How did you start dancing?
I started dancing with my mother when I was 4 years old. She owns a dance school and is the only teacher of her school in New Jersey. It’s called Kalamandir of New Jersey. I started following her around to all her rehearsals and classes until I inevitably joined. I would say I hopped around for a long time pretty much until I was 8 or 9, and then I properly started taking class. I do Northern Indian Classical Kathak dance. It’s been a real cool experience watching my mom not only be a mom, but be a business owner, a teacher, and an educator.
What was the dance studio like?
We actually didn’t have a studio per se until about 5 or 6 years ago. It was always at my mom’s house or at a community center. We have a lot of Hindu temples and community centers around the suburbs where we have space for community classes. My mom has always been super involved in all the tri-state areas and had a pseudo-studio situation in all those places. It was a private setting where we didn’t share the space with any other styles of dance. 99% of our students were Indian and Bangladeshi. It wasn’t a commercial studio at all. If any of the other students learned other styles of dance, they went to another school to do that. Only in the last couple years when my brother, my father, and I got her studio set up, did we change our aesthetic into styles that are really collaborative.
What are you up to now?
Right now, I work at Broadway Dance Center full-time. I am the Educational Programs Coordinator. I help run the Training Program, the International Student Visa Program, Professional Semester, and ISVP professional semester I work alongside some fabulous ladies who work in the administration with me. I am also on guest faculty at Broadway Dance Center separately as a teacher. Artistically, I am working with my company—Kalamandir Dance Company as a next chapter to my mom’s school. We take Indian classical dance out of the four walls of its existence and fuse it with contemporary elements to make it accessible,to change the vibe a little bit. The idea behind it is that I had lots of different things that have influenced my dancing while growing up in America. My mom really wanted to create a space for proper fusion, so she started the company five years ago and let me take the reigns. The word “fusion” gets tossed around like it’s easy to do. But if you’re going to fuse two elements together, you have to study both elements. That’s the vision behind Kalamandir Dance Company. Right now, we have a New York branch with a rotating 25 dancers. We’re non-profit registered with New Jersey and looking into shifting that over to New York.
How did you get involved with the world of dance?
I am a math major and a music major from New York University. It just made sense. Finance, economics, that’s where the money is. I was dating my ex at the time, and he had a finance job. It seemed to be the most logical solution because it was the only thing I was good at in school. But with being in New York University and dance being my main passion, my mindset was always that I was going to do dance on the side—not as a glorified hobby—but a main hobby that stayed on the side, and then have a job too. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to be connected to so many artists and dancers during college. It started to become clear to me that I wanted to help foster dancing in other people.
I always have had this insecurity because I am not ballet trained. I don’t have the “technique.” I have classical Indian technique, but I don’t have what we consider technique here. I didn’t know how far I could go with that. I didn’t know what I could audition for. So for me, it was about asking myself how to get involved in something that will help other people dance and be a part of international community. I wanted to be involved enough in the world of dance in New York that I could bring some awareness to Indian dance as well and do it in the right way. And then I saw an opening for Broadway Dance Center on Facebook. They were looking for an Educational Programs Coordinator, and I felt like that was a sign. My dad and I worked on my cover letter together with little expectation. I submitted and my boss Bonnie called me in a week later. I guess they liked me, and then the day after that, I got the job. It was pretty cool. I was still finishing school, and she was pretty flexible with me. She let me do some night classes, so that I can finish the semester and still be at work. I have been there for 3 and a half years.
It’s rare to say this, but I am absolutely infatuated with my job. I love it so much. I get to work with students. I get to communicate with students from almost a year in advance. These students from around the world would tell me that they want to come and dance full-time through the visa program, but they can’t come up with the money for another year. And then to have them come to orientation and put actual faces to their names—it’s all really inspiring. Broadway Dance Center is a super international community with dope dancers and working choreographers. It’s pretty cool to be a part of that conversation.
What are your aspirations?
I used to answer that question in terms of dance aspirations and then life aspirations. The distance between those two things have started to minimize. Not that my life is dance and dance is my life, but it’s more that the things that I really want from dance are results of what I want from my life. What I want from my life is—and I think that’s the more important question—is community. I’ve been feeling lonely for maybe about two years—not in like a, “Aw, I am sad and lonely” way. More like, “How do I function as an independent artist with this amazing network of friends, and how do I abandon this feeling of being lonely?” And many artists talk about this. If I can feel one with the universe, I think that will improve my dancing. I am not done dancing. What I am really trying to trademark is Brinda Guha Dance and Kalamandir Dance Company. The company would be carrying out a vision, and I would be working on my own work as an independent artist. I would like to keep both going.
After I find a sense of community and a sense of what I am really trying to do, it’s important to me that I spread the knowledge of Indian dance and culture to the greater New York City area. And do it in the right way. By that I mean, with no disrespect, Bollywood dance is a very commercialized version of Indian dance. It has its weight and gravity for what it is. Everything has a commercial version of it. But what I am trying to create is in a more artistic realm—something where any person who’s watching doesn’t have to look at it and go, “That’s really beautiful, but I could never do.” The whole idea is to intrigue people enough that when they go home, they’d want to YouTube a Classical Indian dance and see what that’s about and have that curiosity about it. If I can help foster the appreciation for classical Indian dance in people by using contemporary dance methods while not losing the essence of where it came from, I think Indian dance can be back on the map in a very important way. That’s my overarching vision. I think the only way to get there is to continue working hard and to be closer to my network who’s already super supportive and embrace for what it is.
American dance has an artistic and commercial platform for dancers through various companies and shows. How do you think Indian dance could achieve that status in America?
It has to be a vocabulary first. I don’t think it can be a trend. We have this association with the word contemporary ballet. But contemporary ballet are said together because it’s a contemporary version of ballet. The word contemporary, especially now, is a big umbrella of things. I think that all the forefathers of what we consider techniques of modern or contemporary dance worked on a grammar and vocabulary first. My shift recently has been figuring out my product and the grammar behind my product. If I can establish a grammar, then it has legs to stand on, and at the same time, I can be working with people who want to train and help teach that technique. Contemporary Indian dance is something that I am working on from a very academic point of view . I attend a lot of different classes and see connections to Classical Indian dance.
The dream is to be able to go to a bookstore one day, maybe past the end of my life, and see basics to Horton, Limón, etc, and Kalamandir technique—right next to the Graham book. Something like that would be cool because then it has weight. It always has something to fall back on in the same way I always fall back on Indian Classical dance. I think the technique needs to stand on something so that it’s not just some cool movement with Indian flair. That’s not what I am going for. I think creating something called Guha technique would be cool. My good friend Ryan Daniel Beck convinced me a couple weeks ago that I should be thinking about Guha technique—as silly and funny as that sounds to me still—to have it really trademarked. So that can be something that lends itself to further training. And Kalamandir style can be based on Guha technique. Stuff like that. I would like to create a movement first and definitely bring more awareness to Contemporary Indian dance that I think is lacking right now. I think when people think of Indian dance they think, “Oh, so you do Bollywood.” What I do is different from Bollywood, and I want that different thing to be known.
What are some differences and similarities in classical Indian dance and American dance?
Similarities—I mean movement is movement. I am finding that out more and more. You know that as a dancer, but you realize it when you’re actually moving. I took Flamenco lessons for like 7 years. I do a lot of percussive dance from Kathak and Flamenco. They both involve fast footwork, which has a lot of similarities to tap. That being said, the intention that goes behind each of the taps or sounds that you’re making with your feet are more similar in Kathak and Flamenco than in tap. Rhythmically, these styles can go in many directions and can work really well together. There’s actually a lot of Kathak and tap duos happening right now.
Kathak is one of nine forms that at this point are considered Classical Indian dance. Every style of Classical Indian dance has a grammar and looks very different from each other. So even the neutral position is different. Sometimes it’s feet together parallel; sometimes it’s first position demi-plie; sometimes it’s in a deep second position. The techniques are all very, very different, but it’s under the umbrella of Classical Indian dance. Kathak has a long history—it’s a fusion of the Hindu influence and Islamic influence in India during the Mughal era. Kathak has continuously changed, so I see it as a very adaptable form of dance. There are lots of similarities between Kathak and other forms of dance, and there are lots of things that make it super distinct as its own kind of style. For example, in Kathak we use a lot of wrist movements, lots of hands, which I don’t necessarily see in traditional western forms of dance. But that being said, Fosse movement is all hands, and all articulation of the fingers. It would be a shame to say that there’s no connection at all because there is. If you’re talking about in terms of technique and movement, there are lots of similarities and differences.
How did you get involved in learning about these different styles?
To be completely honest with you, So You Think You Can Dance. I don’t watch it anymore, and I don’t even really know what’s going on with it. I think the platform of the show has changed a little bit. But what I think it has done is create this awareness for dancers; this idea that you can live a dream life by being a fabulous dancer on TV. Growing up in high school, I saw So You Think You Can Dance, and I was amazed at how these dancers could do anything with their bodies. It was so cool to see dancers go from a choreographer to choreographer, pick up a dance in three hours, and perform it for national TV. I was just sitting there in awe—no one could talk to me when the show was on because it was my time. A lot of my friends growing up did a lot of jazz and ballet and tap. I’ve always been a dance nerd with the filter of Classical Indian arts because that’s how I was raised. I started seeing all these other things and YouTubing and researching and buying books and talking to people.
One of my best friends and partner in crime who started Kalamandir Dance Company with me and my mom, Ria DasGupta, trained in ballet her whole life. So with watching what her body could do and being able to work together with that, I just became super nerdy about the whole thing as a spectator/viewer. Every single day I was finding things on YouTube that I liked and shared it on Facebook. Then when all the fusion-y creative stuff started happening in our dance school, I realized that I needed to learn more. I started taking these one-off workshops and would go to BDC and other studios to take class. I got heavily involved with Flamenco, so that made me appreciate world dance. I’ve always had an inclination towards world dance forms. I needed to get all the stuff in my body.
If I watch a class at BDC one day, and a peer of mine is teaching Fosse, then I am the type of person to go home and be like, “I am a little ashamed to tell you that I don’t know much about Fosse, so I am going to go home and read about it until 3am so that I understand what I just saw today.” And then my mom is a big influence in my life. She’s a Classical Indian dancer and teacher, and she went from Classical Indian dance to Contemporary Indian dance in India at that time, although the exposure to different dance forms wasn’t available to her the way it is to me. We’ve talked a lot about that while I was growing up, so she always encouraged me to watch different concerts and took me to shows.
It’s great that you work at BDC where a lot of that is available to you right there.
Daily. It’s one of the biggest blessings in my life to work at BDC. Not only is it a fabulous company with cool and supportive people, dance is also around you every single day. You’re helping get people over here so that they can be living their dreams. More importantly, going to the restroom involves walking past dance studios where I can watch jazz legend Sheila Barker teach a fantastic intermediate jazz class. I just watch her presence and watch how she commands the room. As someone who is trying to be a good teacher and choreographer and artist, just having this stuff in my normal daily life has been a blessing for me.
What would be the toughest time that you’ve had?
I have an insecurity that I am still fighting. I am not trained in ballet, and therefore I don’t have “technique.” I didn’t want to be grouped into that cute, stylized form of world dance that happens once in a while as some cool master class. I wanted it to be on the map, but I didn’t know how. That insecurity about not having “technique” was kind of eating me alive. So with transitioning the company from New Jersey to New York, I’ve never had problems promoting my work, but I’ve had a hard time explaining it. It’s been a work in progress to be able to talk about what I do. I knew it in my heart, but I could never articulate it. So I’ve been really thinking about it. Being able to explain to people what I do and why it’s interesting has been really tough. But really having this online persona of “I have it all figured out” while living with major insecurity about explaining what I do has been really difficult for me. Once Kalamandir company started to take shape and started to become it’s own brand, I started to be able to talk about it freely. Tonight, I am teaching a contemporary Indian dance workshop as a connection to a concert. This kind of stuff never happened before because I could never explain what I did.
Another thing that happened super recently was the Apprentice Series at BDC. They’re trying to have a proper, codified system of hiring teachers where you can be vetted out to see if there’s promise in you as an educator. It is a cool idea where faculty board members watch you teach and give you feedback on how you taught the class in the context of what you teach. I was the guinea pig, so I was the very first person to participate in the series. I taught classes at Broadway Dance Center for two summers, but the Apprentice Series was one of the coolest and one of the hardest experiences of my life. You have Sheila Barker watching you teach a class and telling you that you’re not confident and that you’re not looking at your students in the eye and that your warm-up sucks! She told me that I need to have much more force behind what I’m doing. I wanted to take notes and sit down with her to learn how I can be a better dance teacher. Once I started doing my homework by changing my warmup and developing my technique, It helped me start to find the whole grammar thing I had been wanting. I stopped saying things like, “I know it feels weird to use your fingers, but…” and instead explained to the students why we use our fingers and our hands. If that much can happen in 4 weeks, I can only imagine what this series can do for new and young teachers. It was super difficult—I’ve never been told that I had a shitty warm-up and didn’t know how to start a class. Now I have so many tools that’s going to make me a more relevant teacher.
What would be your number one advice?
Having to go through difficult things helped me figure some shit out now. I don’t really know if I would ever change that. But in terms of a piece of information I could give my younger self, I would tell that person that there’s legitimacy to my training. Trying to have a sustainable career and foster future generations while being in the minority of world dance—that part does not need to be a handicap. That part can very much be what makes you stand out. That can very much be the reason why your work will mean something. I am saying this to you now, and I don’t really believe it. I know these feelings can exist, but I don’t know how to always feel that way.
Whatever your training is, respect your training for what it has given you and know that it doesn’t stop. I am dancing more now at 27 than I’ve danced in my whole life. I am in more beginner-level classes now than I had ever been in my whole life too. There’s so much to gain from respecting your training and going into class and walking away with a new piece of information. Being in a beginner class does not minimize my craft and what I am trying to leave on the world. Believe in your brand more. If you’re taking time to craft your brand, then it has legitimacy for what it is.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
I am really excited. I’ve always wanted to be on Dancers of New York [laughs]. I want to let people know that you can be working on your craft and doing what you need to do in order to support your craft. Those two things can happen at the same time. It doesn’t have to be working survival jobs and then, if you’re lucky, working on your craft. I want people to know that—coming from a place where I am trying to create something and make it stick—you have to believe in your product. If you believe in your product, you’ve done most of the work. The hardest thing was believing in my product. Nothing seemed possible when I didn’t believe in it. Once I started realizing that my product had a future—that it could be something important and that it could impact people in a certain way—everything opened up. It started changing my image—how I dressed, how I carried myself, the advice I would give to my students at an administrative level—because I started believing in my product. I want people to really believe in what they do. I think that’s the hardest part. But once you’ve mastered that, it’s going to change who you are, and it’s going to make people gravitate towards you. Just trust yourself. I think every dancer who respects their training has something to offer.