Pratha Samvad: Exploring the journey of Ms. Rashmi Uppal, a renowned Kathak Dancer from Jaipur

Ms. Rashmi Uppal is a renowned name among Kathak dancers and teachers especially in the city of Jaipur. With Nityam, her dance institute, she has trained numerous young Kathak dancers and has worked extensively in promoting one of the most beautiful classical Indian dance forms.

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As most of you must be aware, undergoing training in any Indian classical dance form takes a lifetime of hard work, passion, and determination. Along with that the support of one's family is paramount. Belonging to an era where creative careers were mostly discouraged, Ms. Rashmi Uppal’s journey as a Kathak dancer and teacher is quite relatable to all those involved in the creative field.

THE EARLY START

Growing up in a business-savvy Delhi-based Punjabi family, Ms. Rashmi’s association with the creative industry seemed unlikely. Thanks to her Bengali grandmother, whose utmost desire was to see her granddaughter become a performer, Ms. Rashmi got acquainted with Kathak for the first time when her parents enrolled her in Kathak Kendra, also known as the National Institute of Kathak Dance in Delhi during her schooling years. Here, she received training in Lucknow Gharana of Kathak under the guidance of late-Shrimati Bharti Gupta Ji, a disciple of Pandit Shambhu Maharaj.


THE BIG STEP

Like most of us, after school, she completed her masters and took up a job. Even then, she did not disengage herself from Kathak. Although she balanced her time well, working in the morning and practicing Kathak in the evening, she soon realised that she was stuck in an unstimulating, mundane cycle. It was finally time for her to decide what she was more passionate about- Kathak or her job. While Kathak was her lifelong passion, her form of meditation, her job was important for her financial independence and career growth. After much thought and speculation, she knew what she wanted.


So, the next day, she mustered all the courage, went to her office, and expressed her desire to quit. Although the act was liberating, Ms. Rashmi found herself on block one again. How will she proceed from here? What step should she take now?


THE TURNING POINT

As the popular saying goes, “When you want something, the whole universe conspires in order for you to achieve it,” opportunity came knocking on Ms. Rashmi’s door. She got an offer from none other than Aditi Mangaldas, the globally acclaimed Kathak dancer to join her dance company. Ms. Uppal calls this ‘not only a turning point in her career but also her life’. Not letting go of this marvellous opportunity, she joined the Drishtikon Dance Foundation: The Aditi Mangaldas Company in 2004, and has since been an active member. With Aditi Mangaldas, Ms. Rashmi performed in various centres across the globe. However, as is the nature of life, big changes revisited Ms. Rashmi’s life and encouraged her to push herself further.

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LIFE IN JAIPUR

After marriage, she moved to Jaipur and started imparting dance training in a prestigious school of the city. This early association with school children enabled her to connect with the students at a deeper level and pick up the pulse of the town. However, after giving birth to her son and juggling between work, home, and dance, Ms. Rashmi once again found herself stuck in the same cycle she had escaped from in Delhi. With motherhood, was she ready to give away her passion?


NITYAM

Tired of her monotonous routine, she reminded herself of the teachings of her Gurus. Her strong belief in the concept of Guru Shishya Parampara along with the urge to grow as a performer and teach Kathak at a higher level paved the way for her own dance institution - Nityam.


Ms. Rashmi envisioned Nityam for giving life and form to varied aspirations. To begin with, she desired to promote the cultural heritage of the country by maintaining a balance between tradition and change. She says, “Tradition has to flow. If you don’t let that culture flow, it will become a pond. The water will become stale and it will smell. It has to flow like a river.”

Through Nityam, she also wanted to carry forward her learnings from Mangaldas and use the school as a tool to grow and explore her exquisite craft. Additionally, she wished to create an organised structure for Kathak in Jaipur that was somehow absent from the city at that time.


However, establishing her own institute in a fairly new city was not easy. Finding a creative space that was both conducive to the learning of Kathak and monetarily viable was a pressing issue. Initially, she also faced difficulty in attracting students. Eventually this problem resolved as she gained traction through word-of-mouth and the number of students joining her institution grew.


Today, Ms. Rashmi’s institution is firmly established in Jaipur. Its students have performed at famous cultural centers like Jawahar Kala Kendra, a multi-arts centre in Jaipur, and have increased in diversity of backgrounds and countries even.

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Nityam students performing at Jawahar Kala Kendra

THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Like most fields, the advent of social media also had an impact on Kathak. Ms. Rashmi narrates her own experience while posting on social media. “It’s not frivolous. If you have to dance for 5 minutes, you have to think for 5 days. Where will I dance? How will the camera angle look? I have to practice it then record it. It’s not so easy.”


Just earlier this month, she featured in a project with the biggest music label in the world, Universal Music Group (UMG). Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons collaborated with one of the biggest American rock bands, The Eagles’ guitarist, Joe Walsh, on a version of Hum Honge Kamyab.


Quoting her Guru, Aditi Mangaldas, Ms. Rashmi emphasised Kathak’s shift towards social media. “Kathak is like a seed which you have to water with contemporary sensibilities.”


CONCLUDING WORDS OF WISDOM

“I think it’s just two things: Patience and hard work,” Ms. Rashmi shares. “Lage Raho” (keep going) is the phrase she said that puts it all together. Classical dancing is extremely difficult and requires immense hard work. One cannot simply give up. She links this phrase back to her school, Nityam. “Nityam means something which goes on. It has to happen every day, it doesn’t stop,” she states.


Check out her mesmerising Kathak performance at Pratha's Dastan-e-Mughal event.

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Author

Khushi Makasare

Pratha Content Writer

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