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Katherine K's (teacher) public page
Katherine K  

Hi, my name is Katherine Kunhiraman and I teach in Berkeley and Lafayette. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in learning bharatanatyam.

Here is an article about me in www.tribuneindia.com

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WHEN 18-year-old American beauty Katherine first stepped on Indian soil in 1963, she had not fathomed that she would develop an eternal relationship with India. Her stepfather had got a job with Ford Foundation which brought her to this country. She was studying arts in Philadelphia and was scheduled to return there. She was also into theatre, ancient history, textiles and the study of religion.

But one evening as she watched a Bharatanatyam performance, she was deeply moved.

"The theatrical expressions, stunning delicate movements and detailing of each step left me awestruck. There and then I decided I wanted to learn Bharatanatyam and somewhere in my heart I was confident that I could do it. When I told my parents this, they were dumbfounded. But they allowed me to follow my heart. I immediately joined Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata and learnt Bharatanatyam, kathakali, Manipuri, kathak, Bengali folk dances as well as dance theory. How those years simply flew by… the thought thrills even today. Indian dances are so self-consuming that I used to feel that I was born was to learn them," recalls Katherine Kunhiraman, now 61, and settled in Berkeley, USA.

By 1966, Katherine had moved to the famous Kalakshetra in Madras. Here she pursued Bharatanatyam and kathakali for the next three years. She also learnt Carnatic music and Natya Shastra, doing rigorous practice for six to eight hours every day.

By the end of 1968, she shifted to Bharata Kalanjali School headed by Dhananjayan and Shanta in Chennai. For the next seven years, she completely devoted herself to Bharatanatyam.

Meanwhile, this American fell in love with Kathakali dancer Kunhiraman, son of Pandit Ambu Panikkar, Rukmini Devi’s kathakali guru. In 1970, she got married to him. In 1975, she decided to shift base to the US, along with him. She wanted to share this gift from the East — her dance — with her motherland.

"I was confident that some American university would absorb me to teach dance. But that did not happen. However, I taught at Stanford University of California and in Berkeley. Eventually I opened my own academy, Kalanjali Dances of India, to teach Bharatanatyam and received an amazing response.

With the Indian community growing in the US, there is more awareness about its rich and extraordinary roots.

"Indian parents today have become particular about teaching their children classical dance, and Bharatanatyam is a favourite. So I have many Indian students, along with American students," says the ever-smiling Katherine, as she sits on the floor monitoring her dance class.

More than her students, it is Katherine who mesmerises with her hand and facial expressions while directing her class. She had to stop dancing in 1982 when she injured her knee. Her students include Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. They perform at the "Graduation" ceremony which marks the completion of the course, wherein she invites musicians from India. Besides, her academy holds an annual festival, for which she invites a famous Bharatanatyam dancer to give a performance.

Who does she think is the best Bharatanatyam dancer in India? "India is blessed with so many extraordinary dancers that it is difficult to name one. Nevertheless, I think Yamini Krishnamurthi can be termed as a full artiste. Even today I am in awe of her. I even named my daughter after Yamini’s sister Nandini." For Katherine, the best gurus of Bharatanatyam in India are Shanta and Dhananjayan.

Katherine and Kunhiraman are perfect soul mates. Their daughter Nandini, however, has not taken to Bharatanatyam and is pursuing a career in graphic designing. Does this dishearten them?

"No, not at all. I suppose she grew out of it because of the overdose of classical dance at home," Katherine admits laughingly but is quick to add that her daughter is into art anyway.

She says her parents gave her the freedom to choose Bharatanatyam and she too allowed the same freedom to her daughter.

Like a majority of artistes in India who give performances across the country and even abroad, does Katherine too believe in following this practice?

"No, touring is horrible, I found that it did not strengthen my creativity. When you tour for your performances, what you get to see as an artiste is either the back of the theatre hall or the airports. You have no life beyond that. Both, Kunhiraman and I have literally lived our art. Well, we may not have the money that a doctor or an engineer manages to earn in the US and we may not have the resources to go on luxury holidays but we have earned a great sense of contentment. Every year so many students come to me to learn Bharatanatyam. This gives me satisfaction, which cannot be measured with any amount of wealth."

 

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