Pune Introduces A ‘First Of Its Kind’ Classical Dancers’ Guild 

Standing L-R : Guru Maneesha Sathe, Guru Shama Bhate, Guru Sucheta Bhide Chapekar

They are the Trinity of Pune’s classical dance scene; with Grace as their middle name and lineage as their legacy, they share the wisdom of the bygone years with young enthusiasts in the field for posterity…

On the occasion of International Dance Day, we at Pune365 met with the three doyens of Classical dance who have put Pune on a pedestal on the National and International cultural map. Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner Dr. Sucheta Bhide Chapekar-the Founder of Kalavardhini, the illustrious Academy for Bharatnatyam along with Pandita Shama Bhate, Director of Nadroop Kathak Dance Academy and Guru Maneesha Sathe, propounder of Maneesha Nrityalaya go down memory lane to trace the beginnings of Classical dance proliferation in Pune since 1960’s…..

Way past their sixties, the trio are the living bridges who have witnessed the many renaissances that have enhanced, modified, and enriched the world of Indian Dance.

One does wonder how they chanced upon Dance and their travails thereafter. “By virtue of being the true blue Punekar, I should be the one to tell my story first,” said the youngest of the threesome, Maneeshatai with a twinkle in her eye. “In the late 50’s at the tender age of 5 I began my dance training under a teacher named Satish Master, of which I have no recollection and it was when I shifted to train under Balasaheb Gokhale that my parents became seriously inclined towards making me a dancer. When I turned 11 I was put under the tutelage of the great master Gopi Krishnaji in Mumbai. It was here that the serious Kathak training began. My first professional public performance was at Bharat Natya Mandir, which still hosts many classical Dance shows till date.”

Suchetatai on the other hand, grew up in Mumbai and had a dance tutor Tulshidas Mangeshkar who would come home to give 5 year old Suchetatai private tuitions. He would speak of Acharya Parvati Kumar as one of his mentors. “Mangeshkar Sir would teach a mix of various dance forms. It was not any pure style as he had picked up nuances of different styles from different Gurus. Therefore what was being taught was a medley of various dance forms. My father being a keen follower sought out Acharya Parvati Kumar and I was placed under his tutelage where the pure style of Bharatanatyam was imbued in me,” said Suchetati. Suchetatai made her debut in style in Pune with an electrifying performance at the Sawai Gandharva Mahotsav in 1967.

Shamatai interjects, “I had my debut performance at Udyan Mangal Karyalayanear Tilak Road in 1972. My dance training was under the strict guidance of Guru Rohini BHate fondly called Babytai since childhood. But I became serious about Dance only when I passed out of school. Incidentally, in those days everybody learnt a little of all styles, with a heavy bent on folk dances as well. Classical pure forms were imbibed much later and the distinctions between styles became gradually better defined.”

So, how has the Dance training scenario changed over the years?

“Honestly, today the quality of teaching methodology has improved tremendously as dancers have better exposure enabling them to better define the idiom,” says Maneeshatai. Agreeing on this Suchetatai adds, “Indeed, there are many classes today in every area of the city with many takers as well. But the downside is that there really is no quality check. The only way to distinguish the chaff from the grain is for parents to be aware and do groundwork.” Shamatai pipes in, “earlier with just few reputed institutes, people would come to the main training centers from far and wide. But today with the city boundaries expanding and with quality trainers in all parts I dissuade students from too far to join a class at the other end of the town. It is better to train near home as the affinity to such easy access class is way higher.”

With number of artistes and teachers burgeoning, one wonders if audience numbers are also on the rise or is the number waning? All three unanimously agree that the numbers are very heartening and people are ready to pay for viewing classical performances.

“Pune’s Dance quality is top notch,” says Shamatai, “on a par with the best in the country. And therefore with a little organizing the talent from here can win National and international acclaim.” For promoting the interests of the large Classical dance fraternity, the trio has undertaken a unique initiative. Says Suchetatai, “We have brought together all classical dancers of the city to form a collective under the aegis of Shastriya Nrutya Sanvardhan Sanstha (SNSS) that would help all dancers to work in tandem with one another and carry out dynamic dissemination of the Art form across the world,” says Suchetati. “This is one-of-its-kind conglomerate in India, a first of sorts that promises to support the Dancer community and enable the members to work in collaborative, cooperative manner,” adds Maneeshatai. 

Under the auspices of SNSS the Dance Season launched 10 days ago saw dancers creating creative initiatives in their areas for the last 10 days as a lead up to today’s International Dance Day.

Indeed, the triad ought to be congratulated for the Herculean task that they have undertaken to ensure the next in line dancers plant their feet firmly on the international arena.

Pune continues to live up to its cultural capital epithet as the Dancers’ league become the beacon to the world of performing Arts

Shumita Mahajan

Shumita Mahajan

Shumita Mahajan, an established name in the field of Dance, Features and Marketing Communication, has over 2 decades experience in Media, Communication and Critique of Performing Arts.
Shumita Mahajan