Meet Svetlana Tulasi and let’s ask about her dream that is to encourage as many people of Indian origin as possible to remember their roots and contribute to their nation’s rich culture through Indian Classical Dance instead of following the western culture imposed by the mass media.
What inspires you to become a Kathak dancer ?
Svetlana Tulasi : I have been learning Kathak since an early age, and on my journey I have been through many ups and downs. Only with time was I able to deeply connect and eventually fall in love with this beautiful art form, so that now I can’t see myself pursuing anything else as a lifelong career choice. Classic Bollywood films like Devdas, Umrao Jaan, Mughal-e-Azam, Pakeezah inspire me, as well as some of the contemporary Kathak dancers like Kumar Sharma, Sanjukta Sinha, Aakash Odedra and Rajendra Gangani.
Kathak, is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘katha‘ (the story) and ‘kathakar‘ (the story-teller). How does a dancer through movements display varied stories?
Svetlana Tulasi : Kathak is considered by most just as a form of dance, whereas in reality it contains many elements of the theatre – especially the facial expressions. Without saying a word, a Kathak artist can express a wide spectrum of emotions through their eyes, tell stories with their body movement and through the expression of the feelings.
You have performed at international stages, do you think Kathak as a dance form needs a lot of exposure so people abroad also understand it?
Svetlana Tulasi : Of all the art forms I personally feel that Kathak is currently among the least known dance forms, if we ask the common people. People know or have at least heard of ballet, hip hop, tap, flamenco, belly dance, but barely anyone knows of Kathak outside of the Indian dance community and people of Indian origin. I feel it is my duty to change that towards the wider recognition of this beautiful art form across the world.
What does the future hold for Kathak?
Svetlana Tulasi : Kathak is an ancient art form that has been around for thousands of years. It has evolved with time from era to era by taking in the flavor of the time, and I am sure the future holds just another form of Kathak’s evolution. With the ongoing globalization, fusion of Kathak and other dance forms feels like an inevitable phase for Kathak to go through.
Should everybody dance? What does it add to life?
Svetlana Tulasi : Dance has a lot of benefits for our mental and physical well being: from being therapeutic – you literally can’t think of anything else when you dance, you are 100% present in the moment, at the same time it’s a great cardio workout for the whole body, and it’s a beautiful source of energy for your soul since you connect to the music and how it makes you feel and move according to that.
Other than those benefits, dance teaches you discipline – good results in dance require regular training, and dance teaches you to be disciplined if you want to succeed. This discipline can be applied to organizing the rest of your life.
Learning Kathak is a lot of hard work and requires perseverance. In this age of internet, many are doing dance by watching online videos. What are your views on this?
Svetlana Tulasi : The internet is a enormous part of our lives and it is there to stay for the future generations, so I think there’s nothing wrong with online education. People get inspired to dance, to create art – I think inspiration is a very important thing when deciding to pursue something in life. The important note here is once you have the inspiration from the internet, to go out there to an actual dance class for regular training. Doing it regularly and constantly learning something new is the key.
How much do you practice dancing a week?
Svetlana Tulasi : My practice hours rely fully on my schedule – when I am touring with shows we rehearse for weeks straight, 8 hours a day with short breaks for meals. When I was learning Kathak with my Guruji for over 15 years, the average schedule was 4-5 times a week, about 3 hours per class.
Do you think you are an entertainer?
Svetlana Tulasi : In some way of course – dance is a part of the entertainment business. Sometimes we are there to make art, sometimes we are there to entertain. If we manage to do both at the same time – that doubles the happiness ( she smiled ).
Have ever tried in Bollywood?
Svetlana Tulasi : I had the experience of being a part of a big Bollywood film production, it was the movie Tamasha by Imtiaz Ali starring Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor. My role was Sita of Ramayana, but eventually none of my scenes made it to the final cut of the film – you might be surprised how often this happens even to well known actors. However it was a great learning experience ( she smiled again ).
Recently, you became a vegan. How important is veganism in a dancer’s life?
Svetlana Tulasi : Adopting vegan lifestyle is the single best thing that has happened to my health, physical and mental well being ever since I started in December 2018. I was very skeptical and critical at the beginning, because I was coming from a non-vegetarian background and I couldn’t imagine my life without my favorite meals. But I was also very curious to figure out what was all the vegan noise about.
The more I studied what the science has to say about health benefits through medical conferences and TED talks, the more I saw documentary films showing the unimaginably cruel reality of animal farming, the more I learned what the environmental activists backed up by science have to say about animal farming being the number one cause of the ongoing disastrous climate change, the more it all made common sense to me. So with all that knowledge I realized very clearly that I do not stand anymore for what my meals used to represent – pain, cruelty and abuse. And apparently the health benefits of animal products are a myth that we have been made to believe ever since we were born despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of them causing only harm.
And now that I am vegan, I feel a lot more energy, I lost weight, I workout twice as much as I used to, I feel light after every meal, and I know I am making a statement with every meal that I consume – I do not want to pay for the big food companies to bring the animals and their by-products to my plate anymore (dairy, egg, honey, which by the way are as cruel as the meat industry). There are only benefits of a whole food plant based diet with balanced macro and micro nutrients intake – every reasonable vegan doctor and scientist will support that with a ton of research and evidence. Find your why – and go for it, the information is out there, be it books, social media, films, or research.