We just completed the most treasured festival of every Bengali, “Durga Puja”. Every Bong has a special corner for this festive flavor deep in our hearts. There is a craving for the Kolkata crowds, the heart longs for close friends and family to be nearby and the rhythm of the Dhak playing “Ma er Agomoni” only adds up to lift your spirits. Such is the euphoria of Durga Puja that even this dangerous pandemic cannot dampen that Better to say this is the month of “Mahishasur Mardini”, which also happens to be our theme for this rendezvous with famous danseuse Miss Arpita Sen.
Much like Goddess Durga, every women possess’ extraordinary powers. When channelized properly in pursuance of one’s aspirations, these powers result in magical creations much like the dance performances of Ms. Sen. Ms. Sen is a popular Bharatanatyam performer. Her parents introduced her to Bharatanatyam when she was all of 6yrs and since then Bharatanatyam has been her Sadhana.She is also a senior disciple of Guru Dr. Smt. Thankamani Kutty (Kalamandalam Kolkata) and Smt. Girija Balagopal. Despite achieving such heights, she comes across as a very humble student of Classical Dance and our brief interaction with her runs you through her journey pursuing Bharatanatyam. Her transformation over the years from a mere beginner to a popular performer and teacher of Bharatanatyam in Kolkata has been a fascinating journey. In addition to Bharatanatyam she is very passionate about learning the Violin and pursuing Kuchipudi. Yet she was very candid in admitting that whatever she is today is only because of her love for dance. There were a few years when she was away from dance due to certain personal priorities and yet she found out that dance has never left her when she resumed practicing again. In her own words, it was Dance, which has embraced her with open arms as if she had never left it, and gave her all the strength and courage to passionately pursue it again.
Please scroll through for some excerpts of our wonderful interaction with Ms. Sen.
Ms. Arpita Sen, Bharatanatyam Danseuse
Tell us about how the Journey began. Your early days as a student of Bharatanatyam?
Ms. Sen: I was encouraged by my parents who introduced me to Bharatanatyam when I was 6yrs. Old. I was put into training at Kalamandalam Kolkata, under my Guru Dr. Thankamani Kutty. I was initially taught by the wonderful teachers who were senior disciples of aunty. I was very fortunate to receive my training directly from aunty (Guru Dr. Thankamani Kutty) and aunt’s niece, Smt. Girija Balagopal, lovingly known as Girija aunty. The journey of training under aunty and Girija aunty, their peerless guidance has given shape to the way I feel about dance and the impact that dance has had on my life ever since. I was always very interested in dance and music, and would look forward to my dance classes. I also had swimming and tennis as my other extra-curricular activities.
When did you choose dance as a career option?
Ms. Sen: Frankly, I never chose it as a career option, at least not back then. I was learning and dancing for the joy and love of it. I was still in school when I was blessed by aunty to become a part of the Kalamandalam Performing Wing. I stood second in a talent search contest, organized by the Nehru Children’s Museum and got the opportunity to participate in an International Children’s Assembly at the National Bal Bhavan, Delhi. The same year and in the year before, I received the Tagore Foundation Scholarship from the Nehru Children’s Museum. I did my Arangetram (Word from Tamil origin, meaning, ascending to the stage by a dancer on completion of formal training) in 2003, following which I became a regular performer of the performing wing and had the blessed fortune of performing in various dance festivals in India and abroad. I was pursuing a degree in English at St. Xavier’s College at that time. I received the National Scholarship for Bharatanatyam from the Ministry of Culture; Government of India in 2005.I was also anchoring for several dance programs during that time. So one thing followed the other and led to more.
Did you have any apprehensions at any point of time while taking up dancing as a profession?
Ms. Sen: As I mentioned, I was quite caught up at that time in learning and practicing and performing. So, I do not think I had any apprehensions as such. I was going with the flow, was very involved in it and loving every moment of it.
When did you start teaching dance to students?
Ms. Sen: My earliest memory pertaining to this is when my guru asked me to aid the wonderful teacher in my sister’s Bharatanatyam class by facing the students and doing the basic steps enabling them to follow the lesson more easily. I did that for almost a year I believe. I share this because I was in Class 5 then and it is such a sweet memory for me. My first student happened to come to me when I was in college and that is how this part of the journey began. Thereafter, more children joined and a few years down the line, I was teaching children and as well as women of all age groups in Nasik as well as Kolkata. I was also appointed as a dance teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya, Ojhar Nasik, where I taught dance to children from classes 1 to 10. It has been a great learning and loving process for me and what I love the most about teaching is the immense love that I have always received from children and everyone else. I treasure all the wonderful memories that I had the good fortune of making so far, and look forward to so much more that is to come.
Tell us about the different milestones you have achieved?
Ms. Sen: I think that wherever I have been to, in my journey, the love, appreciation, blessings and happiness that I have had the good fortune of receiving, are my biggest milestones. Therefore, such love and admiration for me is something I truly treasure.
My Arangetram, Receiving the National Scholarship, being a part of the Kalamandalam performing wing, performing at various prestigious festivals in India and abroad, and receiving amongst other accolades is the Kindled Spiritz Award given by The Dance India for Women Achievers on International Women’s Day 2018.
What are your achievements as a dance teacher?
Ms. Sen: I see the legacies of the illustrious gurus, the great dance teachers and there is so much to learn and know and convey. I feel further and further humbled and I think I would like to revisit and address any question on ‘achievement’ as it were, at least post two decades from now.
Whom will you refer as your support systems and attribute your success to?
Ms. Sen: My constant support system has been my sister Aranya Sen, who is my best friend, and my mother Smt. Tapati Sen, who is my pillar of strength. My father, Late Swapan Kumar Sen was instrumental in my initial years of practice of dance. My dear friends have always supported me too. My greatest friend, Lord Krishna, has always held my being through everything.
Being a daughter to a doctor and a teacher, was there any such pressure in your childhood to pursue a career in academics?
Ms. Sen: I was never pressurized to take up any specific career. My father would speak to me from time to time about some career options, which were, according to his experience, suitable for me. However, when I was seriously into dancing and performing, they supported me in pursuing my interest.
Tell us about the major turning points in your career?
Ms. Sen: My initiation into the Kalamandalam Performing Wing was a major turning point in my career. I am very grateful to my guru for that. It led me to learn beautiful choreographies of aunty and have wonderful experiences of performing, travelling, seeing, and learning. I think all those exposures and experiences shaped my perspectives. However, a time came in my life when I completely stopped learning and performing for a few years. Another major turning point came about when I was recovering from a major surgery and the demise of my father, happening back to back, followed by my divorce in sometime. This was a period of absolute turbulence in my life during which, however, I resumed practicing and performing Bharatanatyam, started learning Mohiniyattam and Kuchipudi, and Western Classical Violin. As I always say, I had left dance but when I came back to it, dance embraced me and rescued me from drowning.
What will be your advice to all the aspiring dancers who want to have a career in dance?
Ms. Sen: I would firstly like to convey my love to all the dance aspirants out there. Do what you love and hold on to it, but try not to hurt anybody’s sentiments while doing so. You do your bit… practice, persevere and learn. Share others’ work. Share your work. Respect and love genuinely and it will reflect in your art. Open up your soul when you dance. Open your heart in your praise for everyone. Help others to achieve and help yourself too. Learn to work collectively. Be surrendered to God, grateful to your gurus and parents, and sincere to your dance. Everything else will fall into place, your aspirations and maybe more. It is a great blessing to be able to learn dance and music. Contribute to the society in your own way, through this great blessing. Best wishes and a lot of love to everyone.