Updated: Jul 18, 2019
Voyage LA: Rina, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Rina: I was born with an intense and otherworldly love of dance. This love has consumed me, tested me, and driven me. Today, this love of dance is the foundation upon which I have built a life and a business and the breath that infuses everything I do. I am proud to be a Kathak dancer, choreographer, and educator, and Co-Founder and Principal Artist with the Leela Dance Collective, a nationally and internationally touring dance company. My formal training in dance began right here in Los Angeles. As a child, I studied Bharatanatyam, South Indian classical dance, from Padmini Vasan in the San Fernando Valley. I loved the rigor of the art form and I loved the stories of the great Hindu gods and goddesses I learned to dance. They seemed to me – these gods and goddesses – like the Marvel’s heroes or X-men of my people.
When I moved to Berkeley, CA for college, I was eager to continue my study of Bharatanatyam. Fate instead landed me in renowned Kathak master, Pandit Chitresh Das’ classroom. I remember my very first day. I was mesmerized by the energy in the room. Pt. Das was playing tabla and singing as his students danced a story of the love between the divine beings, Radha and Krishna. In many ways, my profound journey as a dancer and artist began that fateful day. I immediately joined Pt. Das’ school and began training with him in the traditional guru-shishya parampara (guru-disciple tradition). I eventually became a teacher at his institute, the Chhandam School of Kathak and a dancer with his company, the Chitresh Das Dance Company. I was blessed to have been able to study with Guruji (as I refer to him) intensively for more than 15 years, to have danced with him and in his company and to have taught under his guidance.
In 2010, I moved back to Los Angeles and entered a new phase of my career and life in dance. I began teaching and performing locally and around the country as a soloist. I learned so much as I traveled the country teaching and performing. I saw how dancers and artists struggled – to find the environment and support to develop their craft, to find camaraderie and a community of artists to engage and exchange with, to realize their artistic visions without adequate financial support. When my Guruji passed in 2015, I brought together my fellow sisters in dance – Seibi Lee, Rachna Nivas, Sarah Morelli, and Shefali Jain – to reflect on how we wanted to carry forward the legacy of Kathak dance. We decided to form the Leela Dance Collective. Our hope for the collective is that it provides kathak artists with the support, nourishment, resources, and community they need to thrive and carry forward the rich and ancient art form of Kathak. Our work is grounded in the principle of collective creativity. We believe firmly that an open exchange of ideas and collaboration can lead to great discoveries and works of art.