Interview with Chitresh Das Institute Teacher Asavari Ukidve

June 6, 2017

Asavari Ukidve started her training in 1999 in Union City branch and has been studying now for over 17 years under the guidance of Pandit Chitresh Das.  Asavari started teaching at Pandit Das’ institution in 2012, at the same time her daughter started learning kathak.  She has primarily taught at the Cupertino location, though she has assisted at other locations.  Asavari’s focus has in teaching kathak has been on imparting kathak knowledge to children and adults alike.  Asavari has participated in multiple school show productions and in community performances.

Question: Tell us what you love about teaching kathak?

Asavari: I have learnt Kathak from the age of 7 years myself, first in India for about 10 years and then with Dadaji for about 15 years till his passing. I can truly say that it has been one single thing that given me immense joy and exhilaration whether dancing or teaching. Seeing that “Aha” expression on little girls faces, when they understand a concept or a composition that I am trying to explain to them or the joy they feel on getting something right  after trying a few times is a feeling of happiness & accomplishment for me. The thing I love the most about teaching Kathak however is helping moms (like me) understand and realize their hidden potential/passion and helping them make the best of that during the 1 hour they take out of their busy life with kids/work/husbands. Every single one of my adult students who is a mom is there because they want to be there(unlike some kids :-) ) they are all self motivated, eager to learn and put in whatever it takes for them to keep improving or mastering something they have learnt. Helping them channel in their potential and passion is truly rewarding.

Question: What did you learn from Pandit Chitresh Das that most impacts your teaching?

Asavari: Greatest learning from Dadaji? Wow ! There are so many, kinda hard to pick one. But here is the one that made a lasting impact.  Dadaji always said Mother is the first Guru, and what stays with me after listening to him speak about his philosophies and view many, many times, is the fact, that as a Mother, it is a huge responsibility for me to keep up my training (in dance and every other aspect of life).  If you can’t take care of yourselves, you can’t take care of your family. If you can’t stand up for yourselves no one else will. Those are his teachings that are deep rooted in my heart.  Quite often I find myself repeating Dadaji’s teachings certainly to all the moms in my class, but also to the little girls to help them grow up to be self-reliant, responsible, empowered women.

Question: What is the most challenging thing about dancing kathak?  

Asavari: I think the most challenging aspect of kathak is to continue to develop and refine your skill over all elements of tayyari, laykari, khoobsurati, nazaakat, and Abhinaya. While demonstrating abhinaya requires you to channel in your inner ability to portray various feelings, a solid 16-gun or chakkars require immense riyaaz and mehnat. And of course Kathak Yoga. I will be forever thankful to Dadaji for introducing this beautiful concept that challenges you to truly focus and bring your mind and body together.

Question: What is the most surprising thing you think people may not know about teaching kathak?

Asavari: I think one thing I did not realize before I started teaching and others may not know as well is that I find my own dance improved immensely after I started teaching. As you teach others, it forces you to solidify and refine your own skills. I now realize why Dadaji always referred to himself as modern guru in training. Every question asked by a student forces you to delve deeper into your own understanding of the dance.

Question: Can you tell us a story about something that continues to inspire you to teach?

Asavari: What continues to inspire me to teach (and why I started in the first place) is not necessarily a particular incident or a story as such. The inspiration comes more from observing Dadaji teach our class over the years. His ability to connect with every single student on personal level, understand their strengths and shortcomings & inspire them to push themselves beyond their potential was baffling. Even in a class of 20+ students there was no place you could hide from him. It was eerie that he could spot your mistakes sometimes even without looking at you. However this is what inspired all of us to push ourselves to the next level. This is what continues to inspire me to teach students and If I can help them push their boundaries and realize their potential, I will feel I have played a small part in helping continue Dadaji’s legacy and teachings.

Question: What do you look forward to in the near future with the Chitresh Das Institute?

Asavari: As a teacher at CDI, my goal is to impart to little girls and adults alike the knowledge I have gained over the years on various aspects of not only kathak but also how it ties in with Indian heritage, culture and history. Personally I believe that the Indian Diaspora in South Bay has been hugely deprived of having access to a viable and authentic Kathak School. I look forward to and am glad to be spreading Dadaji’s teaching to this huge pool of Indians who are eager to have themselves/their children learn this art form.  I look forward to expanding my own performance repertoire through community events and other opportunities. I also hope I can help my students share their own learning with others.