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Bharathanatyam is a form of prayer, says Pooja Kumar
POOJA KUMAR, a vibrant and dynamic dancer, had her initial lessons in Bharathanatyam from Smt. Sujatha Srinivasan at the age of six. She took further training from Sri A. Lakshman (Chennai, India). Currently, she is taking advanced lessons under the guidance of Smt. Savithri Jagannatha Rao (Chennai, India) and Smt. Shreelatha Vinod (Chennai, India). She also takes abhinaya lessons from Smt. Indira Kadambi (Chennai, India).

Pooja was the 1st prize winner in the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana. She is slated to perform in Chennai during the ongoing music season. She was conferred the title "Nrithya Yuva Rathna" by Sumukhi Rajasekharan Memorial Foundation (Chennai, India) in December 2007. She was awarded the "Lakshmi Vishwanathan Endowment Prize for ABHINAYA" for her performance in Bharathanatyam during the Pongal Dance Festival in January 2006 at Shri Krishna Gana Sabha.

She was the youngest prize winner at the Lumbini Arts Society's bharatanatyam dance competition in Ottawa, Canada in 2001 and was selected to go to Europe by a panel of international judges. During the December 2000 arts festival in Chennai, she was awarded the title 'NATYA KALA BHUSHANAM' by Natyanjali Trust.

She has given various performances and fund-raisers in Chennai (India), U.S., and Canada. She performs every year for the December Arts Festival in Chennai and has danced at the prestigious venues Shri Krishna Gana Sabha, Brahma Gana Sabha, Hamsadhwani and Karthik Fine Arts and Natyarangam, to name a few.

Pooja has been presenting thematic concerts, collaborative presentations, innovative workshops and lecture demonstrations on this art form. She obtains continuing education from illustrious gurus in India. Pooja is also a dedicated teacher who is conveying this art form to aspiring students. In a chat with Sangeetha Shyam, she talks on very many issues.

How did you begin your journey in dance?
I started my dance lessons at age six. Since then, it has been a never ending journey for me in Bharathanatyam.

Tell us about the role of your parents and family
My parents have been the backbone in every step of my dancing life. When I was young, my mother took me for dance lessons and observed the class with utmost concentration. She made me practice rigorously daily, incorporating every refinement dispensed by the teacher. I am thankful to my mother for her constant effort, as she has helped me discover my passion in life. I will never be able to repay what my parents have done for me.

In dance, it is extremely important to flow with the music. My younger sister, Arthi Kumar, who is passionately pursuing carnatic music as a career, is a disciple of Sri Madurai R. Sundar (Detroit, Michigan) and Sri K. Vijayaraghavan (Chennai, India). Her gurus are disciples of Sangeetha Kalanidhi Madurai Sri T. N Seshagopalan. Listening to her sing has helped me tremendously. She is a winner of the Isai Velvi concert and will also be performing in Chennai during the season.

Tell us about your gurus
I started my initial lessons and had my arangetram with Smt. Sujatha Srinivasan. My urge to further my knowledge in bharathanatyam took me to Chennai, where I learnt from Sri A. Lakshman for a few years. Then, my passion to delve deeper into the nuances of Bharathanatyam brought me to Smt. Savithri Jagannatha Rao. She is very loving and caring about each student and brings out the best in each of her students. I enjoy going to her classes, as I admire her attention to detail, perfection in structure, bhakthi filled abhinaya, and her devotion to the art. Just seeing her gives me an inspiration to do even better! I am also very fortunate to take abhinaya lessons from Smt. Indira Kadambi. She is also a wonderful teacher.

Since Gurus are based in Chennai, how do you manage your training sessions?
I travel to India twice a year; four months during the summer, and for the December Chennai music and dance season. I am in India for about half a year and in the USA for the rest. I practice daily. I attend various dance programs. This enhances my knowledge.
Living in the U.S., is it easy for you to share interests with peers?
Yes. In fact, Americans are very appreciative of the Indian culture. They are in awe of the beauty, discipline, complexity, story-telling and spirituality of this art form.

What has been the impact of Cleveland Aradhana?
CLEVELAND TYAGARAJA ARADHANA, A mere mention of these three words kindles in me pleasant thoughts of early childhood when I used to tag along with my parents wearing an Indian silk pavadai to listen to the musical concerts. Little did I realize at that time that this event will become a footstep for my cultural progress.

Tyagaraja Aradhana has grown from strength to strength under the able guidance of Mr. V.V. Sundaram, Cleveland Balu and others. Music and dance are inseparable, and thanks to Mr. Sundaram, the prime force of the Aradhana, dance has become an integral part of the festival. This included workshops, competitions, lecture demonstrations and dance programs, which helped dance lovers like me get the wonderful opportunity to learn from renowned senior gurus like Mrs. Sudharani Raghupathy, Mrs. Savithri Jagannatha Rao, Ms. Radha, Ms. Roja Kannan, Ms. Narthaki and Ms. Shakthi.

This constant exposure ignited a passion in me, and I became a “slave to dance”.

Are you also learning theory, nattuvangam and other allied aspects of Bharathanatyam?
Yes, I am also concurrently learning theory and nattuvangam along with the practical aspects of Bharathanatyam. These aspects are extremely important in developing into a complete dancer.

Do you teach?
Yes, I love to teach and I am teaching dance in Cleveland. I would like to pass on this great classical dance form with utmost purity to the next generation. My role model in this venture is Smt. Savithri.

How do you manage to perform, teach and be a full-time student?
My belief is that I want to give my fullest in whatever I do. My love for dance is so much that I make the time. I don’t get many hours of sleep, as I am awake until 1 a.m. to study. I have a lot of catching up to do during the week-ends.

Have you learned any other dance form?
No, because I want to fully focus on Bharathanatyam. There is no point in being a “Jack of all trades and Master of none”. This dance itself is an ocean. One life time is not enough to completely learn it.

What are your other Hobbies?
I like to sing and listen to Carnatic Music. It helps me a lot with my dance. Dance is after all music in motion.

Do you intend to take this up as a profession?
Yes, definitely, because this is my passion and form of prayer! In conclusion, I would like to say, Bharathanatyam is a divine art form with deep spiritual significance and I humbly dedicate all my skills at the feet of God. I just love and worship this art form and hope to share this with the rest of the world.
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