Bangalore is integral to the dance world of India. Many dancers of repute were born and brought up here and have added to the city’s profile. Ram Gopal, U. S. Krishna Rao and Chandrabhaga Devi, the Pooviah sisters, Shanta Rao, Maya Rao, Narmada, Sonal Mansigh, Usha Dattar, Syed Pasha, Vyjayanthi Kashi, Vani Ganapathy, P.Bhanumathi, Padmini Ravi, the Sridhars, Kiran and Sandhya Subramaniam, Pratibha Prahlad, Nirupama and Rajendra have all enriched the dance world of Bangalore.
Add contemporary dancers like Bharat Sharma, Tripura Kashyap, Madhu Nataraj Heri, Mayuri-Madhuri, Attakalari group and you have a whole range of dancers who make Bangalore a happening city. Why, even Protima Bedi made little headway in Bombay and shifted to Bangalore to make her name and fortune.
Bangalore’s first school of importance came about courtesy the Yuvaraj of Mysore (father of the present Wodeyar) who commended Ram Gopal’s performance at the Palace in Mysore way back in the 1930s.
U. S. Krishna Rao had accompanied Ram on the mridangam! Ram was then a lad of 18 and once the Yuvaraj was enticed by his performance, there was no looking back. Ram Gopal’s career took off. Born to a Rajput father and Burmese mother, Ram had the most stately of figures. He was like a God on stage and mesmerized people under his magnetic charm and charisma.
Ram had a proper studio in Benson Town where his family had a palatial house called the Torquay Castle, The Castle had a tennis court in addition to the studio. Veteran dancers of today, Mrinalini Sarabhai and later M. K. Saroja, were all part of his studio. He brought renowned Gurus’ Muthukumaran Pillai and Sohanlal to teach Bharatnatyam and Kathak respectively. Leela Ramnathan, Shevanthi and Tara Rajkumar were the prominent disciples. “Ram never charged any fee to teach but he would make us do the Allaripu 100 times!” recalls Leela Ramnathan, “Musicians of such eminence as Doraiswamy Iyengar were part of the team.” Ram Gopal and his erudite shishyas clearly put Bangalore on the world dance map.
After Ram Gopal, it was U. S. Krishna Rao saar and his wife Chandrabhaga Devi, who heightened Bangalore’s profile. As a dancing couple, they helped many follow their example and proved to be worthy teachers to society girls like Sonal Mansingh, whose grandfather, Mangaldas Pakvasa, was then the Governor of Mysore. Many students learn’t from the Rao’s and they contributed significantly.
Shanta Rao was always an eccentric artiste, celebrated by the media and men in power. She did some sort of mixture Mohinattam and her Bharatnatyam was full of jerks! She was a forceful dancer and remained by and large confined to her world and although she had few years of active dance career, she remained limited to the region, not gaining national stature. The government gave her lot of grants and support. Today, she is above eighty and almost a recluse.
Maya Rao distinguished herself by being the first disciple of Kathak Vidwan Shambhu Maharaj of Lucknow gharana. She was also the first Indian to be sent to Moscow to properly learn choreography.
For many years she made Delhi her base and helped many artists in many ways. She returned to Bangalore 15 years ago and has since then done much for the city. Her daughter Madhu continues her work. Nearing 75, she is still active and gracious.