YOUTH VOICES is a series in which the Chitresh Das Institute highlights the voice of youth and next generation artists.
Shruti Pai is a senior member of the Chitresh Das Youth Company. She started learning Kathak at the age of seven and joined Pandit Chitresh Das’ Youth Company at nine. She studied directly with Pandit Chitresh Das in the Youth Company and had studied with his disciples and students. She continues to study under his senior disciple Charlotte Moraga. Shruti has performed in various prestigious venues all over the world. Notable performances include the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival at the Palace of Fine Arts, Deck the Hall at Davies Symphony Hall, with the Ali Akbar College of Music at Cowell Theater, with the Toronto Tabla Ensemble at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco City Hall, and the International Association of Blacks in Dance Annual Conference in Los Angeles, amongst others.
Q: When do you first remember thinking that this dance was really something you wanted to pour your heart and soul into?
SHRUTI: I first got into dance because my mom and sister were both studying together. It had become such a big part of their lives, it was inevitable that I wanted to try it as well. I first realized how much I truly loved dance after my first show at the Ethnic Dance Festival in my second or third year in the Youth Company. I remember leaving the Palace of Fine Arts that evening and feeling so much pure joy for what I had just done. The experience of performing on such a beautiful stage with incredible choreography made me unbelievably happy, and I knew dance was what I love and what I was meant to do.
Q: What is the thing you're most scared about?
SHRUTI: Pertaining to performance:
I’m afraid of being so caught up in all the technicalities of the show that I forget to enjoy it. Being on stage performing is one of my favorite places to be, and I want to remember such a big day in every detail... I’m also afraid that my flute will smear red lipstick all over my chin.
Pertaining to dance in general:
I’m scared of losing touch with all my YC friends after I graduate. I have been dancing with some of them since I was 9 years old, and I would hate to lose that relationship when we part ways next year.
Q:What is the thing you're most excited about with your graduating performance?
SHRUTI: I’m excited for all my friends and family to see me dance. Despite being in the Youth Company for so long, I rarely get the chance to perform for close friends and family. I’m really excited to share with them such an important part of my life, and the reason I’ve been busy every Sunday for the past 9 years.
Q: What do you think people should know about what it's like to prepare for this performance?
SHRUTI: People should know that so much work was put into this performance. I underestimated how much work was required, not including the dance itself. I also underestimated how difficult it is to develop my own pieces instead of learning a choreography that was made for me. It was a very challenging experience and was very stressful at times, but I think I’ve grown a lot as a dancer because of it and discovered new things about my dance along the way.
Q: What are three things you want people to come away from your performance with?
SHRUTI: I’d like people to come away with a sense of celebration and joy for the arts and dance, and an inspiration to invest more in the arts. I also hope people come away with a greater appreciation for Kathak and Indian dance, whether they’ve grown up with it or this is their first exposure.
Q: What has it meant to be a part of the Youth Company?
SHRUTI: Being in the Youth Company was probably the best experience I had growing up. It was such a constant in my life for the past 9 years, that regardless of how much my life was changing during the time I knew YC would always be there. I am incredibly blessed to have been able to study under my Dadaji, Pandit Das. His never ending power and strength inspired me every time he entered the room, and he will always be one of my greatest role models and inspirations. He taught me intense discipline and showed me how to be an empowered dancer and woman.
Dancing and growing with the same people over the years has formed such a strong trust and friendship that I know I can never match in the future. We all know each other so well that I can make brief eye contact with a fellow dancer on stage mid-performance and we know exactly what the other is thinking. I have such a strong sense of belonging in YC that my confidence has grown tremendously and dancing on stage makes me feel nothing but free.
Q: What do you hope for future Youth Company members?
SHRUTI: I hope that future Youth Company members really recognize how lucky they are to be a part of this institution and this company. I didn’t realize it at the time, but having the opportunity to perform at places such as Davies Symphony Hall and at the Ethnic Dance Festival are incredible, once in a lifetime opportunities that I am so grateful I got to have.
Dedication to Dadaji (Pandit Chitresh Das, 1944-2015)
You are the first person that comes to my mind when I think "role model." And this isn't because you had me dance the Natawari Tihais until my feet were numb or recite the Nine Principals every week. It's because you taught me so much not just about dance, but about life in general. To you, it was just as important that we grew up to be empowered and confident women as it was that we were strong dancers. You taught me independence and strength, and how to carry myself with dignity and respect. Having the blessing of being able to study with you from such a young age has irrefutably played a monumental role in me becoming the person I am today. Your power and wisdom inspired me every time you entered the studio, and your passion and energy from your dance left me in awe countless times. I owe you everything for who I became as a dancer, and am forever grateful for the confidence and joy you instilled in me, which I bring every time I dance and will carry every day for the rest of my life.
Dedication to Charlotte Didi
Thank you Charlotte Didi, for always dedicating all your energy and heart into making the Youth Company the best we can be. You have invested so much into our growth and if it wasn't for your invaluable support and guidance I would not be half the dancer I am today. You are always there at every performance cheering us on, and tearfully telling us how proud you are, despite any mistakes and fumbles. You make the Youth Company the strong family that it is, and make me love dance the way I do. I'm blessed to have had the opportunity to study with you since the early years of my dance career, and am blessed to have you continuing Dadaji's legacy. Thank you for being the passionate and strong role model you've been for me these past nine years.
Shruti will be performing along with her guru sisters Shreya Khandewale & Kritika Sharma at their graduating senior showcase, TRIVENI, on June 16 at 5 pm at Evergreen High School Auditorium in San Jose. Purchase Tickets
Photo of Shruti Pai by the Picture People