Each dance style is a language with uniqueness, says Dr. Sushmitha

Dr. Sushmitha Anantha Murthy, a passionate dancer and student of three dance forms, is on the verge of achieving a MD degree in Psychiatry from a top university in Andhra Pradesh. Speaking exclusively to Natyahasini, Dr. Sushmitha Anantha Murthy, shares that she has missed live concerts so much… and post lockdown, they are slowly coming back in vogue and was happy performing Mohiniyattam solo in a temple. “The stage lends a unique energy that sort of seeps into the artiste. It adds something special, beyond the rehearsals and beyond what we envision during sadhana. For me, I feel it brings out the best of Bhava-Rasa experience. We get to feel a direct connect with our audience which can’t be substituted,” says the young doctor dancer.

Sushmitha, who has learnt three dance forms – Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Mohiniyattam, had the fortune of performing in both the seasons of Parichay, organised by Dr. Himabindu Kanoj under the aegis of Muvva Nritya Raaga Nigamam. On the online platform, she performed Kuchipudi and Mohiniyattam. “To be honest, I was a little nervous for my video in Season one, where my Guru Dr Himabindu Kanoj presented me as an opening to the season, representing Muvva Nritya Raaga Nigamam with Kuchipudi. I was dancing after a long sabbatical, but the video boosted my confidence and I felt closer to my younger self. I am forever grateful to my Guru for helping me up my feet again,” she says.

Performs On Parichay Seasons: The young dancer further shares that the opportunity for Season 2 came as a pleasant surprise. “It is rare for a Dance Guru to encourage the pupil’s journey in other dance styles. I feel lucky that my mentors are so supportive, and through Muvva, I got my first opportunity on the digital platform to represent the Bharati Sivaji style of Mohiniyattam under the training of Guru Vinaya Narayanan, who readily agreed and suggested I take it up. She has guided me through every step of the video,” says the dance ambassador. 

For Sushmitha, dancing in Parichay both seasons has been a beautiful coincidence that she will cherish… opening Parichay Season 1 and closing Season 2. “Parichay has been true to its purpose of providing a platform to several budding artistes like us, and through the season I’ve been introduced to several talented and passionate artistes, and got a glimpse of other beautiful styles,” she states.

Revealing her learning Bharati Sivaji style of Mohiniyattam from 2013, under Guru Vinaya Narayanan and taking the stage for the first time at Mookambika Devi Temple, Kollur, in 2022, she expresses it as Magical. “I feel blessed to have had my salangai pooja right before the performance in the temple premises with the blessings of Mookambika Devi and our Guru. I can still remember the feel of dancing on stage in front of a live audience after years of sporadic performances on the digital platform. It’s something else,” she says and adds that she is ever grateful to her Guru Vinaya Narayanan for trusting her with her first solo piece in Mohiniyattam. “My Guru was guiding me online all through. My fellow ‘Mohinis’ of our Samarpana team were so supportive and loving through the last-minute rehearsals and the program. In them, I’ve found another family and it’s been a delight dancing alongside and vibing onstage as a group,” says the artist. 

Learning Curve: When quizzed whether she mixes any of the art forms, she laughs. Sushmitha reveals that she was introduced to Kuchipudi when she was five years and that is a time when children learn faster and the lessons engrain deeper. “It was after around four years that I was introduced to Bharatanatyam by my Guru Abhinaya Kalaratna Geetha Ganesan at UCPA. So naturally there was a struggle to override the ‘Kuchipudi’ in me,” she says.  

Sushmitha shares that only recently she learnt through sadhana, that sincere practice can help one compartmentalize. “In my field, learning the local language is key to connecting with our clients and understanding them better. This I have picked up by talking to friends and localites and understanding the culture and dialect,” she says. When Sushmitha started learning Mohiniyattam few years back, she realized it’s the same with dance too. “Each dance style is a language with its distinct grammar and syntax, and its unique flavour. Exploring Mohiniyattam made me realize how to dissect each movement and the bhava behind it. This way, I also learnt more about the basic differences from the fundamental styles of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam and how beautifully each is related to its origin and history. It helps to focus on perfecting the isolated movement rather than see it as a whole style while performing. Practice takes one from conscious attention to muscle memory. So perfecting fundamentals like adavus and jathis is the only way. I see it as a challenge that helps me explore myself too,” states the youngster. 

Precious Memories: When questioned to pick one dance form closest to heart, she says it would be heart-breaking to separate herself from any of the styles. “Each one for me represents specific stages in my personal growth and each one has helped me explore unique facets of dance. Bharatanatyam is what would come naturally to me when I choreograph, since I have explored abhinaya and done majority of sadhana in this style during my school days. Some of my most precious memories are with my Guru Geetha Ganesan who taught me to emote and helped seal my bond with dance,” she says.

The dancer acknowledges that Kuchipudi is her root in dance that can never fade. “The beauty of the jathis and bol in Kuchipudi are one of a kind. No matter how many times I practice it never gets any less exciting, and there’s always something to refine. I am blessed to be learning Late Guru Vempati Chinnasatyam sir’s style. The community is so unified and in sync that when I joined a common practice initiative with disciples of several Gurus in Kuchipudi, we realized we have retained the originality of the choreographies of the Legends to a large extent, so we could just get together for sadhana. This is something wonderful I feel,” says the doctor dancer.

For Sushmitha, Mohiniyattam is spiritual connection. “This has taught me that the true purpose of dancing isn’t for an external audience, it is for myself, for my inner peace. I have learnt to enjoy even fundamental movements in an almost meditative sense. No matter which of the styles, dance is a sustaining force for me, she discloses.

Inculcate Discipline: The dancer confesses that procrastination is something she has honestly struggled with most of her life. “But trust me, it is never too late to inculcate discipline and mental flexibility. This is what dance continues to teach me. Dancing helped me focus better at school. It was my release, and it helped me channelize my creativity at school as well. Mainly it boosted my confidence and body positivity. At the time, my mother would take me to classes and would ensure I could perform. Now after entering professional life, the challenge of fitting in time slots for dance sadhana, is helping me get creative again. I feel younger after dance class honestly, and more energized. So, it helps me get more work or study done soon after class. I feel it helps me become a better problem solver, navigating space issues and changing schedules.” 

She further acknowledges that she is more disciplined and productive when she is actively practicing dance than she ever was when she had taken a break from dance. “So actually, it is dance that helps me manage work stress. When you love something, it becomes natural to incorporate it into your schedule. It becomes a non-negotiable priority. You will make it happen. There may be days unexpected blocks in routine when things go downhill, but the key is to let it go and remember that each day is a new beginning. Never give up on sadhana and continue from where you left off. Dance will help you become more confident, organized, efficient and flexible in life among so much more. Most important of all, you will be happier,” advices the dancer.

Support System: Sushmitha shares that her parents are like the banyan tree in her life, ever giving and always dependable with their rock support… her role models forever. “I have a long way to go… and I hope to make them proud someday. My mother is undoubtedly the reason I could learn dance and continue it against all odds. She is an ardent art lover and her earnest attempt to get me as much exposure as possible, has got me where I am today,” she says. 

Just like all parents, her mother would pick and drop Sushmitha from classes, make sure she could be there at every rehearsal on time and ensure she could grab every opportunity that came her way. “At every performance, she is my backstage superwoman. Like a fairy Godmother she has a solution for any emergency need, sudden project or performance. The most efficient, resourceful and lovable person. So naturally, my mother is my greatest dance critic. She’s been a passive learner and can correct my postures so well. Whether for nritta or satvikabhinaya, I look to her for objective feedback I can blindly trust. Whatever little I do, I am at peace only after her approval. She has kept me grounded and yet always re-instils confidence in me when I am low,” says the dancer. 

A Typical Day: Talking about her typical day, Sushmitha, who works at the Psychiatric Department as a Junior Resident in SVMC is at the OPD during the first half of the day.” Luckily, we have only on-call duty, so my branch allows me more time post lunch to pursue what I love. I attend weekend dance classes online and these are something I look forward to all through the week. Typically, I get to squeeze in 5-6 hours of sadhana per week though I’d like to put in more. From experience I recommend combining it with another form of exercise to maintain flexibility and stamina. I enjoy yoga which is relaxing and keeps me fit and supple. Brisk walking is another great way I can fit in a quick exercise during the evenings. The rest of my evening hours are split between academic work, other chores in hostel and catching up with friends and family.”

She says watching other artistes and peers dance is a great way to improve and learn. “It is equally important we appreciate each other’s art as a community, as well as other art forms. It helps to expand our horizons as an artiste, when we observe and learn outside our space. Also, all practice need not be conventional sadhana. Thinking about the nuances of a dance piece, mirror practice, mentally working on the abhinaya and even reading about the story etc are ways we can explore deeper. And these can be done without much space as well. The terrace is my favourite spot,” says the youngster. On weekends, she occasionally gets to journal which she particularly enjoys. “It helps to clear my mind and ensures I manage my time better. Gratitude journalling and mindfulness practice is something I love. Singing and listening to music is always a stressbuster and instant endorphin release,” she says.

On future plans, Sushmitha’s current priority is to earn her MD in Psychiatry and hoping to pursue her Diploma in dance God willing. “But mainly looking forward to offline dance classes once my course is complete. The rest will take shape in due course. As for professional plans, I’d rather wait for them to materialize. So, for now I just focus on doing my sadhana. One day at a time,” she says before signing off.

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