However, a student always remains a student.
How do you evaluate yourself as an independent individual?
Yes, I have been a very independent person as an individual. My husband Rahul has been very supportive and understanding. He has always given unswerving support to my decisions. My full family has been absolutely supportive and have been a strong backbone. In fact, my decision to continue my studies till Ph.D. in Dance was encouraged by the family including my children Vaidehi and Nikunj.
Even the decisions for the additional Dance courses in Nalanda have been always supported by University, Colleagues, and Family.
Independent decisions have been respected and supported by everyone including my son-in-law Mehul who gave my personality a new boost as a dancer by making me a fit and healthy human being. Coming back on stage and strengthening my confidence have added much colour to my individuality.
Other than dance what another thing you wanted to peruse?
I love to sing, in fact, there was a time in my life where I had to choose between professional singing and professional dancing and I chose the latter. I have learnt classical vocal as a youngster for a few years. Music, especially singing, has been contributed to me from my parents, especially the mother’s side. My father and mother always wanted me to pursue singing. Maybe soon I will start with that.
Any inclination to join politics in future?
I did my Graduation (Bachelors) in Economics and Political Science. So, I was always attracted to Political Science as a subject but joining politics looks to be a far-fetched idea in the current scenario in my life.
If given a chance, what would be your suggestion to the government towards making Dance a curriculum in school education?
Today, Dance has been engulfed in the school curriculum is certain boards. The students of Nalanda do visit some selected government schools to teach dance and cultivate an interest in dance in the young minds. Dance, especially the Classical form, increases concentration, memory, understanding, and discipline!
What is your message to all aspirating dancers?
Please work hard with full dedication towards your art form. Be loyal to your Guru and do not take short cuts in your profession. Do not compromise and degrade your art and know it thoroughly in all its effulgence and carry it ahead towards the younger generation.