Rhadha—Keeping the Dance Tradition Alive

This article was written a few years ago as a cover story for Eves Touch!! Her disciples are celebrating her 75th birthday.

Celebrations of Rhadha

A dancer who is finally getting due recognition

The clear and melodious voice of Rhadha flows through the auditorium enunciating the

“Ta Ka Di Mi Ta” with the sharp beat of the nattuvangam. A lady in the next seat of the

darkened hall whispers, “The girl who is having an arangetram today is a disciple of

Rhadha. I never miss any performance of Rhadha’s disciples. Alas, she does not dance

much any more. She and her sister Kamala used to dance to full houses so many years

ago”. The three sisters- Kamala, Rhadha and Vasanthi learnt dancing from the great

Natyacharya Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. Today Rhada has created a strong identity of her

own and has established herself as a dancer, teacher and choreographer. Rhadha takes

great pride in being the only disciple of the great Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai who still

performs and teaches exactly as he taught her how to dance. Rhadha’s career spans more

than four decades. She has also learnt Kuchupudi from another eminent Guru, Shri

Vempatti Chinna Satyam.

Kamala Lakshman, as she was popularly known won a lot of fame because of her

dancing talent and the glamorous exposure that she got through films. Rhada

acknowledges with pride the role of her elder sister in her career. “My sister Kamala was

all the while dancing at home. Soon I started dancing as well. Dancing with my sisters

was real fun and it was more a family activity. So I never worked towards having an

identity of my own at that time”. The sisters have performed in front of many great

people like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Dwight Eisenhower, Queen

Elizabeth II and Chou-en- lei.

Rhadha.jpg

“I was always been under the shadow of my sister Kamala. She went away to the US in

79-80. I then opened my school ‘Pushpanjali’ and began to establish myself as a teacher.

The public, until then, was unaware that I was still around. Then I did a program for the

Sabha called Shankarabharanam, run by the art lover Shri Venkatakrishnan. and soon

parents began to bring their daughters to me for training. Then my solo performance for

Shri Yagnaraman of Krishna Gana Sabha in the December season brought me into the

limelight” says Rhadha. She also ascribes some of this success to her changing her

spelling according to numerology.

Rhadha says, “Teaching is totally different from dancing and performing. Patience is the

most important quality that you need as a teacher. I have pupils from the age of 6 to 20

and I give individual attention to each of them in one hour classes. The best stage to start

learning is at the age of 6 to 7, but you have to be careful as they get bored if you

continuously correct them. Good features are definitely an advantage for a dancer.

Finally, it all depends on the talent, stamina and the interest of the student. I think it is

important that the traditional dance form should be preserved. Any addition or change in

the name of modernisation will only harm the dance form”.

The Vazhuvoor style has been presented by many great dancers like Padma

Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran, Kamala and Rhadha. “The synchronization of the

abhinaya, the neck and the eye movement, the fluidity of the dance and the softness of the

movements characterize this school of dance. Even the sternest adavus have to look

graceful without the rigidity”. Rhada enjoys an excellent relationship with all these great

dancer/gurus as well.

Very often there are complaints that dancers who have finished arangetrams have to start

from scratch when they go to a new teacher. “I have taken students after they have had

stage debuts. They had to start from the beginning because each school of dance has its

stamp of individuality. Items can be learnt but a purity of style is important. I am

particular about adhering to the traditional style and I insist on perfection. Dancing with a

smiling face brings grace to the performance. Without that pleasant look, it would look

like a workout.’

Pushpanjali, Rhada’s school for Bharathanatyam was started by her in 1982. It has

produced scores of dancers, several of whom have won laurels for the institution and the

Guru. It has also won a reputation of being one of the friendliest dance classes in Madras.

“The relationship between a teacher and a student has to be based on friendliness”, says

Rhadha. “There can be bhakthi for the Guru, but there should be no fear. Children have

individual talents that should not be curbed. Every student is different and needs

personalized attention”. There was a time when the student came to the teacher to learn.

Now Rhadha goes to the US to live with her student’s family for a couple of months and

imparts rigorous training before the arangetram. “In the West, students are more

systematic and work very hard. They make an extra effort and pay a lot of attention to the

small details”.

Radha’s dance school, Pushpanjali celebrated its silver jubilee in August this year. “All

my students, from different parts of the world, flew down to be part of the two day silver

jubilee celebrations’, she says with joy and pride. A book, ‘Nadanam Aadinaar: 25 years”

was released to celebrate the silver jubilee and the first copy was received by Leela

Venkataraman.

She cherishes the time when she received the Sangeeta Nataka Academy award from Dr

Abdul Kalam and the Kalaimamani award from the State government in 2005. The

Nungambakkam Cultural Academy has awarded her with the title ‘Nritya Kala

Shironmani’ for her outstanding contribution over the last many decades for the cause of

dance. The Cleveland Bhairavi Society has given her the award ‘ Nritya Ratnakara’ for

outstanding services to Dance. The Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan, Coimbatore honoured with

the title, [‘Natya Ratna’]. She is to be felicitated again this December with the Acharya

Choodamani award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha followed by a solo performance.

Rhadha has produced several dance dramas and thematic presentations with the help of

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, who provides the research, script and music. These programs

have won accolades in India and abroad. ‘Nauka Charitram’ was produced by the Central

Production Centre of Doordarshan and was telecast over the National Network.

She also choreographed the dance drama ‘Sri Lakshmi Prabhavam’ composed by ‘Chitra Veena’ Shri Ravikiran. Both were premiered at the

Aradhana Festival in Cleveland, USA and had successful tours of US and Canada.

She has presented the compositions by Vaggeyakaras like Swathi Thirunal, Ambujam

Krishna and Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar and the trinity of Carnatic music.

Rhadha choreographed the dance drama ‘Jaya Jaya Devi’, composed by the violin

Maestro, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman that premiered in the USA. She presented a part of this

dance-drama recently when eminent dance gurus came together at the end of October to

perform ‘Lalgudi Mārgam’ at The Music Academy. This program featured only the

compositions of Lalgudi Jayaraman from Pushpanjali to Thillana. The participants were

Narasimhacharis, Sudha Rani Raghupathi’s ‘Bharathalaya’, Chitra Visweswaran’s

‘Chidambaram’, Rhadha’s ‘Pushpanjali’, Dhananjayans and Kalakshetra.

Rhadha and Sujatha have presented several lecture demonstrations and have regularly

presented a different topic every year on 25th December at Nungambakkam Cultural

Academy from 1987. The lecture demonstrations on Lalgudi Jayaraman’s compositions

and on the Vazhuvoor tradition of Bharatha Natyam have been recorded by Sruti

Foundation for its archives; ‘Navarasa in Thyagaraja’ and ‘Environment in

Bharatanatyam’ have been recorded by the UGC for national telecast.

Her school Pushpanjali, meaning "offering of flowers", has given to the world of dance

beautiful blooms like the sisters Sumitra-Sunanda, Sangita Shyamsundar, Samyuktha

Girish, Vidya Vishnu, Lavanya Venkat, Lavanya Prabu, Sujatha Ramanadhan, Sujatha

Sundararajan, Radha Venkatesan, Gayatri Srikant, Aparna Kasbekar, Shalini, Priya

Umesh, Yogita Venkataraman, Shobana Ram (USA), Satya Pradeep (USA), Ramya

(USA), Roopa Chari (Zambia), Krithika, Deepika Rajam, Sukanya, Padmaja, Sucharita

and Sowmya Narayanan . Several of these trained dancers have started dance schools in

India and abroad.

“I practice everyday. Dance is a stress reliever, and brings happiness. The body and mind,

both are relaxed when this art form is practised. My guru’s way of saying the jathis was

unique; it was very melodious. When I dance, I specially teach this method to one of the

talented youngsters who are doing nattuvangam for dancers.” Rhada still retains her

youthfulness in spite of being a grandmother. Her eyes and face express myriad emotions

with the Vazhuvoor stamp of speed and sparkle.

Radha makes it a point to visit her son, Kannan Ramanathan and his wife Kalpana and

her grandchildren Nikhil 11 and Arjun 9 in California. This is her special time to bond

with them and to unwind and relax. In her late sixties her warmth and hospitality are

touching. She bubbles with enthusiasm and enjoys every moment, every opportunity and

every experience that life has to offer. Her girlish speaking voice changes its timbre and

reveals strength and power when she sits behind her nattuvangam plank and stick. The

guru concludes with contentment, “I am happy that I am a teacher and I would love to

remain as one in the world of dance. I find immense pleasure in polishing up the skills of

an average dancer who comes to me to learn dance. I can mould her and with

concentrated personal attention, bring up her skills and standards”. With all the

recognition, awards and opportunities, Rhadha is finally getting her due as a

dancer/teacher par excellence.

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About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest is acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays.
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