SONGSOPTOK: How and why did you choose dancing as a career?  What specific things would you like for people to know about your chosen career?

NILANJANA: This was not a planned career. I started learning as a child then had to discontinue dancing as I moved & lived in different countries. Life did not offer me the opportunity to learn . Motherhood & other responsibilities took priority at that stage. It was only after 2 kids & my move to the US that I could pursue this passion. I realized this was my DESTINY. I was one of the first moms to start learning & performing on stage. I worked very hard- the first to reach & the last to leave. Before long crowd adulation & appreciation came my way & I got drawn more & more to the stage performance circuit. I believe that Age is no barrier if you are physically fit. You can learn at any age. Persistence & discipline is the hardest for a stage performer. After the adrenalin rush of a show the lull is hard to handle. A lot of willpower is needed to survive & keep yourself fit year after year. Teaching is the next logical step for performers as they can brush upon their basic skills & keep their technical skills sharp.

SONGSOPTOK: What advice would you offer to someone just new to this field?

NILANJANA:  Willpower, motivation & discipline day after day just like an athlete will help train you both physically & mentally. Each time on stage you have to do your best. There are no guarantees or bookings for future shows. Give your 100% & stay focussed no matter what is going on in your life. On stage its just you & the audience. Conveying that makes a performer successful. Team work is an important learning curve. The role & position does not matter, you learn from the entire team. Working with top notch show directors is important if you want to be a successful dancer. When the time is right venture into teaching. Do not rush into it at the peak of your youth or career. Use your stage performance background when you groom students. Once committed you will need to prioritize your teaching. Doing shows every weekend or taking off on tours will be hard to do when you have to teach your students regularly.

SONGSOPTOK: What are some of the common errors or misconceptions people have about dance as a career choice?

NILANJANA:  Myth 1: People think that Only kids with their flexible bodies & stamina can learn dance.

Myth 2: Once you take a long break & have kids you cannot perform on stage.

You need to be physically fit & in fairly good shape if you want to be a stage performer. Stamina, flexibility & grace matter a lot. Very few people are fortunate enough to have the support system & finances required to pursue this career from childhood. Life happens. Things & priorities change once you go to college. Coming back to it or deciding to learn & make a career out of it is a hard thing. I am very fortunate to have met a liberal progressive minded Guru who took me as a challenge to change peoples mindset. If you look beautiful, stay fit & technically correct no-one can stop you. Age is just a number! Debunk the showbiz myth & work twice as hard to give the younger girls a run for their money.

SONGSOPTOK: How would you describe your typical work week?

NILANJANA:  I do my morning walk, pilates or strength conditioning in the mornings. Teach my students 2 mornings a week. Practice my pieces on mornings after exercise or in the afternoon. Do my chores & errands the remaining time. For me the weekend is the busiest as I teach on Sundays & my shows are  scheduled on those days too. Setting up a new studio in a different state has been a challenge. A lot of my work week has gone towards promotions, publicity & PR. Its been a year of non-stop extra work in getting the word out about my studio.

SONGSOPTOK: How many hours do you set aside for your own practice, stage show rehearsals, choreography and costume selection?

NILANJANA:  Before my stage performances I rehearse every day for atleast 2 weeks. I like to be immersed in dance that time practicing old choreos & living in my own world. There are no fixed hours. I can dance whole day or just a quick intense session. I try to work on stamina & fluidity of the routine. With Group Rehearsals there are intense practice sessions scheduled over a short span of time. Now that I have started teaching my daily practice schedule has to be compromised. I teach 3 days a week. Leave one day for workshops or shows.

SONGSOPTOK: Is there anything you strongly like or dislike about your dance career?

NILANJANA:  Most organizers have funds for overseas artists or movie stars. The best time slot is reserved for them. This discrimination against US based singers, musicians, dancers & theatre artists is demoralizing & disrespectful. In this country we juggle a lot to give time & energy to our passion. We are not below par! We are over achievers sacrificing a lot to match the level of overseas talent. Every second of our lives we are juggling multiple responsibilities. We CHOOSE to pursue this passion in order to live. With classical arts there are venue limitations. Unlike other dance arts it is not to be performed in private parties or weddings & street fairs.You need good ambience, venue & no food-drinks policy. All this severely limits performance opportunities. Only those with a successful day job, teaching studio or deep pockets can pursue a performing arts career. Most people turn to teaching early in their career rather than perform.

SONGSOPTOK: Should there be any age limit for beginners in dance? If you have adult students, can you tell us what they expect to gain from their lessons?

NILANJANA:  I prefer taking students 8 plus. Discipline is needed to be able to train & stay focussed. My dance looks best on a women’s body as it gives the illusion of a temple sculpture coming to life. Its good to teach kids young so that their bodies & ears are trained to the music but I recommend solo stage performances once they mature. With detailed muscle cues & technical breakdown I like to explain every single movement to my students. Once they understand the coordination behind it they are able to work on those muscles & master their moves. They absolutely love the experience. Age therefore does not matter. Maturity & physically fitness does! Adults have the option of training to be stage performers or learning as a creative outlet. My workshops have had participants from 8 to 70. Dance modified according to age & ability. The bottomline being they have an unique priceless experience in those few hours of dancing.  Their is renewed positive energy as they feel rejuvenated in their mind, body & soul.

SONGSOPTOK: Dance has the ability to offer its participants and spectators a religious experience. Do you agree? If so tell us how and why? What do you think about antagonism to dance in some religions?

NILANJANA:  Odissi is a classical Indian Temple dance performed as a form of worship for over 2000 years. Temple dancers or MAHARIS dedicated their lives to the temple diety dancing every morning & evening away from public view. Odissi is Natya Yoga or a form of Bhakti or devotional yoga & Hatha yoga. Nataraj is considered to be the Lord of dance. His cosmic Dance providing the energy to create, destroy & recreate the universe. In Hinduism singing & dancing is a form of Bhakti. Temple dances are rooted in Hinduism. The still poses in these dances are enactment of sculptures seen on ancient temple walls. The main text of Odissi is Gita Govinda -a collection of love poems with a deeper spiritual meaning describing the love of  Radha & Krishna. Indian Classical dance thus has venue & food restrictions as the dancer has to always consider herself a devotee and never take away from the essence or spirit of the dance.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you agree that a dancer can convey intangible emotional experiences as strongly as verbal communications? Do you agree/disagree that dance can lead to altered states of consciousness?

NILANJANA:  In Indian classical dance abhinaya or the art of story telling through gestures & facial expressions is an experience. The audience should be able to understand the dance just by looking at the dancer. This is indeed an incredibly powerful experience. The goal of Indian classical dance is mind body soul integration. If the dancer herself is in sync she can achieve MOKSHYA or salvation through her dance. To convey to her audience this state of SATCHIT ANANDA - the inner peace, tranquility & calmness associated with the practice of yoga & meditation is the POWER of Indian classical dance.

SONGSOPTOK: Technique is what you fall back on when you run out of inspiration. (Rudolf Nureyev) Do you agree with this quote? 

NILANJANA:  When you showcase pure classical you have to be technically sound at all times. Give your heart, soul & mind into the performance. There are no compromises on technique. You practice so that it comes as a muscle memory then you add your emotions to it & connect with your audience. You cannot move to a different energy level or spiritual plane unless you have total control over technique . This quote is not applicable to my art.

NILANJANA BANERJEE is a professional Odissi dancer based in San Diego. For more than a decade she has performed all over the country as a solo opening act for top Indian artists at major conventions, festivals, fundraisers and charity events. Nilanjana follows the Mahari dance tradition of Guru Muralidhar Majhi & Guru Mitra Purkayastha. She is currently running classes for RDM Studio in San Diego.
To read more about her visit www.odissinilanjana.com

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.



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