Sandhya Raju is a name that has given a new outlook to the creative arena of Kuchipudi dance. A childhood passion became a profession and she meticulously worked to secure her name in the global arena of dancing. RITZ meets the woman who represents the ‘refined’ style of Kuchipudi and the continuous improvisation to her existing dance has given an additional finesse to her form and sets her apart.
Many summers ago a little girl of nine was wooed by the dance drama ‘Ksheera Sagara Madanam’ and came home to try and emulate the steps she saw being performed. Noticing her interest in this classical dance form her mother took her to the Kuchipudi Arts Academy of Padma Bhushan Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam, which happened to be very close to their residence. Sandhya Raju, a little girl of 10 then, was completely awed by what she saw. The atmosphere, the positive vibe, the infectious enthusiasm of the students called to the dancer in her and she decided then that her future lay right there. “Call it the stubbornness of a child or sheer grit and determination, I knew then that I wanted to excel in this dance form,” states Sandhya, as we get her to tell us the story of her journey into the world of classical dance.
Like any other youngster, her mind too was confused in the early years, swaying between a variety of options like dance, art and design, film making (since she loved story telling). In fact at one point she even wanted to be a marine biologist and is a certified scuba diver. But, finally her mind was made up and she took the firm decision of pursuing her career as a professional dancer.
As she continued to study dance there was a twist in the tale as she got married and had to move to Hyderabad. A new place, new role and being disconnected from her passion left her a bit lonely. But watching a few dance performances rekindled her passion and she decided to continue her dance journey by teaching others what she had learnt from her guru. “Initially it started in a very small way. I rented a hall in Saptaparini and then there was no looking back,” she tells.
Seeing her dedication and devotion to dance, her husband proved to be instrumental in motivating her to start her own institution, Nishrinkala Dance Academy. “This was a life-changing experience for me. Teaching opened up new vistas and I opened my eyes to understand my art with a deeper insight, which helped me mature as an artist,” confides Sandhya.
She teaches young talented students and concentrates on just a few students at a time to do justice to the quality of training. Senior students in turn train the juniors. She also inducts young talented children from poor family backgrounds, not only by teaching them free of cost, but also by lending them a hand of support by providing them with job opportunities in her own company. This encourages them not only to continue with the art of their heart’s desire, but has also taught them to stand on their own feet.
No journey is bereft of turbulences and Sandhya too has had her share of ups and downs but she admits that whatever challenges she has had to face were solely her internal struggles. Born and married into luxury, she always had the benefit of the proverbial ‘silver spoon’ and time-to-time distractions have been her sole challenges. Her share of accolades have been plentiful too.
“Earlier I had to slog hard to get my way but my hard work has now gained immense recognition. When I get calls from various places across the globe requesting for my performance, it speaks volumes as it indicates that my talent is getting global recognition,” says the dancer. Just to break the monotony and have a little fun, Sandhya takes up workshops in other dance forms like Hip Hop, free style and Telugu mass as well. According to her each dance form has its own specialty and she strives to pick the best traits from each and improvise her own art.
“There are two very important projects in the pipeline for me and both of them will be released this month. The first is a YouTube film where I enact the role of a Kuchipudi dancer. The film is all about re-discovering oneself by listening to the inner voice. The second is a project on the my first ever attempt at choreography – ‘Tales of Gods & Love’ that is being performed at Shilpa Kala Vedika Auditorium in Hyderabad.
“Change is the only constant in life”, runs an age old adage and Sandhya totally goes by it. She keeps adding interesting elements to her art form to give it a contemporary look, yet retaining its traditional beauty.