“Cultural differences should not separate us from one another, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity”.
Every person has a different story to tell. Their struggles and challenges make them who they are. People from different cultures come forward to tell their stories and the beauty of these stories tells us that everyone is unique in a different and charming way.
India is a land of rich heritage, culture & these traditions are deeply rooted in almost everyone who grew up in India. US-based Sonali Loomba had lived in Bangalore in India for 27 years, deeply involved in learning Indian classical dance, Kathak, for over several years, which is known for its beauty, grace, strength and storytelling. Before moving to Salt Lake city, Utah, USA three years ago, Sonali Loomba received and continues to receive her training in Kathak from her Gurus Shri Hari & Smt Chethana from Bangalore. She attributes her love for Kathak to her teachers who have been teaching and performing for over 30 Years in India and overseas.
Everyone has to face challenges at the beginning of a new journey. As an Immigrant it is not easy to find the same solace as your home country, there is a vast difference in culture, food, language. For Sonali, it was a roller coaster ride. Describing her journey, she told that she spent few months in involving herself with the community. She realized that people everywhere, irrespective of the country were all appreciative and welcomed different cultures. In fact they were pleased to know that a new culture was being introduced to the community of Utah.
“They had never experienced Kathak until that one fine day I decided to perform at a well know festival in Salt Lake City. They quickly could correlate the dance style to a medium of storytelling of various mythological stories from India and were amused by how harmoniously the sound of the ghungroos /bells coincided with that of the music. They were curious of the hand gestures /mudras that was used in the performance and were amazed by the complexity of the dance form. I had gained the confidence of the community that this culture was here to stay and was appreciated, I was then encouraged to offer Kathak classes to others in the community.” Sonali Loomba tells The Statesman over an email conversation.
She started the very first Kathak School in Utah, Salt Lake City, calling it ‘Kaladharaa Dance School’ in 2016. It’s a non-profit organisation with a mission to promote and preserve this North Indian classical dance form. She has taught over hundreds of students the niche of Kathak and continues to train kids, youth and adults the beauty, strength and grace of this ancient, traditional dance style.
This is the first time the larger community of Utah has experienced Kathak, and they definitely have no complains. She is an exponent of this art form and a well-known instructor, performer and choreographer in Utah.
“I have been driven by my passion for dance which resulted in creation of the dance school and left my well paid corporate job of several years to pursue this passion. I have always been an art enthusiast and a supporter of arts and culture and strive and work hard to keep this passion and art form alive.”, she says.
While Sonali has received many accolades for being the first Kathak dancer to offer classes and performances in Utah, a well-known one is the Utah State Grant for public showcase of Kathak in 2019, apart from being invited to universities and schools to offer guest lectures, demonstrations on Indian Culture and Traditions. She has also had the opportunity to collaborate with many local talented artistes to create Kathak productions one of which is called ‘AARAMBH’ which will be showcased in May 2019 and ‘fusion of Flamenco & Kathak 2019′.
Sonali Loomba believes that one should not be afraid of new challenges in a new place. “I believe that as an immigrant and moving to a new country one should be fearless and be ready to dive into pursuing their passions or dreams which they always followed in their home countries. A new place should be used as an opportunity for self-exploration rather than shutting oneself off, she says, adding: “Every country is appreciative of different cultures but it’s important to involve and be involved with the community and for them to appreciate you, you need to learn to appreciate their culture as well. Being different but respectful of others cultures and traditions is the number one priority. You need the support of the community to be able to introduce anything new and there is a lot of power in community support. I have been deeply supported by my surroundings in Utah and have felt welcomed in this State.”
Sonali is leveraging the power of Indian culture and spreading it across continents. She believes everyone has a role to play in preserving the Indian traditions and Sonali is trying her best in spreading the knowledge of Kathak across the continents. She aspires to motivate others who have moved to a new country from India and are in unclear minds or have unsettling thoughts of being away from Home and whether or not the community will welcome their ideas, passions. She has used the medium of dance to communicate with the community and she has been successful this far and strives to make this bigger in Utah and across.
Says one of her students: “As difficult as this dance form is, I feel as if my brain is restructuring itself because this dance form teaches me to live in my body and appreciate it. Through Kathak, I am learning to embrace different aspects of learning including, process of struggling and remembering through mistakes. Lastly, Kathak has helped me with anxiety and depression.” Another one adds: “Standard forms of learning in university can be very draining and do not value the well-being of the student. Kathak asks you to be aware of every small detail in your mind and body, and to be less connected to a material world around you. After every class, I feel my mind becoming more calm, and my body filled with more energy. It has definitely improved my mental health and reduced anxiety in many ways. I feel my overall confidence improving as I try and become more ritualistic with the dance, and it’s a very exciting energy to add to my daily life!”
Sonali’s mission for 2020 is to host an Indian Classical Dance and Music festival in Utah which would invite local as well as artist from other states who have dedicated their lives to pursue these cultures and traditions.