As part of our YOUTH VOICES SERIES, we share an interview with Ruchira Rao. Ruchira began learning kathak at Pandit Chitresh Das’ institution in 2006 at the age of five, and auditioned and was accepted in to the youth company in 2011 when she was ten. She has since performed at in the Ethnic Dance Festival at the San Francisco Opera House in 2018, the Ethnic Dance Festival at the Palace of Fine Arts in 2016, Zellerbach Hall, with the Toronto Tabla Ensemble in Toronto, and many other prestigious events.

CDI interviewed Ruchira in anticipation of her Youth Company Senior Graduating Showcase performance, Ritu Ke Rang on June 29th, along with her three fellow graduates and guru sisters, Gaura Bhatnagar, Ishani Chakraborty, and Atmika Sarukkai.

1) When do you first remember thinking that this dance was really something you wanted to pour your heart and soul into?

Kathak cemented its role in my life when I joined the Youth Company in fifth grade. Going from dancing one hour per week to the intense Youth Company requirements solidified my dedication to this artform. My first performance as a YC member was in LA and I remember the thrill I got out of performing alongside my guru sisters. Eight years later, I still get that same thrill whenever I step on stage, which undoubtedly strengthens my commitment to this artform.

2) What is the thing you're most scared about?

Charlotte Didi always says that while your dance should have intention and purpose, it should also carry a sense of abandonment and joy. I’m a little afraid that I will get caught up in the small details of the performance and forget to enjoy being on stage. This is the first time I will ever step on stage my myself and without my guru sisters next to me. I hope that I get a similar thrill performing alone as I do performing with the Youth Company.

3)  What is the thing you're most excited about with your graduating performance?

I’m most excited for my friends and family to see me dance. Our graduating performance is unique in that the audience is a close knit one. They are not strangers; most of them have known me for most of my life and have watched me develop as a person and as a dancer. I know that they are there to support and love me and I am excited to show them a small glimpse of the culmination of all the teachings I’ve received over the past (almost) 13 years.

4) What is next for you with your dance? How will you continue your dance past youth company?

Dance has been a constant presence in my life since I was five years old and I hope that it will have a presence throughout the rest of my life in some capacity. In college, I hope to use the skills that Kathak has given me to explore many different dance forms. I want to give myself the opportunity to learn new styles of dance that I have never encountered before. With that being said, I hope to keep in contact with my roots as a Kathak dancer, as it is the foundation of my dance experience.  

5) What are three things you want people to come away from your performance with?

  1. I want people to appreciate the nuances and complexities of Indian classical dance.

  2. I hope that the audience will be able to experience the joy that dance has brought me.

  3. I want the audience to have fun and relish in the community that Kathak has created and brought us into.

6) What do you hope for future Youth Company members?

I hope that future Youth Company members appreciate the cultural value of what it means to be a part of the Youth Company. Not many people are lucky enough to be able to connect so deeply to the tradition. The four of us are some of the last YC members to have trained under Dadaji first-hand, but his teachings are so incredibly strong and apparent in the Youth Company’s training and in the wealth of knowledge that Charlotte Didi passes on to us.

When I auditioned for YC I had no idea that I was about to be a part of one of the greatest sisterhoods of my life. While going to class multiple times a week and rehearsing for countless hours was exhausting, dancing with the same people for over eight years creates a bond like no other. Though we spend an innumerable amount of hours together in the studio, performing together brings about a whole new sense of unity. Performing on stage requires an intimate knowledge of yourself and one another. Being able to dance alongside and share the stage with my guru sisters for the past eight years has forged an incredible friendship that I hope every Youth Company member will experience.

7) Tell us one story about Dadaji that illustrates why he was so important to you and to so many others.

Dadaji has impacted me in unparalleled ways. There is not one story that can do justice to the importance he has in my life and in the lives of so many others. My first Youth Company class was an exciting time for me. I had no idea what to expect from it and on arrival I was put into a studio jam packed with 40 other YC girls. We were standing in order of seniority, with the with the inexperienced, but bright-eyed and bushy-tailed YC members (including me) on the left and the most experienced and seemingly flawless older YC members on the right. After a relentless warm up, I remember Dadaji turning to the seniors and saying, “Watch out! These liliputs are like spiders. They’re coming for you!” I never left a YC class with anything left in the tank. Every ounce of energy was given to the dance and this one man pulled it out of every single one of the people he encountered.

Dadaji was also one of the first role models of female empowerment that I remember. He always used to tell us to not get a boyfriend until we had a 100,000 dollar job, our own car, and our own house. He continued by reminding us that we should be able to practice just as hard when we reached his age, or at least until we could effectively scare away our granddaughter’s boyfriend with our footwork. In class, when we thought we had given it our all, he would pause for a moment and say, “I know it’s hard, baba, but you ladies are tough. You can do it.” And then we would do it all over again.

8) Tell us one story about Charlotte Didi that illustrates why she is so important to you and so many others.

Much like with Dadaji, there is no one story that captures the impact Charlotte Didi has on me and so many others. Throughout my years in the company, no other person has had a greater hand in my development as a dancer as she has. Her passion and dedication to the Youth Company has resulted in the creation of dozens of confident and knowledgeable dancers. Charlotte Didi is the reason that the four of us are able to step on stage as individuals and as a group and I am so proud to have been a part of her creations.

Tickets for Ritu Ke Rang are sold out but Ruchira can be seen on July 6 & 7 with the Chitresh Das Institute dancers performing Charlotte Moraga’s choreography ‘Aranya Devi’ at the opening weekend of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival at Zellerbach Hall. For tickets click here.

 Photo of Ruchira Rao by Ravi Kohli