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On 27 Dec. 2018, after the most successful and exhilarating dance performance of the students of

Shakti Dance Company of Los Angeles, Mohan Siroya had an opportunity to have a chat with

the veteran Bharat Natyam Teacher and the Founder –Director of the Institution Ms. Viji Praksah.

.Excerpts thereof :


  • Tell me something about your background

I was born and raised in Bombay. I studied my Bharata Natyam training at the age of four, with my Gurus of the Sri Raja Rajeshwari  Bharata Natya Kala Mandir. My illustrious Gurus  can be traced over three hundred years, a Parampara, of being Nattavunars (dance teachers). Originally from Tiruvadamarathur , they taught at the Royal Courts of Baroda and Tanjore and moved to Mumbai in the mid 1900s to set up the school.

* What motivated you to learn the Bharat Natyam and its various styles

  Before I had my Arangetram or my dance debut in Bharata Natyam when I was 15 years old ,I performed quite a bit for many Sabhas in India . I also had the opportunity to study Mohini Attam and Kathakali from Guru Kanak Rele of Nalanda Mahavidyalaya in Bombay.  This was before Nalanda was established as a great center of learning. Studying with her has been one of my most treasured learning moments because she taught me so much about body kinetics , the eye movements ,how to express Abhinaya etc.. I’m so grateful to her. Though I do not practice Kathakali and Mohini Attam, it is still a very integral part of my  love. Bharata Natyam came to me easily and I studied it for longer. Further I feel one cannot do justice to more than one art form, so I have continued to pursue and preserve this art form.


  • What prompted you to migrate to US and open your own school Shakti ?

After Marriage I came to Los Angeles . I found  there was not much Bharata Natyam going on there.  The Shakti School of Bharata Natyam, was started  by me in 1977. I  think you can call me one of the pioneers for having started teaching, performing, communicating with audiences in Los Angeles. My goal was to share the loftiness and the vast treasure house that this art form has in terms of its virtuosity, body language, hand vocabulary,  expression ,rhythmic footwork ,it's ability to connect with all levels of spectators through its emotive or abhinaya aspect. I feel my success in the field, in Los Angeles has been only and solely because of the inspiration  of my husband Prakash  who is no more..

  • What initial Hi-cups and Challenges you faced after starting the school ?

 Initially there were challenges and difficulties in getting dedicated students at younger age to mould them coupled with financial crunch.  . But with active encouragement and help from my husband, who ensured that I don’t  get disappointed. He pursued avenues for me to perform , to teach and share the  the visits to dance e museums, colleges, high schools, elementary schools etc.. I really don’t think my path would be as it is now were it not for him. It is also because of his dedication and his love for the arts that my children too, Mythili Prakash and Aditya Prakash, are luminaries in their respective dance and music  fields. Mythili has been a source of great inspiration for all the dancers who are here today in Bombay. She has taught them, she has engaged them, in classes, in camps, and she’s sort of a role model for all these young dancers who are dancing this time in Bombay. We have expanded with five branches in California.  Students enjoy the discipline the exhilaration, the inner joy it brings them so they continue to dance. Now in my school, my senior students are teaching and those who joined the school when they were 4 and 5 are bringing their children to learn ! It is a lovely cycle.



* Have you also taken your students and dance troupe to other countries for performances as is  being planned for India

 I formed the Shakti Dance Company  in 1981, as performance wing of the Shakti School of Bharat Natyam .Students who have done their solo debuts, Arangetrams, have this  platform to  do performing tours. Performances are very hard to come by. You need community support, you need grant support,  time and organization.   With Prakash and the community support  for several years we did large scale production tours within the US and Canada . I brought dancers to India  since 1994 . This 2018   tour is  probably the 6 th trip that I have made with dancers from Shakti.  I’m so excited that my students can learn from my guru, Guru Kalyana Sundaram. At his age, he is such an amazing role model: his energy, and his memory, everything is so stimulating. He actually puts all of us, his students to shame just being by his dynamism, his strength.My dancers  are very excited because we are also going to Chennai and Chidambaram and performing in the temple there. We dance about all these lovely beautiful temples but when you actually see it,  then there is an inner energy that just transforms you .



  • What are your future plans

. I think my goal with the dance is to teach the best I can. Each student is an individual, they absorb at their own individual caliber and we cannot put dancers in a compartment. They’re all individuals,  and  if they invest time into it, they all love it, and give it the proper dedication. Every student who walks through the portals of Shakti or is learning any art form dance – music – anywhere else ,should realize  that this Art is  soul food, it  is something that lasts with them all their life in spite of their other careers, other life  pressures. This is something we all go back to, to get that inner joy. It’s been like that for me all my life ! Yes our company has future plans to tour in more countries in the world to show the rich art and culture of India as a soothing food for body  and mind..
And whatever more of  life and strength I have, I wish to keep doing this .



Written by: 

Mohan Siroya


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