There was once a girl who loved to dance but her dance form was different so she was often mocked at. But that girl did not give up and here she is today, one of the finest female Yakshagana dancers in the world.
Oh, and she is doing some amazing things so youngsters like us can also know more about this beautiful folk art form. Want to know more? Here she is, in a chat with me – Priyanka K Mohan, renowned Yakshagana dancer and Founder and CEO of Tvarita Foundation.
Sara: Hey Priyanka! I love the grace with which you dance and those steps – must take years to master! What do you think are good reasons for a child to pursue dance?
Priyanka: Hi Sara, Thank you for your kind words. Practice is the key for the grace. Yes, its taken years of continuous practice to reach the place I am at and I would need to continue practice to get better.Like the saying goes, ‘without hard work,nothing grows but weeds.’
I am strong promoter of performing arts among children. Dance provides a great medium for anyone to express and build their personality. The most sought after skills like creativity, collaboration, emotional intelligence are learnt through arts. Isn’t it great to learn a new art form and groom yourself into a wonderful person ?
Sara: Typically learning dance forms is supposed to be ‘a girl thing.’ But Yakshagana while initially performed only by boys, now also has girls performing alongside and people like you are bringing about that change. Tell me,what are the kind of challenges your boy students face in taking to a dance form and girl students taking to Yakshagana specifically?
Priyanka : Yakshagana is called ‘Gandu Kale’ meaning male artform. It is because the movements are masculine and due to various factors , from its inception, there were only men performing this art form. Today it’s great to see women coming into this art form and breaking all the barriers.
Infact, in my class over 60% of them are girls today.
Since, yakshagana was all male dancer teams, it required men to do female roles as well.Today in my class, most boys are not comfortable wearing the female costume, however girls are completely comfortable ,infact take pride in wearing male costume. This is something we need to bring about the change in children. An artist should always be ready to portray any character with ease. That’s when he/she would evolve.Some girls on other hand sometimes shy away or hesitate to put in effort to master some of the tough masculine movements. It also needs girls to put in a lot more effort to prove their talent and get an appreciation from senior artists.
Sara :The children’s book ‘ Yaksha’ that you have launched with Bookosmia, has been acclaimed not just in India but many other countries. Many children heard about Yakshagana for the first time. Tell us about it and other innovative ways you are saving India’s precious art forms.
Priyanka : Yaksha has been a huge success. Thanks to the team and a lot of well wishers who believed in the book. We were also able to stage a play on the book Yaksha using children. We are now looking at staging more shows of Yaksha after the health crisis settles down. Success of the book Yaksha has brought in more belief in the our effort of reaching art forms like these to many children. We are looking at introducing other dying folk art forms to children through books and experiencing the art form. We are working in schools with folk artists to introduce the art forms in schools and build life skills in children. Most of these art forms are different formats of storytelling, we are also now looking at telling stories which are relevant to today’s kids using these traditional art form.
Sara : Finally, some advice for my slightly older friends who love arts but are confused. Can dance also be considered as a good career option?
Priyanka : If you love dance and you aren’t sure if you can dance , first do try enrolling to a class, no one expects you to be like Michael Jackson on day 1. As you consistently continue your efforts to learn dance , you will get better . Also , there are other ways to be in touch with dance if class is not an option for you. Turn on the music and dance on your favourite number ( and, dance like no one’s watching you), go catch some live performances of local , national and international artists or become a promoter and talk and encourage shows in your circles.
Dance is a difficult career option . No paycheck that comes your way every month end. Hence, monetarily it is difficult till you create an identity for yourself. But, the joy and satisfaction you get from this career is immense. You will probably hear very few artists complaining about their work. With consistency and hardwork, you can make a great career out of dance too .
About Priyanka K Mohan and Tvarita Foundation :
Priyanka has the credit of being the first female teacher in a male dominant art form Yakshagana. She has performed in more than 500 shows and won several accolades for her contribution to the field of Yakshgana. She is a recipient of Junior Scholarship from CCRT for Bharathanatyam,Senior Scholarship and Junior Fellowship by Ministry of culture for Yakshagana and now part of prestigious GP Birla Fellowship for women leaders.
She has been actively involved in theatre and has the credit of working with various acclaimed theatre artists like Gopalakrishna Nairy, B.V. Rajaram, L.Krishnappa etc.
Tvarita foundation is a not for profit organization started by her to connect folk art forms to children and support folk artists. It has been working with schools across Karnataka to teach folk artforms like Yakshagana, Kamsale , Dollu Kunita, etc and build life skills. During Covid 19, it has undertaken efforts to support local artists and keep children engaged.