Kuchipudi dancer and Carnatic Vocalist and founder of Sinjini School of Arts, Sindhuja was put into the classical art forms by her mother, who was deeply interested in the arts. Speaking to Natyahasini, Sindhuja shares that initially she was put into Bharatanatyam and Carnatic Vocal classes as soon as she turned seven years old. “A year later, I was put in Kuchipudi classes too. That lasted for few years, and I performed an hour of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi in the same show and music and dance in the same recital. It was challenging, but I never questioned and only followed what was taught,” admits the dancer. She states that appreciation was more for Kuchipudi owing to the grace and scope of expression the form offered. “When I had to stick to one form due to higher studies, it was Kuchipudi. I gave my Bharatanatyam Aarangetram at the age of 10; though I don’t perform/teach Bharatanatyam anymore, I sometimes practice the basics,” she says recalling fondly.
The Graded artist of Doordarshan Kendra Hyderabad says that learning music has a definite edge. “I had a quicker grasp of the rhythmic patterns, and the lyrics came naturally. It never occurred as an advantage until I saw others who did not know music flounder. One compliments the other. I can visualise movements while singing,” she says. The dancer says she loves all forms of dance. “What we categorise as classical, folk, Bollywood, western, etc., and I keep trying my leg and hand at any given chance! One particular form I like is Odissi for its fluid elegance, and would love to learn that,” she says adding that belly dance fascinates her immensely.
Love For Art: Sindhuja states that after acquiring a degree in Bachelor of Architecture from JNTU, Hyderabad, she worked as an Architect for more than a year and could not practice or perform except for a singular instance. “It was then I realised that I could not stay away from dance. I tried freelancing and dance as careers for a while but gradually leaned towards arts,” she says. The dancer says that the concepts she learned as an Architect are not too different, and she applies those in dance and also by teaching design. “I started painting actively during the pandemic as it offered the time and mind space required. In a way, it was my visual interpretation of music through colours,” says the Kuchipudi Natyachar.
For whatever, she is today, Sindhuja gives credit to her mother, a gynaecologist by profession, as she is her anchor. “It is because of her that I do whatever I do! We both completed our Masters in Music (she specialises in playing Veena and I did in Vocal) together. She then finished her MA in Telugu and is a fine poet who writes on issues that matter,” shares the dancer.
Sindhuja shares that her dance journey has its share of peaks and valleys. “My Kuchipudi teachers changed recurrently in childhood as they had to relocate. But in hindsight, that was a plus as I got to know various schools in Kuchipudi, and I got the best of it all. Dance took over from what started as a somewhat hesitant hobby, and I feel blessed to gain knowledge while literally dancing away,” she says. The young Kuchipudi dancer is thankful to all her teachers and particularly her mentor Dr. Yashoda Thakore for kindling that passion towards dance. “Pursuing MPA from the Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad was an eye-opener where I could sense the realm of the dance, and a Ph. D. course fostered it. With the backing of my parents, husband and now my daughter, I wish to accomplish much with deeper commitment,” she says.
Stepping Stone: The dancer recently submitted her Ph. D. dissertation titled “Narratives on Indian ‘Classical’ Dances: Analysing Discursive Practices in the Printed Texts of 20th Century, Focusing on Kuchipudi”. She says that the work covers how published material constructed the idea of dance in India and then into the particulars on Kuchipudi. “I did my research under Prof. Anuradha Jonnalagadda, a name to reckon with on Kuchipudi, in University of Hyderabad. Her proficiency, keen insights and expert guidance helped me increase my awareness of dance immensely. I see the dissertation as a stepping stone to uncover more about dance and sustain our practices,” she says. Explaining further, Sindhuja says, initially, she was of the view that there were so many things unrelated and unrequired for dance. “The more I read, the more I understand the compound relationships between art and society and the intricacies in each form that cannot be overlooked. Through this research, I got to access and look at unique material that significantly enriched my comprehension on dance- theoretically and practically which I believe form the integral whole,” says the Natyachar.
At a time when many are opting for courses in the Art forms, and now that there is lot of promotion of Liberal Education, where one can study Science and Dance at the same time, Sindhuja says: “It is definitely a fantastic idea as it enhances creativity and critical thinking alongside sensitising. Practically how feasible it is with the current employment conditions and the individual’s discretion is something to think about. It is worthy to offer the opportunity where arts form integral part of education.”
Misses Stage: The dancer agrees that she misses the stage. “First, the pandemic made me relatively selective on which online platforms to perform, and the last months were devoted entirely to my academics. I cannot wait to get back to the actual stage. I kept practicing dance throughout, and must say the last year and a half has made me both knowledgeable and sensitive as an artist and individual. I worked on some compositions too, and optimistically will execute those soon,” she says. Sindhuja says that she received lot of vocal opportunities in recent times. “I have some voice ailment preventing me from singing, keeping my fingers crossed on recuperation.”
Sindhuja professes: “Different spaces have different vibes, and I enjoy performing both in temples and auditoriums alike. Nevertheless, since childhood, Ravindra Bharati held a distinct vibe, and I love that stage. Shilparamam, with its vivid ambience and audience, is another favourite.” The dancer says that the main task of performing in Hyderabad is attracting audiences. “A few years back, the auditoriums used to be well-packed but off late, things seem to change (even before the pandemic). Maybe we dancers need to work more towards that too,” she says.
The dancer agrees that the art scenario changed with the pandemic and the impending threat, and one needs to wait to see how things pan out. “I must say technology has been a boon. We could see dancers, scholars talk, discuss, teach and perform like never before, from the comfort of our homes. With its challenges, it also made me constantly connect with students at my institute- Sinjini School of Arts. I am glad most of them could continue learning online,” she says. Sounding a note of caution, Sindhuja says: “I just hope we will be careful and not forget the nice things learnt during the lockdown and be safe and sane.”