A group of seven young Bharatanatyam dancers from Hyderabad stunned judges Remo D’Souza, Shakti Mohan, Sumeet Nagdev and Puneet Pathak in the third season of the Dance Plus TV show, making it to the top six. Shah Rukh Khan, who was a guest on the show, was spellbound by their performance and couldn’t help shaking a leg along with the young girls.
However, the main people behind the troupe’s success are 97-year-old V.S. Ramamoorthy, who runs the Sri Rama Nataka Niketan, along with his daughter Manjula Ramaswami. Located in Secunderabad, where Ramamoorthy was posted for his government job and decided to stay on, the academy has trained thousands of artistes under its wings in the 47 years of its existence. Ramamoorthy may not be able to hear too well or may be repetitive with his words, but dance has not left his mind, body or soul.
Talking about how it all began, Manjula, who is the prime caretaker of the academy now and teaches around 80 students, says that it was her father’s guru, Shri Dandayudhapani Pillai, who started the academy in Chennai first and played a crucial role in her father’s life.
V.S. Ramamoorthy started learning dance at the age of 22. While his family was supportive, they were worried because he was working extremely hard. He used to work during the day and learn Bharatnatyam by night, after travelling from Avadi to Mylapore — a distance of almost 30 kilometres. “On August 15, 1947, he performed his arangetrum (debut performance of an Indian classical dancer). After watching his performance, Ramamoorthy’s family understood where his heart belonged. “He then went on to perform for the then president Rajendra Prasad as well,” says Manjula, beaming with admiration.
Hailing from Tanjavur, Manjula says that people in that city are automatically drawn towards the arts. Recalling another story that her father had told her, she says, “My father’s guru was very well known. Dancers such as Vyjayanthimala and Jayalalithaa were my fathers’ juniors at the academy. His guru used to stutter while talking but my father used to say that once he started singing, mountains would melt.
“My father was the guru’s first male disciple and when they were told to hold a difficult posture, sometimes many legendary dancers couldn’t and the guru would say, ‘Rama, you do it and show.’ And he would say, ‘Despite you being women, you can’t do it. Learn from him’,” says Manjula with a laugh.
On asking why her father teaches young people even at 97, Manjula has just one thing to say, “Dance was his life. He would tell me that his wish is to pass away while dancing or conducting. As the only child, it is my responsibility to fulfil his desires and that is why I keep him connected to dance in some way or the other, until he can go on.”