Celebrate Holi with our March Showcase

Background art by Lukas Gojda/Adobe Stock

In March, our student showcase celebrated Holi with a variety of new and archived Kathak performances. Featured performers include our Adult 3B and 4B students.

Holi is a festival rooted in Hindu mythology with a traditionally fun and playful atmosphere. It honors the Hindu god Krishna, welcomes the beginning of Spring and celebrates the triumph of good over evil with a bonfire and a festival of colors. With this showcase, we hope to evoke the spirit of the event in a virtual space.

The event was available on Vimeo starting March 26. In addition, you can watch all of our previous showcases here.

______________________________________

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. This activity is also made possible by general operating support grants from the McKnight Foundation, the Target Foundation, the Carolyn Foundation, the Dr. Dash Foundation and the RBC Foundation.

Join our Virtual Celebration

Our February Student Showcase was a virtual celebration of Saraswati Puja and Basant Panchami, featuring:

  • Saraswati Bandana, an invocation performance by KDT Company dancers
  • Talk by Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Professor of Religion, St. Olaf College 
  • Kathak storytelling and rhythmic dances by students of Monica Singh Shukla (Adult 1B and 2B)
  • Saraswati Naman, a salutation to Goddess Saraswati, performed by Rita Mustaphi and her students (Youth Intermediate)

Click on the poster above to watch the celebration.

______________________________________

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. This activity is also made possible by general operating support grants from the McKnight Foundation, the Target Foundation, the Carolyn Foundation, the Dr. Dash Foundation and the RBC Foundation.

Spotlight on the Teacher: Rupa Nair

Katha Dance Theatre is a dance company and school run by some of the country’s finest Kathak artists. Our instructors are passionate about Kathak tradition and have worked hard to reach their level of expertise, practicing daily in order to develop their skills. But apart from regular practice, what does it take to make a dancer? In our dancers’ experience, learning from inspiring teachers plays a huge role in helping artists achieve their professional goals.

In our series Spotlight on the Teacher, we’re checking in with our talented dance teachers – learning about their origins, the development of their teaching style, their goals for their students, and more – in order to better understand their individual approaches to teaching, dancing, and practicing their art. This month, our spotlight shines on KDT instructor and company dancer Ms. Rupa Nair! Rupa is currently on maternity leave following the birth of her daughter this past summer.

What is your dance background, both in terms of your training and your professional experience?

I have been drawn toward dance since I was a child in India. Due to my keen interest and love of dance, my parents decided to enroll me in a dance school when I turned 7. I studied Bharatanatyam for 12 years at Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir, and was chosen to represent my school in various dance competitions. When I moved to the U.S. in 2007, the itch to get back to training was always there but I was never able to find the right school for myself. While visiting my husband in Minneapolis, we happened to attend a show where I saw KDT company dancers perform and it had made an impression in my mind. When I moved to Minneapolis for good in 2012, I decided to pursue Kathak and started training under the guidance of my guru, Rita Mustaphi. In 2014, I was graced with the opportunity to perform with the company dancers in KDT’s production of Rubaiyat, and there was no looking back. My journey with KDT started as a student, then an Intern and finally a company dancer and in the process I have had the opportunity to constantly learn under the guidance of Rita and my peers.

When and why did you begin teaching?  

Coming from a family of teachers, it isn’t very surprising that I naturally have a liking for teaching. I started interning as a teacher in the year 2016 and then, in 2017, I started teaching full-time.

Who and/or what have been your biggest inspirations as a teacher? 

My guru, Rita Mustaphi, has been a great inspiration. The trust and faith she placed in me encouraged me to take up teaching. I have learned a lot under her guidance and when she approached me about teaching, I felt it was time to take my learning to another level.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I am more of a mentor to the students than a teacher. I want everyone to be comfortable around me and feel free to approach me. I like to work closely with my students until they grasp the technique and understand the concept behind it.

“Everyone pursues a passion for a reason, and I want [my students] to believe in that reason and not feel intimidated.”

What do you hope your students take away from your class?

I hope my students feel more confident in themselves after each class. Everyone pursues a passion for a reason, and I want them to believe in that reason and not feel intimidated. Two people will not have the same goal, so I encourage my students to really enjoy the experience of dancing and in the process, feel more confident.

Do you have any key phrases or expressions you often use in your classes? 

The most common phrase I tend to use is “If I can do it, you can do it too. All it takes is hard work and perseverance.”

What do you love most about teaching? What’s the hardest part of your job?

I love the look of satisfaction I see in my students. I like the fact that through teaching, I learn a lot from my students too. When you are enjoying teaching it is hard to stop at the end of the hour.

What advice do you have for other dance teachers who wish to make an impression on their students? 

The only advice I have is: Believe in your strengths as a teacher, believe in your students and make teaching an enjoyable experience for the students and for yourself.

Photo: Rahul Nair

Spotlight on the Teacher: Sarika Haris

Katha Dance Theatre is a dance company and school run by some of the country’s finest Kathak artists. Our instructors are passionate about Kathak tradition and have worked hard to reach their level of expertise, practicing daily in order to develop their skills. But apart from regular practice, what does it take to make a dancer? In our dancers’ experience, learning from inspiring teachers plays a huge role in helping artists achieve their professional goals.

In our series Spotlight on the Teacher, we’re checking in with our talented dance teachers – learning about their origins, the development of their teaching style, their goals for their students, and more – in order to better understand their individual approaches to teaching, dancing, and practicing their art. This month, our spotlight shines on KDT instructor and company dancer Ms. Sarika Haris.

What is your dance background, both in terms of your training and your professional experience?

I began my dance journey in India where I studied Bharatanatyam, the South Indian classical dance style, for several years. While I was there, I performed in the Bhartanatyam dance ensembles Bhasmasur Mohini and Dashavatar. My mom recognized that I could dance at a very young age and decided that it might be a good idea to get me some training, and my dad was very supportive.

Fast forwarding a few years: when I came to the United States to pursue my PhD, I saw Rita Mustaphi’s company perform at the Indian Student Association’s Diwali show at University of Minnesota. It was love at first sight! I loved watching Kathak and was inspired to challenge myself to learn something new and different from what I had learned in India. That’s when I joined Katha Dance Theatre as a student in 1999. Right away, Rita took me under her wing and there was no turning back. Her compassion, humility, guidance and support have been instrumental to not only who I am as a dancer but also a huge influence on who I am as a person.

In 2002, I played the lead role in KDT’s production of Chandalika, The Untouchable. Over the years, I have performed in several KDT productions locally and nationally such as The Hungry Stones, Ritu – The Seasons, Sufiana – the Sufi Ecstasy, Pourush – The Masculine, Rubaiyat – Life in a Day, In Retrospect, Beauty and the Beast, Soul to Sole, Karna – The Abandoned Hero and many others. Over the years, I have continued my learning under the tutelage of Ms. Rita Mustaphi and have taken several workshops and master classes from Padma Vibhushan winner Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ms. Saswati Sen. In 2012, I had the honor and privilege of performing in India’s prestigious Khajuraho Dance Festival in a fantastic KDT production Karna – The Abandoned hero. I have been a KDT instructor since 2017. 

 When and why did you begin teaching?

Early on, I was a teaching assistant and helped Rita on and off for a couple of years. I then took a break from Kathak when I had my kids. Once I came back from my maternity leave, I resumed as a company dancer and then eventually started teaching in 2017. I used to watch Rita and visiting artists teach over the years and always thought I would like to teach someday. I wanted to teach so I could give back to the community as well as to the dance company. I am glad that Rita had confidence in me and guided me to teach. Teaching kids has been a very fulfilling and satisfying experience. I believe teaching has made me more patient and from a dance perspective, made me analyze the dance movements and break them into simple pieces that kids can easily learn.

Who and/or what have been your biggest inspirations as a teacher? 

My biggest inspirations are my Guru, Rita Mustaphi, and my mom. Rita’s patience, compassion, empathy and willingness to share everything she knows have truly been motivational for me. My mom’s patience with the kids as an academic teacher has had a huge influence on me as well. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pt. Birju Maharaj and Ms. Saswati Sen. Pt. Birju Maharaj has a unique style of teaching and is very humbling for us all. He connects every dance movement to things in nature and provides analogies to actions we do every day, making them very simple for us to learn and follow. In addition, I have also learned a lot from my fellow teachers such as Mukta Sathe, Monica Singh, Anurag Sharma and Rupa Nair. Honestly, I am inspired by the kids I teach as well! They make me a better teacher and help me grow with their honest remarks!

How would you describe your teaching style?

I would like to describe myself as someone who is compassionate but also strict. I expect a lot from my kids and want them to learn and have fun at the same time. I am always trying to push them to do their best, so there are times when I am strict. But I also incorporate games so I can keep dance fun and engaging for the kids I teach. Like I mentioned before, the kids have taught me to be patient and become a better teacher, but I know I have a lot to learn as a teacher and am looking forward to it!

What do you hope students take away from your class?

My goal in my class is to be a true ambassador for Kathak. I would like each of my students to be true ambassadors of Kathak as well. I hope to fuel their passion for dance as they continue to learn Kathak. In addition, I want them to have fun and be motivated to keep dancing.

“The satisfaction I receive after I teach is the greatest reward. I feel like I have a chance to give back and make a small difference to the dance community.”

Do you have any key phrases or expressions you often use in your classes?

Yes, I do. Most commonly: “How do I know you are ready? Can I see Utpatti please?” Others include “Feet in a V – piece of a chocolate pie!”, “I love ice cream”, “I hate homework!” I use some of these phrases to help kids remember the basic movements and stances in Kathak and ensure that their foundation is strong.

What do you love most about teaching? What’s the hardest part of your job?

The satisfaction I receive after I teach is the greatest reward. I feel like I have a chance to give back and make a small difference to the dance community. In addition, I feel like teaching has made me a better dancer, since I must be detailed and analyze every movement to be able to teach. The hardest part of my job is to keep the kids engaged and not bored. Learning something new and difficult can be challenging and helping kids get over the challenge is what I look forward to. To hear “I got it!” from the kids in my class is super satisfying. To see the kids accomplish what they thought was difficult and challenging is very exciting.

What advice do you have for other dance teachers who wish to make an impression on their students?

I am incredibly blessed to be part of the KDT organization with Rita as the best teacher anyone could ask for. In addition, I have personally learned a lot from my fellow teachers. Based on what I have observed and now experienced as a teacher, my only advice would be to be patient, encouraging and honest. Remember that teaching helps unlock new potential!

Spotlight on the Teacher: Monica Singh

Katha Dance Theatre is a dance company and school run by some of the country’s finest Kathak artists. Our instructors are passionate about Kathak tradition and have worked hard to reach their level of expertise, practicing daily in order to develop their skills. But apart from regular practice, what does it take to make a dancer? In our dancers’ experience, learning from inspiring teachers plays a huge role in helping artists achieve their professional goals.

In our series Spotlight on the Teacher, we’re checking in with our talented dance teachers – learning about their origins, the development of their teaching style, their goals for their students, and more – in order to better understand their individual approaches to teaching, dancing, and practicing their art. This month, our spotlight shines on KDT instructor and company dancer Ms. Monica Singh.

What is your dance background, both in terms of your training and your professional experience?

My connection to dance and KDT began before I was born. My sisters danced with Rita Mustaphi for a couple of years when they were young. When I was 7 years old, my parents reconnected with Rita and my Kathak journey began. For 21 years, I have been learning from Rita Mustaphi and have the great fortune to not only learn from her but progress and go from student to intern to company member and instructor. With KDT, I have participated in many professional shows including Dots and Feathers, Sundari aur Nag, Ekam, Black Candle, Retrospect, Karna, Pourush, Rubaiyat, Sufiyana, Ritusamhara, and The Hungry Stones. I’ve also had the honor of attending classes and workshops held by Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ms. Saswati Sen here in Minnesota. These experiences have shaped my passion for dance and guided me to become the person I am today. 

When and why did you begin teaching?  

I trained to become a teacher under Rita Mustaphi for a year before beginning to teach in 2012. I have loved to teach, even if it was pretend, since I was a little kid. Having the passion for dance and the opportunity from Rita was the perfect mix to stir my excitement for teaching. 

Who and/or what have been your biggest inspirations as a teacher?  

My first and most important inspiration as a dancer and a teacher is Rita Mustaphi. From knowing me as a young child to now as an adult, she has guided me and taught me more than just dance. Many of her teachings have helped me grow and become successful in life. Her dedication to her art and school is inspirational and a goal for all of us, especially me. My other biggest inspirations are my parents. Both are teachers by profession and have taught me more than I can say. My dedication, practice, and personality have been shaped by my inspirations.

How would you describe your teaching style? 

For me, a big part of being a teacher is putting the student first and adapting one’s teaching style to the student. Everyone learns differently and as a teacher, it is my responsibility to understand my students and their learning styles. By doing this, I can teach in the way I know they will respond to and learn from. I succeed if those who I am teaching feel like they have succeeded and enjoy what they are learning. However, I also put emphasis on practice and more practice. As students, sometimes we just want to keep moving up without perfecting the basics. I try to enforce in my students that if they keep practicing and perfecting the basics, only then does growth come. 

What do you hope your students take away from your class? 

I hope my students take away a respect for the arts, discipline in hard work, enjoyment from learning, and greater self-confidence. These are things I took away as a student which have helped me immensely in life. Because I know how gratifying it is to have these takeaways, I hope that I can give my students the same through their classes. 

“I succeed if those who I am teaching feel like they have succeeded and enjoy what they are learning.”

Do you have any key phrases or expressions you often use in your classes? 

I often use “feet together”, “follow your movement”, “use your wrist”, and “have confidence.” One phrase I have started using a lot with students is “smile!” That is a fun reminder for them.

What do you love most about teaching? What’s the hardest part of your job?

I love watching my students dance, especially when they have a piece done and are showing it with confidence. It is a very special feeling when a student performs a piece they’ve worked hard to learn with a big smile. The hardest part is keeping a balance between having fun and being strict. As a teacher, you must do both and maintaining that balance takes practice.

What advice do you have for other dance teachers who wish to make an impression on their students? 

Love what you are teaching and learn to adapt to your students. 

Photo: Anjana Nair