By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Del Sur resident Debjani Chakraborty is sharing her life-long love of Indian classical dance with locals through performances and free lessons taught at area libraries.
They include 10 lessons she provided at the 4S Ranch Library last June and August, and a multi-week session at the Mira Mesa Library next month. Most of her students are of non-Indian heritage, she said.
Performances have included entertaining at the Poway Health Center, and as part of recent Diwali festivities in Balboa Park and 4S Ranch Library. She also dances at the House of India in Balboa Park and at fundraisers for various causes and organizations including the Federation of Indian Associations and Indo-American Society of San Diego plus Rotary International in San Diego.
Chakraborty said sharing her love of dance is her form of community service.
“(Dance) gives me internal happiness,” she said.
Chakraborty said she began her dance training at age 3 because she comes from a musical family. As a youth she studied three of seven classical forms — kathak, bharatanatyam and manipuri — but she specialized in kathak when earning her master’s degree at Rabindra-Bharati University in Kolkata, India, where she also received her undergraduate degree.
She said kathak, which comes from northern India and means storytelling, is a very technique-based form of dance. One number can be as short as five minutes or as long as 90 minutes, one reason why the dance form takes years to perfect.
“We communicate with hand gestures … and facial expressions,” she said, comparing it to sign language. These are combined with various movements that include complex footwork similar to tap dancing, but done with bare feet.
“The footwork is very important … and you make accent sounds on the floor with your foot and use the heel like an instrument,” she said, adding these combined with bells attached to the ankles make sound variations.
Chakraborty said she performed all over India prior to moving to the United States with her husband and son in 1999. Since relocating she has danced throughout the U.S. including at events in Baltimore, Minneapolis, Houston, St. Paul, San Francisco and San Diego. Prior to moving to San Diego in 2005, she taught dance in the Santa Clara Unified School District as part of its cultural enrichment programs. She has also taught at the University of California San Diego.
“I love teaching,” Chakraborty said, which she began doing as a teenager. Though she also said she loves performing, by teaching dance in the United States “(I can) promote my culture to the community … to kids and adults. It is my passion, love.”
She also teaches dance at her home and a studio in Poway.
In addition to movements, Chakraborty said dancers’ costumes including the color help convey a dance’s theme. For example, one wears blue if dancing about the rain, green if the environment and red if love or emotion.
For information about Chakraborty’s upcoming classes or community performances, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 858-513-8248.