[Photo Courtesy: Natya STEM Dance Kampni] Also Read - Saroj Khan on Madhuri Dixit's Birthday: I Don't See Madhuri in Any Actress Today
There’s no denying that dance is in Madhu Nataraj’s blood. The daughter of late Indian classical dance legend Maya Rao, Nataraj has been exposed to the art form her entire life. But now, at age 44, she is putting her own twist on classical dance. Also Read - 'Qawwali Nahi Chalegi Yahan': Noted Dancer Claims Her Act Was Stopped Midway, Yogi Govt Refutes Charge
“I was born in a family of artists,” she said. “My mother was the pioneering choreographer and guru, Dr. Maya Rao, and my father, M.S. Nataraj, was a cultural impresario—so the arts were always part of my DNA,” Nataraj explained. “Dance feels like a womb memory and I could say complicated ‘bols,’ [which are] dance syllables, as a little child. But by the time I was 15, I was saturated with dance and graduated in commerce and journalism before returning to dance as a 20-year-old—on my own terms.” Also Read - Happy Birthday Madhuri Dixit: What The Diva Does to Look Stunning at 52
Nataraj is the head of Natya STEM Dance Kampni, a Bangalore-based dance troupe and performing company. She was recently given the opportunity to tour the world to expose others to the beautiful world of Indian dance. This is not Nataraj’s first taste of global performing experience, though.
“I’ve been touring the USA as a professional dancer since 1994 apart from having accompanied my parents there as a child,” she said.
Though the Bangalore-based artist is very much an Indian dancer, she has experience from the U.S. as well. “I studied contemporary dance in the studios of New York in 1994 before returning to India to create my own contemporary Indian dance vocabulary through my STEM Dance Kampni.”
Nataraj has a deep sense of wanderlust, which might explain her passion for touring the world. “Travel is my oxygen and I have traveled to about 38 countries thus far. I love experimenting with new cuisines, getting to know diverse cultures and experiences each journey offers,” she said.
[Madhu Nataraj. | Photo Courtesy: Natya STEM Dance Kampni]
Having a mother who had such success and prominence in the world of dance certainly exposed Nataraj to the art, but she has also charted her own path in many ways. “My mother was a pioneer in the world of Kathak and choreography; my trajectory is a little different from hers. My mother was my guru and best confidante but always encouraged me to carve my own niche,” Nataraj said. “She is my inspiration, but the path I follow is my own—something we both understood and agreed upon.”
Building upon her mother’s legacy is a priority for Nataraj, who said she lost her mother in 2014.
“My mother always said her students were her legacy. I have the double responsibility as a student and daughter to ensure that her work continues to thrive with the same standards and high quality set by her,” Nataraj said.
For Nataraj, Natya STEM Dance Kampni has been a lifelong project and passion. She has worked with the institute, which she started with her mother, for 20 years.
“Apart from looking after the Natya STEM Dance Kampni, I now also head the Natya Institute of Kathak & Choreography, India’s only degree course in choreography and also a training institute in the idioms of Kathak and Indian contemporary dance,” she said.
Nataraj is proficient in both Kathak and contemporary dance; both styles are extremely important to her.
“I balance dual roles as a Kathak and contemporary dancer,” she says. “This offers me the ability to co-exist with tradition and modernity which is my base philosophy in life and in my dance. I created Karnataka’s first Indian contemporary dance company whilst still in my early 20s,” she said. “I love both the forms that continue to both inspire and humble me.”