I have always believed that dancers are the luckiest persons, not only because they are creative and can make all their imaginations come alive through their dance moves but because whenever they travel they make friends very easily and the relationship that develops is only because of the medium of dance that gets them to bond with other people.
I was invited to perform at the Seattle India Dance Festival in USA recently. On this trip, the three weeks I spent in the magnificently beautiful city, my assistants — Supirya Shah, Manasi Desai and me — met a very interesting person. Someone who connected with us because of the love for dance, and not just any dance, her love for Bollywood dance.
I was introduced to her as one of the dancers who would be performing for me in my dance segments. My dance piece had a total of 22 performers and she was one of them. But the first thing that caught my attention was her name, Katrina Ji. Well, I first thought that she has named herself after Katrina Kaif but when I spoke more to her, I realised it was a coincident that she shared her name with Katrina Kaif. So my next question was why “Ji” thinking it was used to pay respect. It, I found out, was her real surname. Katrina Kaif may be a star today but Katrina Ji has been on the dance scene for a longer period than Katrina Kaif’s career in Bollywood.
Katrina Ji started dancing since the age of four and by now, she has a wealth of dance experience. She is a certified ATS Belly Dance Instructor by Carolena Nericcio of FCBD. She is also certified in Entry Level Flamenco by the Spanish Dance Society. Her childhood dance foundation has been in ballet, tap and acrobatics. But what she loves the most is Bollywood dance and Bhangra.
Thought Katrina cannot speak Hindi, she watches every Bollywood film and loves Rani Mukerji. Her love for Bollywood dance has got her to India many times and she has trained under many experts from the film world. I was surprised to visit her dance studio in Seattle by the name– Culture Shakti Dance Company. Without being an Indian or a Hindu, she has the word shakti in her company as she believes that ‘the power’ or ‘the shakti’ of love of dance has helped her set her dance school and performance company.
Her studio has a very Rajasthani feel, with the famous katputlis (puppets) everywhere. The main door welcomes the guest with a toran and symbol of Om along with a diya kept near the music system so that prayer can be performed before the class begins. Being a person who is born and brought up in Seattle in USA, she seems more Indian to me compared to most Indians living in India.
Katrina has been teaching ATS Belly Dance since 2001. In 2007, she was among the first group of teachers to become certified Sister Studio ATS Belly Dance Instructors by Carolena Nericcio of FatChanceBellyDance. In 2010, she began Bollywood dance classes in Seattle and post that, her institute has been nominated as the Best in Western Washington by King 5 / Evening Magazine which makes me feel proud that she is taking so much interest in promoting our films and dances in another faraway land.
Each year Katrina travels to Rajasthan along with her students and goes to remote places of the colourful state learning Rajasthani folk dances from locals. She has special love for kalbeliya dance as well as tera tali and often invites local kalbeliya dancers to USA to perform along with her team. In fact, she along with dancers from India took part in USA Dance Championship recently and was highly appreciated for her efforts.
What I liked the most about Katrina Ji and her Culture Shakti Dance School is that at her dance class where she teaches Bollywood, Rajasthani folk and belly dance, she has many schemes to promote Indian culture. There are times where students have won a trip to Vienna, India and Austria along with Kartina and her troupe. She leaves no stone unturned for people to come to class so that she can spread the India culture into their lives.
People like Katrina Ji are rare gems who willingly adopt another culture and everything about the country and place only because they love it from the bottom of their heart. The love for India and Indian culture is so clear in Katrina Ji’s lifestyle that it is touching. The only regret she has is that despite trying her best to learn Hindi, she has not been able to speak in the right accent and the correct manner.
When I meet dancers like Kartina Ji, I sometimes wonder how pure their souls must be to be accepting and changing oneself completely to fit into a new culture. My heart is all for Katrina Ji and the love affair she is having with Bollywood music and dance moves. She is superbly dynamic, graceful, and passionate about her art. I hope and pray that she keeps the hard work going and promotes Indian film culture even more in other places in USA and at the same time I wish to also thank Katrina for loving India and Indian films and calling us her own.
Sandip Soparrkar is a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]