Shanthi Ashok is a Bharatnatyam teacher and is the founder of Nrityanjali, a bharatnatyam school in Fairfax, VA. She lives in the Fairfax area with her husband and two daughters, who are also accomplished dancers.
1. When did you start your dance school and describe your first year.
In 2001, one of my very dear friend was learning kuchipudi, when she came to me asking for help on a jathi. When she watched me execute the steps, she insisted that I must teach her daughter dance, thus prompting me to teach a few classes in the next years. In 2004, I established Nrityanjali and in 2009 started Nrityanjali Dance Company; 15 years later, I am so proud of the girls I have taught, grow into beautiful dancers and women.
2. Who are your gurus and how did you start dancing?
I started dancing at the age of 5 under the tutelage of Guru S.Vasantha from Kalanjali school of Arts in Bombay. Vasantha teacher along with her sisters Guru Indumathi and Guru Subbalakshmi have dedicated their whole life to this art form. I am forever indebted to my mother and Guru Vasantha for instilling their own love for dance in me at such a young age.
3. One dancer/musician who continues to inspire you.
One of the new dancers of the younger generation, Mythili Prakash, has mastered the art of blending the classical and contemporary aspects of the art form, making the pieces more receptive to the audience.
4. What are your challenges as a dance teacher?
One of the biggest challenges I face as a dance teacher, is keeping the students motivated enough to stick to the art form. I go to great lengths to help keep their passion alive, but since nowadays kids are involved in a multitude of activities, it can be difficult for them to stay true to only one activity.
5. Seeing the students perform is always a moment of pride. What is that extra thing they do that makes you feel grateful and happy, and maybe even bring a tear in your eyes?
Over the years, I have been blessed with a group of girls who seem to capture the grace and power that I long to see in Bharatanatyam. Every time I watch them dance, I feel so proud to see that they have grasped the essence of the knowledge I have imparted. My heart is moved when I see a part of me in their dancing.
6. If you had to pick just 3 qualities for a good student of dance, what would that be?
Perseverance, passion, and patience
7. It’s 2029, where do you see your dance school and yourself as Guru?
I have so much left to learn in this field, so I hope to continue learning and furthering my knowledge in music and Bharatanatyam. At the same time, I hope both my girls and students come and further Nrityanjali and bring it up to new heights. I hope whatever career path my students choose, the passion that I have instilled in them will continue to bring them back to dance in one form or another.
Curious to learn about other students and teachers of dance? They are profiled here!