Anshu Manchanda began dancing at the age of six, training in the Manipuri and Bharatanatyam styles in her early years. She began her study of Kathak at Pandit Chitresh Das’ Chhandam School of Kathak in 2003 and became a first year teacher in 2005. She is committed to furthering her training under the guidance of Pt. Das’ dazzling and talented disciple, Charlotte Moraga. She looks forward to nurturing future generations of Kathakas, as well as sharing the meditative and therapeutic benefits of Kathak dance with the community. Anshu is the senior instructor at CDI's new Dublin branch.
Tell us what you love about teaching kathak?
Anshu: There are many reasons why I enjoy teaching and why teaching is important to me. Firstly, I am a fan of Kathak. I love the aesthetics, the repertoire, the rhythms and music, and even the costumes of Kathak. I love the dynamism and energy combined with the subtlety and grace. I get excited by the intricate rhythmic patterns and mathematical complexity. Good story-telling in Kathak always touches my heart. Kathak brings me great joy. And the bottom line is that sharing joy increases joy!
But I believe that I have developed a deeper relationship with Kathak. It has instilled in me a passion for art. It has instilled curiosity and love of learning. It has inspired me to dream big. It has helped me feel beautiful and confident and empowered in times of self-doubt and uncertainty. It has had a calming and healing effect on me in times of stress and anxiety. It has given me a deeper appreciation of my cultural heritage and roots. Something as powerful as that deserves to be shared and preserved.
And there is nothing as rewarding and fulfilling as teaching. It is an amazing thing to be a part of someone’s journey of discovery and growth. I also cherish the personal connections formed with students and families. In today’s fast-paced world where we are all busy with our hectic work and school lives, it is our personal relationships that reward us with friendship, love, support and sense of community – all the things that make life brighter. And that goes both ways! The CDI staff strives to be a second family for all students.
Also, teaching is the best form of practice. As a teacher, your knowledge and technical skills have to be solid. You can’t fake it. Not even in front of children – they are the most curious and perceptive. So teaching is a great way to further my own learning and growth.
What did you learn from Pandit Chitresh Das that most impacts your teaching?
Anshu: Dadaji’s teachings extended beyond the dance itself. In the spirit of the guru-shishya tradition, he was a mentor to us all; he worked to develop our character, confidence, versatility and overall vision of life. Every day, he encouraged and inspired all his students to become strong, independent and healthy individuals, and to lead meaningful and purposeful lives.
I now realize that I carry a huge responsibility of passing on these values to the next generation. The idea that the teaching should extend beyond the dance itself is especially important to me as a mom. As a mom, I want my little boy to encounter strong teachers and role models who will teach him not only how to kick a ball, or sing a note, or spell a word, but also values such as teamwork, respect for authority, discipline, integrity, compassion and empathy. So as a teacher, I too must aim to integrate dance instruction with imparting values such as respect, humility, sense of gratitude, and service to society.
Another important thing that I learned from Dadaji is that Indian classical dance is not mere entertainment for the enjoyment of the senses. It can, through rigorous practice and devotion, take the dancer to a state of deep peace or liberation, in much the same way that meditation can. In particular, Dadaji’s innovation of Kathak Yoga demands such a high level of mental multitasking and focus, that it forces the rest of the world out of your brain and is truly a “meditation in motion.”
The dance obviously offers physical benefits by improving posture, balance, flexibility and strength, and is an enjoyable way to stay active. As such, one of my goals is to help students realize that Kathak dance can be adopted as a lifelong practice for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
What is the most challenging thing about dancing kathak?
Anshu: Kathak dance is difficult and challenging on so many levels – mastering the rapid spins and intricate footwork technique; executing said spins and footwork while maintaining the effortless grace and delicacy that defines Kathak; performing complex mathematical calculations on your feet when you improvise; performing the high level of multitasking that Kathak Yoga demands; portraying multiple different characters without costume changes.
Most importantly, the dance must be executed with a precision of timing that can never, ever be taken for granted, even with the highest level of training and practice. You have to be present in the moment, body and mind. Yet sometimes you just miss the beat! You lose focus. Or the complexity of the rhythm defeats you. Or your body lacks the strength and stability to produce the precise rhythms. Practice is paramount to reduce the risk of a misstep. But even Simone Biles, the best gymnast in the world, can stumble during an Olympic routine. So that uncertainty, that threat of failure, always looms. And that is what makes Kathak dance exciting and thrilling, never boring, both to dance and to watch.
What is the most surprising thing you think people may not know about teaching kathak?
Anshu: May I instead share something that I believe many people do not know about learning Kathak? Because I think there is an important need to bring awareness to this point. Kathak is not a course that you can complete in 4 years or 8 years or a finite amount of time and then you’re done! Kathak is a lifelong commitment to learning. You do not just learn a set repertoire that you mimic for the rest of your life. Your teacher introduces you to the language of Kathak – you learn some of the vocabulary, the grammar, the phrases. You learn the guru’s repertoire which is a means for you to discover and practice and explore aspects of the dance. When you are fluent in the language, you may start to perform, improvise and create. But the canvas of Kathak is so vast that a lifetime is not enough to study all the rhythms, music, history, philosophy, mythology, and human traits and emotions that inform the repertoire. So you keep at it – you keep exploring and delving deeper.
Ultimately, dance is a form of expression. It is an expression of hopes and dreams, ideas and emotions, culture and traditions. Of life itself. So everything you learn in life informs your dance. And in life, the learning never ends. That is what I understood when Dadaji referred to himself as a modern guru in training. He was still learning and discovering and applying. Like life, Kathak is a journey.
What do you look forward to in the near future with the Chitresh Das Institute?
Anshu: CDI is a new organization and we’ve just completed a very successful first year. However, we still have that eagerness and energy that comes with new beginnings, and the staff at CDI are extremely talented and motivated and dedicated, and share a primary focus of passing on the gift of Kathak to future generations. So I would not hesitate to predict an extremely bright future for CDI.
Starting January 2018, we have a new class location in Dublin and I am looking forward to becoming a part of the Tri-Valley community and expanding the CDI family. So that’s something exciting that’s happening in the immediate future.
I hope to see our tabla and vocal programs grow and flourish in 2018. Tabla and vocal training are an excellent complement to Kathak training. But even if a Kathak student chooses not to pursue formal training in these disciplines, how great it is that CDI has created an opportunity for them to nurture their art in a rich environment where they can interact with and collaborate with tabla players and vocalists!
There are many exciting events to look forward to in 2018 – our annual school showcase which is always a rewarding and bonding experience for the entire CDI community, the CDYC graduation showcase featuring solo performances by graduating members of our youth company, our home season production, Noor: The Path of Light, which is a collaboration between one of the greatest living maestros of North Indian tabla, Swapan Chaudhuri and virtuosic Iranian classical music group, the Lian Ensemble. Wow! At this point there are at least two more events that I am very excited about, but I will let them be revealed in due time. Haha!
I am especially excited about the spectacular work that Charlotte Didi, our artistic director, is creating for the 2019 annual school showcase (an excerpt to be previewed at the 2018 show). She is bringing to life Dadaji’s vision of bringing the story of Amrita Devi to the stage. The sacrifice of this brave woman almost 300 years ago is the inspiration behind many modern forest conservation movements. Bringing together history and dance and environmental awareness -- what a wonderful way to engage the community in one of the most important challenges facing us today! And a great way to realize our vision of providing a more wholesome and meaningful education at CDI. Dadaji always encouraged us to be responsible and dutiful citizens of the world. With the challenges that face us today, we cannot afford to be passive observers. Kathak is a storytelling art form and storytelling is a powerful tool to bring about change. In today’s troubled and uncertain times, there is a great need to tell diverse stories and relevant stories, and reach widespread audiences. Imagine the possibilities if we can establish Kathak as a mainstream dance form globally!
The future at CDI is going to be brilliant and I can’t wait to be a part of it!!!
Click here for more information about our new Dublin branch where Anshu is senior instructor, or info on branch locations in Cupertino, San Mateo and San Francisco.