Interview with Sharmila Sharma–A Kathak Dancer in France

Born in Jaipur, Sharmila Sharma belongs to a family of artists. Her father is a folk musician and singer and her mother is a Kathak dancer, as well as a folk dancer. Her first stage experience, at the age of three, coincided with her first dance contest : her performance captivated the audience and she won the first prize.

After an initial training in folk dances of Northern India as well as in Kathak from her mother Tara Sharma, Sharmila joined the renowned Kathak Kendra in New Delhi where she also learnt Hindustani classical singing and tabla. Her talent blossomed under the tutelage of Pandit Rajendra Kumar Gangani (Jaipur style) and of famous Pandit Birju Maharaj (Lucknow style).

Sharmila Sharma

Sharmila became a professional dancer at the age of fourteen, and she has been performing in international and national festivals ever since. She established herself in Paris in 1993, where she started teaching Kathak and continues to do so. She conducts workshops and gives Kathak recitals on a regular basis. A tireless dancer, she travels and performs, flitting between Europe and India, where her art is appreciated by connoisseurs and by the general audience.

In an art form which is technically rigorous with a lot of virtuosity, Sharmila is constantly on the look out to find new ways of developing her creativity in beauty, with her intelligence and delicate sensitivity.  Quoting her: “I like to paint new pictures and sculpt new figures in space with my dance”. Sharmila cannot imagine her life without dance, an art that she considers as her “life partner” and the essence of her existence.

We had an email interview with Sharmila.

Q1. Tell us something about your early life. How and where you grew up and how you got inclined towards dance?

I was born in Jaipur. I belong to a family of artists. My father is a folk musician and singer and my mother is a Kathak dancer, as well as a folk dancer.

My first stage experience, at the age of three, coincided with my first dance contest: I performance captivated the audience and I won the first prize.

After an initial training in folk dances of Northern India as well as in Kathak from my mother Tara Sharma, I joined the renowned Kathak Kendra in New Delhi under the tutelage of Pandit Rajendra Kumar Gangani (Jaipur style) and  Pandit Birju Maharaj (Lucknow style). I became a professional dancer at the age of fourteen.

Q2. Was Kathak a forced choice or something special attracted you to it?

No, it was not a forced choice as I was learning folk dance with my mother and she saw that I have to go beyond, and she ask me to learn classical dance. She saw me with Pandit Kundan lal Ganganiji’s classes (my mother has already learned with him). Then, my interest got inspired with his style and with his grace, I started to learn kathak.

Q3. Coming from a family of musicians and artists, do you feel you had an early advantage? What, if not dance, you would have chosen as your profession?

Yes, it is a big advantage to born in a family of artists because it helps in having an artistic atmosphere at home. Same thing happened to me as I have been brought up with the dance. From my childhood, it was my dream to become a professionel dancer like my mother…I have never thought to do some other profession than dance.

Q4. Tell us your stay in France. How has been the response of a foreign audience?

I moved to Paris in 1993 and started teaching and performing Kathak. When I came to Paris, here no body knew about Kathak. Then, I started to teach Kathak and perform as well. And I got a good response from the foreign audiences. It’s I who establised Kathak in France.

Q5. Traveling and teaching, dancing and everything—how you manage so many activities?

I am a very organized person. I love dancing, teaching, traveling and also taking care of my family.

Of course some time 24 hours are not enough to do all thing but I manage……

Q6. What do you feel is the most striking features of Kathak that binds the audience to it?

Kathak has a good history and also has reunion of two cultures (Hindu temple dance and moghal court dance). When we perform kathak (the origin Kathakar, a story teller), the audience also participates with the dancer.

Q7. Being an ambassador of Indian dance on your own, how do you feel it is your responsibility to maintain the high ideals of your motherland and the traditional value of the art form?

Since I am living in France, I am always conscious of that. I am presenting not only my art, I am presenting my country as well. It is a big responsibility and I have maintain till now and will try to maintain it in future as well.
Q8. When you return to India and perform, do you feel any difference between the French or foreign audience and the Indian?

It is more easy to perform in India because I don’t have to explain about the Indian mythology to the Indian audience but when I perform in foreign country, first I have to explain everything about the Indian mythology–to integrate the audience in my performence.

Q9. What has been the overall impact of dance and music on your personality?

I was born with dance and I cannot imagine my life without dance. Dance is my life….more than a passion….and whatever I am today is all because of Dance.

Q10. Any advice to the young and budding dance enthusiasts and our readers?

My advice to young dancer is: please work hard and be more dedicated to your art. If you learn beautifully and work hard, you can definitely take it up as a profession. The attitude of learning to become an over-night star should be done away with. It is nice to discover Western culture but please don’t forget our culture.

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