Indian Dancer Finds Her Own Rhythm

Junior Shalaka Bhat Shakes Her Stuff in Traditional Kathak Dance

When most students think of dancing, the first image that comes to mind is a crowded gym packed with wild and crazy teenagers. However, for junior Shalaka Bhat it is Kathak, an Indian classical art form.

Shalaka has been performing Kathak since she was eight years old. She joined the Chhandam Company when she was eleven and over the last nine years she has been improving her skills.

Shalaka practices on Saturdays at Union City from 12-3 in the afternoon and Wednesdays in Berkeley from 6-8 in the evening. But there can be rehearsals at any time depending on the upcoming shows.

“Kathak is so different from any other dance forms I have ever seen,” Shalaka said. “It is not only physically demanding but it is also mentally challenging as well.”

According to Shalaka, Kathak is based on a rhythmic cycle of beats, called a “taal.” A choreographer then creates a pattern of beats within the underlying cycle. While music is played in a certain time signature, Kathak is danced in a certain taal.

“I think that Kathak is an incredible art form because it keeps me so well rooted to my culture,” Shalaka said. “ It has helped me discover who I am and what kind of person I want to be.”

Junior Anna Schneider attended one of her performances and was impressed by what she saw.

“It was really cool because there were these bells that were on her ankles that weighed a lot,” Anna said. “But it was impressive how she kept up her energy throughout the whole thing.”

Kathak is most popular in northern India and is one of the six main Indian dances. The name means “the art of storytelling.” It is used not only to convey a story, but to also entertain.

“To me, Kathak isn’t just an ordinary dance,” Shalaka said. “It’s so much more than just a dance; it’s a lifestyle.”