Ashrita Keshav is a Kuchipudi dancer with a Masters’ in Counselling Psychology. She has been performing as a solo artiste and as a part of her Guru’s ensemble since 2009, and has toured all over India and the United States of America. She teaches and conducts workshops for children and expats, on how Indian classical dance is an extension of everyday life. A graded artist of the Doordarshan Chennai, she received the Iconic “SHE” award from We magazine and Viswa and Devji, for excellence in dance, as well as the title “Kalai Kalanjiyam” from Madurai. A passionate dancer and teacher, she strives to make her art relevant today and keep the tradition alive.
What inspires you?
Teaching and performing are both matters of the heart. When I dance, I feel most connected to my purpose - it reinforces my faith that I am doing just what I am meant to do. I’m inspired to work harder when I see the joy it brings to another person.
Teaching dance to kids and adults, opens up a whole new world for both. A lot of light bulbs snap on! Each person is a revelation in how the body and mind can work in tandem or on their own, how to express oneself to make the performance relevant and easy to comprehend – which is the ultimate aim of every good performer. The happiness that the art brings with it, is what keeps me going, despite the hardships.
How has what you do made an impact on your life?
Dance is an extension of everyday life and thus they shape each other. It has truly been a voyage of self-discovery for me. I have journeyed to so many parts of the world, met diverse people and have gone through so many funny but interesting stage experiences, all of which have not only helped me grow as an artist, but also take a relaxed, take-it-in-your-stride attitude!
What is the greatest challenge you have faced getting to where you are today? How has that shaped you?
Being an up and coming artist in India isn't the ideal vocation. Monetarily it is not worth much, leaving one often frustrated and de-motivated. It is a better alternate career and certainly not the one that pays the bills!Mediocrity is celebrated, because the average person doesn't know enough to demand better. To give up a practice in child psychology and take up dance professionally, has been a gamble but one that is self-fulfilling. Keeping classical dance traditional yet relevant is the biggest challenge one faces as a dancer and teacher -to impart the values that are intrinsic to the traditions, without forcing them.
What did you want to be when you grew up? What options seemed open or closed to you, if any?
I did not want to be a dancer, for sure! I was fascinated by Psychology and have been pursuing it since the 11th grade. I then went on the get a Masters' in Counselling Psychology and worked with children for 5 years. I was also dancing alongside and somewhere along the line, the joy that dance gave me, naturally progressed into choosing to be a full-time artist. This has been possible only with total family support, in looking after my son while I travel. I believe I could have chosen to be anything and they would still have supported it, but art is what I chose.
Who is your role model?
As cliche as it sounds, I admire a lot of people, but don't have a role-model as such. I prefer to craft my own path, drawing inspiration from those around me. I look up to my dance Guru, Shri Kishore Mosalikanti, in everything I do as an artist. His choreography and dedication to the art-form is a source of inspiration to me to keep practising harder everyday!
What in life has brought you the greatest satisfaction?
I think satisfaction is dangerous for an artist, but I do acknowledge my evolution over the years, as an artist and teacher. I am very proud of the kids I train and derive a lot of satisfaction in their success. At the simplest level, hearing from my parents and my Guru that I performed well at a show, means the world to me, that I impacted a member of the audience in some way, means my work for that day is complete. Above all, being a mother and allowing myself to be more than just that, brings me untold joy.
One piece of advice to women everywhere.
Believe in yourself and do not go by another’s benchmark on life and success. Your happiness must come from within and not without - that power is yours alone.
Believe in the Infinite Power of You!