Classical dance is a centuries-old art form that has captivated audiences around the world with its intricate footwork, graceful movements, and powerful storytelling. While male dancers have traditionally dominated the field, women have made significant contributions to classical dance, both as performers and as choreographers. In this article, we will explore the inspiring and diverse contributions of women in classical dance. From pioneering new styles to breaking down gender barriers, these women have left an indelible mark on the world of dance and continue to inspire generations of dancers.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the notable contributions of women in the field of Classical dance.
Rukmini Devi Arundale: Born on 28 February, 1904, Rumkini Devi Arundale, a well known Indian Classical dancer form of Bharatnatyam was an Indian theosophist. In Indian history she was the first woman to be selected for election in Rajya Sabha. She was well known for catalyzing renaissance of the Bharatanatyam dance form.
Bharatanatyam was banned during British colonial rule but she supported and put her major efforts in reintroducing this Indian classical dance form. She was the founder of Kalakshetra, an academy of dance and music, in Chennai. It followed the system of traditional Indian Gurukul. This academy has given well known graduates to the society
Bala Saraswati: Considered as the ‘Queen of Bharatanatyam’, has made great efforts to universalize Bharatnatyam, Indian classical dance form. Her work is appreciated by many. It was because of her that this Indian classical dance form became popular in different parts of India and in various parts of world even. She not only took this dance form beyond precincts of the temple but has cultivated appreciation at International level for this art form. She has also trained many practitioners of this dance form and took this Indian classical dance form to next level by creating its fame all over.
Mallika Sarabhai: Mallika Sarabhai was born on 9th May, 1953, in Ahemdabad, was a trained Kuchipudi and Bharatnatyam dancer and performer, who has worked for social change and transformation through using her art in which she was specialized. Apart from being a dancer, she is a social activist too. She took over the leadership of Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, established in Ahmedabad. This academy teaches art that is used as a language of behavioral change.
The main tool through she changed society specially she worked for women’s empowerment and environmental consciousness was through television and film. She has received International recognition for her dance compositions.
Padma Subrahmanyam: Padma Subrahmanyam was not only well known Indian classical Bharatnatyam dancer but also research scholar, choreographer, teacher and author. Born on 4th February 1943, she was an outstanding artist. With her research she has united all dance form under the umbrella of Natya Sastra and conducted many workshops and camps on this subject. She is the director at the institution named ‘Nrityodaya’.
This institute gave free training to well deserving poor students. She has trained many dancers and musicians under her guidance. Sculptures of 108 Karnas of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati at Nataraja temple at Satara in Maharashtra was designed by her.
Alarmel Valli: She is foremost exponent of the Pandanallur style, in the Indian classical dance form, Bharatnatyam. Alarmel Valli was the founder of Dipasikha Dance Foundation in Chennai in 1984. She teaches Bharatnatyam there. She was appreciated for her ability to turn traditional grammar into a deep internalized, personal dance poetry.
Alarmel Valli was the second youngest dancer to be conferred the Padma Shri by the government of India. With the help of lecture demonstration, master classes, workshops and seminars in India and in abroad as well, she shares her thoughts on Bharatnatyam. Core elements in her approach to dance are poetry and musicality of movement.
Yamini Krishnamurthy: A well known dancer in Indian classical dance form of Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi was born on 20th December 1920. She has her own dance institute named as Yamini School of Dance, Hauz Khas, New Delhi. Her autobiography “A passion for dance” a book received huge appreciation by the readers. She earned great recognition and popularized this Indian classical dance form in India and Abroad. She received numerous awards for her marvelous talent. She has inspired many towards Indian classical dance forms specially Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi. She was honoured by Padna Shri and Padma Bhushan by the government of India.
Anita Ratnam: Classically trained in Bharatnatyam, this dancer and choreographer was born on 21st May 1954. She was not only a dancer but presenter, cultural entrepreneur and social activist. With her dancing and theatre skills she has amazed numerous audiences around the world. With her art she portrait the women of ancient times and even the women with power from her own life like her grandmother, mother and daughter. She is a founder-director of performing arts organization established in Chennai and named as ‘Arangham’. It works towards enriching and promoting the performing and visual art of India. She is also publisher of ‘Narthaki’ a directory considered as ‘Bible’ of Indian dance.
In conclusion, the contributions made by women in the field of classical dance, particularly Bharatanatyam, cannot be overstated. From the legendary performers of the past to the rising stars of today, women have played a significant role in shaping and elevating this art form to new heights. Through their art, they have challenged gender norms, highlighted social issues, and inspired generations of young dancers. Their contributions have not only enriched the classical dance scene but have also had a broader impact on society.
As we continue to celebrate and recognize their contributions, we must also strive towards creating a more inclusive and equitable space for women in the arts. With their talent, dedication, and passion, women in classical dance will undoubtedly continue to inspire and empower future generations of artists for years to come.