The Swastik sway of life

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From six kathak students, Sumati Nagpal’s dance school has taken strides across styles and disciplines. The dancer talks to Shveata Singh Chandel about nurturing a passion as well as her new venture Swastik Showbuzz

In the past eight years, Sumati Nagpal, through her Swastik Institute of Dance, has taken Indian and other sub-continent forms of dance to new heights of recognition in Australia.

Hailing from a family with deep roots in music and rhythm, Sumati realized at a young age that dance is her passion. The highly accomplished kathak dancer and choreographer is the tour de force behind Swastik. Sumati holds a Master’s degree in dance, and besides Kathak, is skilled in Odissi, Indian classical, folk, bhangra and Bollywood dance forms.

Swastik Dance Institute was started in a studio in Harris Park in 2007, and in a short span of time, Sumati has mounted several high-profile stage shows in Sydney, her students performing alongside several Bollywood celebrities.

“There’s a strong need within the Indian community in Sydney and, in fact, all over Australia, to stay in touch with culture and tradition. Parents want their children to maintain a connection with their heritage, and one of the best ways they can do that is through the performing arts,” says Sumati.

“When Swastik was first launched in Sydney, there were only six kathak students in the class. Two used to pay, while others didn’t even pay,” says Sumati.

Things, however, have clearly changed. There are more 150 students from different parts of Sydney enrolled in her institute, with classes taking place during weeknights and all day on weekends.

“People think they can dance only if they start very early in life, which might be true for professional dancers, but at my studio we welcome dancers of all ages and abilities. My youngest dancer is as young as four years old,” says Sumati, who believes in teaching kathak to her students by following Indian guru-shishya [teacher-student] parampara or tradition.

“Kathak is a classical Indian art, steeped in centuries-old tradition and there is only one way to transfer it to the younger generations and that is to do it the way they used to in olden times,” says Sumati.

Swastik, however, is no one-trick pony. In addition to kathak, the school conducts Bollywood, bhangra and garba classes too.

“I tell my students that versatility is the most important thing for a dancer. You might be highly accomplished in kathak, but you must pursue other dance forms as well because you learn something new from each style,” she says.

Wellness and fitness are strong considerations at Swastik too. In addition to dance classes that are great cardio workouts, the institute also conducts weekly Zumba and yoga classes.

“If you’re interested in Indian arts and wellness disciplines, then really Swastik is like a one-stop-shop for you,” says Sumati.

Indian classical instrumental music is not left out at Swastik either with regular classes being held to teach children dholak, manjira and tabla.

“I’m now combining disciplines. People learning table, play the instrument for students learning kathak. It’s a fantastic match. After learning to dance with recorded music, performing with live music is the next challenge for kathak dancers, and in these classes with live tabla, they get that experience,” says Sumati.

In the past few years, Swastik’s students have been performing at venues across Sydney. They have shared the stage with renowned Bollywood performers such as Sukhvinder, Udit Narayan, Mika and Jazzy B. In 2011, while performing with Swastik students, renowned Indian singer Shankar Mahadevan was so impressed, he stopped the show mid-way on stage, to introduce himself to some of the school’s youngest students.

Encouraged by the strong response of organisers of major Indian events in Sydney, the school has recently launched Swastik Showbuzz – a group of its best students, who’re now available to perform at corporate and private functions, as well as at large-scale community events.

“The most important objective of establishing this performing group is to reward the hard work of students. After learning dance for years, students want nothing but to show their talent on stage and Swastik Showbuzz is a fantastic way to do that,” says Sumati.

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