Punyaprabha is a passionate Odissi dancer. She started her Odissi dance training at the tender age of six and had her first stage performance at the age of seven. She has performed in various prestigious dance festivals across India.
She completed her VISHARAD in Odissi from Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidhayala, Mumbai and received several accolades for her artistic and academic achievements. She has been recognized and received scholarships as Young Artist in Performing Arts from the Government of India. Also, she was actively involved in electronic media and was an accredited junior artist for DOORDARSHAN. Punyaprabha has acted in Odia movies Basanta Rasa, Jai Phula and Indradhanu ra Chhai. She was awarded the best supporting actress in the movie INDRADHANU RA CHHAI (the shadow of the rainbow), which was also screened at Cannes film festival.
Punyaprabha has a Master’s degree in Psychology and Bachelor’s degree in Education. She is actively involved in teaching and passionate about working with specially-abled children. For her, Odissi is a way of life. As an artist, she believes in discipline, spontaneity, technical clarity and creative freedom. She believes that dancing should first and foremost be a source of joy and a way of getting closer to the divine.
The Odissi training modules are designed by Punyaprabha after taking into consideration all the finer aspects of this beautiful art form. She is an instructor par excellence who brings the best out in her students through patience, love and affection.
Her mission is to reach out to a million kids across the globe to make them smile and happy during these challenging times and help them imbibe a positive bent of mind.
Ananya: Hello and welcome to Kidsownstory! It’s nice to meet you. You have been an eminent dancer, actress and teacher for so many years. Apart from completing formal education in Odissi, you have a degree in Psychology as well. So, what prompted you to choose a career in dance?
Punyaprabha: Thank you for having me and it’s my pleasure to be connected with you. Nice to meet someone who is as passionate about kids as I am! It’s a common thread which connects and helps in understanding each other better. I would also like to appreciate the good work you have been doing through Kidsownstory. Stories are the best way to share ideas, inculcate values and teach concepts to children.
Ananya, I would like to identify not as an eminent dancer but rather a passionate dancer who is still learning, loves to teach and be with kids. Coming to the next part of your question, I started my Odissi lessons at the age of 6 years, much before anything else. To me, dancing is not just a career – it’s my heart and soul. As far as Psychology is concerned, it’s something which is a part of everyone and the knowledge of understanding the “why we do what we do” certainly helps me in fathoming emotions better. It’s easier for me to connect the basic principles of psychology while teaching kids.
A: When it comes to teaching children to dance in contrast to dancing yourself, which provides you greater satisfaction and joy?
P: For me, dance is a way to connect to the Almighty. I get inner peace through dance – it makes me feel completely happy and at peace. Now coming to teaching dance, I believe it’s a way of giving…and what can be more joyful and satisfying than giving back? Being a teacher, I love to be surrounded by kids. Their innocent activities are a source of energy and positivity for me. I want to pass on the knowledge and whatever I have learnt to the next generation. It’s also about bestowing my passion to the kids. I want to see them dancing with the same enthusiasm as I do and be happy and stress-free. That’s what matters. The basic objective is not what I can do or how I can dance but rather how well I can make my kids dance so that they enjoy in the process of learning.
A: You have founded Lasya, the virtual dance studio. How has your journey been so far?
P: Lasya is my lockdown initiative and was launched on 28th May, 2020. Prior to this, I was involved in teaching dance to children, but not virtually. It’s during this pandemic that the idea of Lasya, the Virtual Dance Studio was conceived and it is the most positive thing that happened to me. The venture has started taking baby steps. The journey so far has been exciting, with a big learning curve which is still continuing. Conceptualizing something that you are passionate about and building it brick by brick with limited resources (because of the lockdown) along with my co-founders – my husband and son gave me an immense sense of satisfaction and excitement. It’s my passion which is the catalyst in shaping up Lasya.
A: Which is the ideal age for children to learn dancing?
P: Learning, as it is, has no defined age…it is a lifelong process. That’s what I believe and I hope you will agree. With me, children often start learning from the age of 7 years onwards. This is the age when kids are physically flexible and excited to explore and learn. It’s a stress buster to be with them and experience their level of energy and inquisitiveness. They are a powerhouse of positivity.
A: How do you believe dancing impacts a child’s growth and development?
P: Dance helps in a child’s overall development. Regarding physical development, dance is conducive in building growth, strength, flexibility and stamina. In the sphere of emotional development, dance helps to express and communicate emotions. When children experience the joy of dancing, they learn to express themselves in a way that benefits their mental health. Dance channelizes their energy and emotions in a positive way, which enhances their self-esteem and level of confidence. Moreover, dance helps in developing one’s cognitive skills. The dedication, focus and discipline that children learn and practise in dance are vital life skills that get transferred to school, work and other aspects of their lives. Also, dance kindles creativity among children, which helps them to think out of the box and come up with new ideas. They also learn how to work as a team, which develops their social skills and helps them to cope better in life.
The most important thing I would like to highlight is that dance triggers the happy hormones in the body, which makes anyone, even a child feel good from within. This aspect gives a positive outlook and helps children to focus better in anything they do, including studies.
A: Do you have any suggestions for making classical dance interesting and fun for young kids, to spike their interest?
P: Yes, we should seriously think of ways and means to make children attracted towards classical dance forms and stay connected to the roots. I personally feel that in some way or the other, we all are responsible for the current state of affairs. We need to take the responsibility to kindle an interest towards classical dance and other age-old traditions through various media – digital or print. This will help them in understanding our rich cultural heritage and going forward, they can pursue any dance form or music that they like. Personally, I feel that classical dance or classical music forms the base/platform for any other dance form or music.
And of course, the dance lessons can be made fun by adopting new teaching methodologies and simplifying the techniques and communication system, thereby making it easier for children to connect and relate. As a dancer, teacher and choreographer, I believe that certain classical dance choreographies on socially relevant topics like the environment and value-laden stories can definitely spike the interest of kids in classical dance. It will enable them to see dance as an art of purpose and not just a performing art.
But then, more than any other source, I would say that parents play a vital role in nurturing a child’s interest. So, they need to present classical dance as fun and attractive to their little ones.
A: Do you feel there’s anything we can do to overcome the existing bias against male dancers, especially in India?
P: I believe that following one’s passion should never be subject to gender. Things have changed a lot over time and male dancers are now getting recognition and appreciation in all forms of dance. Still, I would like to request everyone to encourage the passion, talent and art, irrespective of whether it comes from a male or female person. Talent is God’s gift, and we must accept and respect this gift whole-heartedly without letting any preconceived notion come in the way.
A: Tell us something about the Million Smiles Initiative. What are the steps for children to be a part of this?
P: The Million Smiles Initiative is to make children happy, active and creative through Odissi. My objective is to enhance their level of confidence and self-esteem through learning cum fun. I would like the parents to understand the positive impact of dance on the overall development of their children and encourage them to go for it.
Kids can participate by signing up for my lessons, which form the platform for the Million Smiles Initiative.
A: Despite the obvious setbacks COVID-19 has brought, is there a silver lining that you’ve discovered?
P: This pandemic made me rekindle my passion and fine-tune my mentoring skills. Lasya and the Million Smiles Initiative were conceived during these times. I believe that every challenging situation opens up new avenues and the mantra is to adapt the best as you can. This pandemic allowed me to connect with art lovers across continents. It also gave me the opportunity to learn new things and step back and reflect on the things I was passionate about.
A: What are your plans going forward?
P: I have newly begun the journey with Lasya, the virtual dance studio and the Million Smiles Initiative is a journey and I’m confident that it’s a matter of time when Lasya will be, according to children “fun to be and love to be.” I hope to spread my love for Odissi through dance lessons across the globe. I am determined to make Lasya the synonym for Happiness, Free Spirit and Passion.
A: Do you have any message for the readers of Kidsownstory and all the parents, uncles and aunts of young children?
P: Let your child enjoy whatever he or she is passionate about, let their innocence and spirit flow naturally. Let them have their own dreams and own wings to fly. Provide them with a safe and positive environment to channelize their energy and emotions to boost their self-esteem and confidence. My humble request is to avoid killing or manipulating their dreams.
A: It was a pleasure talking to you. All the best for the future!
P: Thanks a lot and I appreciate your understanding of the various aspects of dance, art and literature in general. It was such a nice and positive interaction, which I enjoyed to the core. I wish you a wonderful journey with Kidsownstory….all the best to you too. And I wish everyone a healthy, happy and positive life.
[As told to Ananya Sarkar.]