I’m Yulia Svetlichnaya, from Russia.
I was graduated from the Kalakshetra Foundation in April, 2014. I’m a Bharatanatyam dancer.
I have been dancing since my childhood. My mother was a dance teacher, and she used to say (to me): “You started dancing almost at the same time as you started walking”.
Since my very childhood I was in search of an activity that might uncover my full potential, so I tried different dance styles such as sports dance, aerobics, sports ballet dance along with other activities including swimming, drawing, sewing and singing. I tried various kinds of arts but kept changing them always, since everything I tried, turned out to be quite easy for me to master. This in turn lead to disappointment in the activity, and it’s further abandonment.
Now when I remember myself at that time, I think that all this was because of the absence of a person – a rival of a kind – who could ignite my interest in that particular activity.
I started learning Indian dance at the age of 6 or 7- it was the time when my mother got interested in Indian culture and Vedic heritage. In those early days we were just learning Indian dances from the video tapes, and as afr as I remember now, it was a mixture of folk, bolliwood, Odissi anf Kathak styles. I used to perform them on stages during various culture festivals. We were dressed in synthetic saris during the performances and wore artificial Indian ornaments, because nothing authentic was available at that time in our place.
But this was the time when I developed a dream to learn a classical Indian dance someday and make it up to a professional level. At that time I could not even imagine how this dream will change my life later.
A new place and new opportunities
When I turned 8 or 9, we temporarily moved to another city, Vladivostok, where a friend of mine invited me to join an Indian dance class. I happily accepted the invitation. My mother told me then: “See, you wanted to learn Indian dance and now God is giving you this opportunity”.
We learned mostly folk dances, but there was a classical dance too, and I didn’t know at that time that the dance was Bharatanatyam.
Sadly, it lasted only for a while, since the classes were held quite far from my place, and were very late, so I found them hard to combine with my school in the long run. Also we had to come back to our home town, so the dancing stopped.
Upon returning to my place, I continued trying various dances and activities in order to fulfill my ‘thirst’.
A year later, when I turned 12, we moved to Vladivostok again, and there I met my friend who invited me to attend Indian dance classes before. She told me that a Russian woman who had just completed her studies in Bharatanatyam in Delhi, India, was coming back to Vladivostok, and that I could learn some good things from her.
Thus I met Oksana – my first Bharatanatyam teacher, who helped me realize that Bharatanatyam was the dance that could satisfy me, and it was just what I was looking for. I tried so many activities and dances before and everything seemed too easy for me; Bharatanatyam, in turn, offered so much – its scope of skills and the room for improvement seemed limitless to me. Not only your legs and arms are involved in dancing, but there are mudras (hand gestures), and also you have to engage your eyes, neck, shoulders – literally, every part of your body – in dancing Bharatanatyam. You need to learn abhinaya – the art of expression. And you have to smile always while dancing – even if you are totally exhausted.
A new chapter
I studied with Oksana for 9 months, then she left for India. I still had 3 more years till the graduation from school, but my dream has shaped already, and turned into a goal – to go to India and study Bharatanatyam there.
At that time I also got engaged with Denis (now my husband). We got married after my school graduation.
I like studying, and I used to spend the most of my time doing just that, while at school. So it was not uncommon for me to get the highest marks. At that time I also attended a music school where I learned playing piano and singing. Upon graduation from high school I managed to deliver a sustainable shock to all my teachers by saying that I was not going to a University. My mother was trying to persuade me to change my mind since my marks were high enough to study at the university and receive a scholarship.
Nevertheless, I was confident about my goals, and Denis, my husband, gave me all his support.
We prepared the required documents, and in October, 2009 we set off to India.
We traveled across India (mostly through the southern part) for around 6 months, and visited Delhi, Vrindavan, Udupi, Kanyakumari, Sri Rangam, Trichi, Chennai, Thirupati Kolkatta, Mayapur (Navadweep) in West Bengal.
Initially I planned to study Bharatanatyam in Delhi under the guidance of Oksana. But when we met in Delhi on December, 2009, she told me that if I really wanted to learn Bharatanatyam it’s better to study it at Kalakshetra College of Fine Arts (Kalakshetra Foundation).
We visited Kalakshetra later, while being in Chennai on January 2010, and though I didn’t even consider it initially, later I thought that I would give it a try.
The interesting thing was that while being there, at Kalakshetra campus for the first time, Denis said that he got a feeling that in the future we would walk these campus pathways many times. I didn’t feel anything like that.
Actually, at the time of our first visit, I learned that the classes there were starting from 8:30 am and lasted till 4:00 pm, and the first thing that came to my mind was ‘No way! That’s a lot of time to spend for studies! I had enough of it during my school days!’ (in Russia the classes are from 8:00 am till 1:00 pm) But somehow I changed my mind and applied for admission. Well, actually I decided to study there because I had a deep and strong love for Bharatanatyam.
On June, 1st, 2010 the letter came from Kalakshetra, stating that I got admitted, and should come by the 21st of June, 2010. I was so happy and thought there was nobody happier than me in the whole world! So we went to Chennai, and my studies began. I won’t go into details about studying at Kalakshetra, I will only say that it was an exciting experience, which lasted from July 2010 till April 2014 – four amazing years, during which I was learning Bharatanatyam, Carnatic vocal, languages such as English, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, theory, history of dance, Vedic heritage, temple architecture, yoga, playing Mridangam, Laya Talam (rhytm), abhinaya (expressions and mimics) and many more.
It was a difficult journey indeed, but I had never searched for easier paths, and I knew that learning this beautiful art would not be easy. Out of my love for Bharatanatyam (stremilas k perfection), I was practicing daily: our studies started on 8:30 am, lasted till 4:00 pm, but even this was not enough (to quench your ‘thirst’ for dancing), so I also practiced myself or with my friends (classmates) till 8:00 pm. I was so happy! Kalakshetra became my second home, since I did not only learn the art, but also met many nice people – great teachers, and those who became my closest friends: Alana Rajah from Trinidad, Barnali Das from Assam, India, Soundarya Ramdas from Bangalore, India, Gayathri Sukumaran from Thiruchirapalli, India. I would like to thank them as well as all those who always supported me. I would not be able to complete this journey without you all, love you all!
Now I’m 22. On April, 2014, I was graduated from Kalakshetra – the place where I had been studying Bharatanatyam for 4 years, daily polishing my skills. Today I can say that I have fulfilled the dream from my childhood, but at the same time I realize that this is only the first step I’ve made on the path of attaining my real dream and goal – to become a professional Bharatanatyam dancer… I still have a long way to go before me, many skills to develop, lots of experience to acquire, many stages to perform on, and many people in many countries to introduce to the exquisite beauty of Bharatanatyam.