Sai Ravali keeps Vempati flag flying

Sai Ravali Boddapati, who moved to Chennai for education and made use of the opportunity to learn the Vempati style of Kuchipudi under late Sri Kalaratna Vempati Ravishankar garu and Priyanka Vempati garu in 2014, returned to her hometown Nizamabad, and established the Andela Ravali Natyalayam in 2017 to teach the art form to enthusiastic youngsters. There was a time, when Sai Ravali’s mother B. Siva Naga Mani had to search for two months to find a guru in Nizamabad to teach classical dance to her daughter. Finally, she zeroed in on Devulapally Prashant Kumar garu, who used to visit Sai Ravali’s house to teach her dance. 

Sai Ravali and Priyanka Vempati

Speaking to Natyahasini, the Kuchipudi dancer confesses that initially she was not very interested in dance. “Honestly speaking, I thought dance was not at all my cup of tea because for me learning was not fun then and learning alone was too boring. But once, Prashant sir got a job in a dance school, he wanted me to join there. Once I entered that dance school, my perspective towards dance had changed. By watching the dance of my seniors and fellow mates, I understood the beauty of dance. I made many friends there and used to practice with them. Very soon, I was able to learn the teachings of my guru and entered the senior batch,” she says.

Guru’s Advice: Recalling Prashant sir’s words, Ravali says that her Guru had told her that she was a gifted child and had the ability to grasp everything very quickly and perform with ease. He advised her not to leave dance, irrespective of whatever profession she follows. “Those are the first words sir spoke to me in our five years of Guru-Sishya relationship. It was then that I took dance seriously in my life and decided to continue alongside my studies. I was so scared to convey this to my mom as she was keen that I study well and get a Govt. job. She just wanted me to learn dance as a hobby but not full-time because dance is good as a career but not financially sound,” she says, quickly adding that now her mother is happy by watching her excel in dance and academics.

Before moving to the Vempatis in Chennai, Sai Ravali learnt Andhra Natyam from Naresh sir, Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi from Dr. Devulapally Prashant Kumar garu. On her learning curve with Vempati Priyanka, the Mathematics wizard says that it is like learning in the lap of one’s mother. “She cares for every student of hers and corrects our mistakes with love and affection, but is strict if we don’t reach her expectations. When I came under her tutelage, I thought ‘If I can dance like her ever in my life, that’s enough for me’,” she admits. Sai Ravali says that after joining under Priyanka akka, within few days she got to perform in a college event. “As I stayed in a hostel in Chennai and didn’t bring any costume or jewellery, I asked my mom to phone and inform akka. So, when I went to dance class that evening, akka asked me programme details and taught me ‘Bhama Pravesa Daruvu’. I was new to Vempati style of Kuchipudi then, but akka taught me very patiently and was with me the whole evening. When I got tired in between the practice, akka cooked Telugu food (as in the hostel I was getting only local food) especially for me and asked me to take rest in the class and then dance. On the program day, akka gave her own jewellery and costume to me and did my makeup too. I was very scared to perform Vempati style, but akka motivated and encouraged me to perform well,” says Ravali.

Against Posting Online: Putting to rest the raging debate of using Vempati Choreographies, Sai Ravalli says that their choreographies are their complete intellectual properties and rights and this is what people are ignoring. “Neither Ravi master nor Priyanka akka took extra penny from me other than the monthly fee. Priyanka akka has a policy which was laid by Ravi master himself that students can come, learn the art form and perform, but have no right to upload or post their choreographic works in any social media platforms. Because posting online causes misuse of their choreographic works in a way that only the creators know the original form of performing it and when it’s posted online, artists who learn from that video will not be able to justify their creation. Ravi master used to say that unless you directly learn from the guru, education is waste. So, Priyanka akka has no objection in learning and performing their choreographic works, but has a strict policy not to post in any social media platforms.  I feel if we are the true disciples of our gurus (whoever they are, not only Vempati family), we have to follow their ideals, intentions and policies,” she says convincingly.

Sai Ravali has travelled abroad with her gurus Prashant sir and Priyanka akka and was a part of solo, ballets and thematic presentations. With determination to learn this art form in depth, and follow the principles taught by her gurus and pass on the divine artform to the next generation, Ravali established the Andela Ravali Natyalayam in 2017, and currently has a strength of 50 students, both online and offline. “Yes, I do train students for certification but importance is given for qualitative learning,” she states. The dancer says that Choreography is a such big word and has taught her students new items by composing steps to the lyrics and jathis.

Maths Professor: An Assistant Professor in Mathematics in MSR Degree College, Nizamabad, Ravali has plans to do a Ph.D. in Maths and not in dance. “I don’t have plans in doing Ph. D in Dance because I feel learning under the right guru, Priyanka akka is itself like Ph. D. to me as she gives both practical and theoretical knowledge. But I do have plans in doing Ph. D. in Mathematics,” she says. On juggling her time between Academics and Passion, Ravali says that one can easily manage time. “I plan my next day activities in the night and follow my learning and teaching process accordingly.  My family especially my ammamma Smt. Ananta Naga Lakshmi supports me in my daily routine to fulfil my tasks properly,” acknowledges the dancer.

Ravali, who owes all her achievements to her gurus, mother and ammamma, thanks them for their encouragement and blessings to becoming the person she is. “My future plans are to be a good dancer, good trainer in both dance and Mathematics and make my mom, ammamma and my gurus proud,” she says. The dancer is unhappy that nowadays many kids are leaving dance once they go to higher classes saying they can’t focus on dance. “But scientifically speaking, there are two sides in our brain. Left side and Right side. One side is for studies and the other for arts. If we concentrate only on studies which is one side of the brain, we feel stressed. But using both sides of our brain create a balance and equilibrium and reduces stress. Also, if our intentions are good and if we strongly want to achieve something no matter how many hurdles we face, the whole universe conspires in helping you to do so,” says the young dancer, who is full of aspirations. 

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