Farah Yasmeen Shalkh
taught Introductory class
Introduction to Kathak Classical Dance
from Northern India
by Farah Yasmeen Shalkh

Pacific Ballet Academy, Studio 3
295 Polaris Avenue, Mountain View
Sunday, May 5, 2013, 11:00 am

Notes by Peter Y. Chou

Kathak Class Ad
National Dance Week

Preface: For Donna Frankel's World Dance Class 005.03: "Intermediate Ballroom Dancing" at Foothill College (Thursday 6:30-9:45 pm), we were assigned to attend a dance event during "Bay Area Dance Week" (Friday April 26 - Sunday May 5, 2013). Donna printed out 52 pages of Free Events in the Bay Area and told the class to copy the URL and check them out. Unfortunately, most of the events are in San Francisco, that would be time consuming to get there by bus. When I typed in Mountain View in the City Search Box, two events were listed— Western Ballet Performances at 914 N. Rengstorff Ave, Unit A on Saturday 4-27, 2 pm-4 pm and Chhandam School of Kathak: Introduction to Kathak-Classical Dance from Northern India at Pacific Ballet Academy, 295 Polaris Ave, on Sunday, May 5, 11 am-12 pm. Since the Western Ballet event on April 27 was over when I checked on May 2, my only choice was the "Kathak Classical Dance" on Sunday, May 5. I made the 9:30 am Bus #22 just in time at El Camino Real and got off at Shoreline Boulevard. Walked passed Snow, Latham, Mercy, California, N. Dana, and Villa Street, over the bridge at Central Expressway to Wright Avenue. Turning left I crossed Gemini Avenue and arrived at Polaris Avenue at 10:55 am. Pacific Ballet Academy was at the corner but the Indian Dance class was in Studio 3 around the corner parking lot. There were around 50 pairs of shoes outside the studio when I took mine off and went inside.

Gemini Avenue
Mountain View

Polaris Avenue
Mountain View

Pacific Ballet Academy
Dance Studios 2 & 3

Kathak Dance Masters
honored in Studio 3

Pacific Ballet Academy
295 Polaris Avenue

Kathak Dance: Hand gesture
linking thumb & forefinger

Kathak Dance: Hands above head
honoring our Mind (Higher Being)

Kathak Dance: Composition
over a 16-beats rhythmic cycle

Kathak Dance: Soft graceful turn
like a fairy coming in and out

Chhandam School of Kathak
Kathak dance classes postcard

— Photographs by Peter Y. Chou, May 5, 2013

REPORT: This is my first time seeing Kathak Classical Dance from Northern India. My previous experience with Indian Dance was on Oct. 25, 2005 (7-8:30 pm). I went to the Havana Room, Graduate Community Center at Stanford and saw Malavika Sarukkai in "Mudra— The Poetry of Expression"— a Bharat Natyam Lecture-Demonstration of Classical Indian Dance. Coming today to Pacific Ballet Academy, I was told that the Indian dance was in Studio 3 around the corner from Polaris Avenue. There were 24 students— 14 girls and 10 women dancing. 12 were sitting on the floor in the audience watching— 11 female and me. I was the only male in the room, busily taking notes while the dance instructor Farah Yasmeen Shalkh (left) lectured to the class as she demonstrated the dance moves. Farah tells the students that she has studied Kathak Dance for 17 years since 1996. She was trained by Pandit Chitrash Das (b. 1944) who founded Chhandam School of Kathak and Chitresh Das Dance Company in California (1979). Start with pranam, showing respect to the dance floor before you dance. This is an aspect of letting go, about self-growth instead of performing on stage. Hold your ears to show respect to your teacher for passing down knowledge that's handed down from previous masters. She points to the framed photos on the round table to her right, honoring Kathak dance masters. Hold your hands in Namaskar (prayer gesture) to honor the rhythmic cycle— 16 beats back to the One. Show respect to the Divine and to those present in the room. Say Namaskar to everyone. Dance to be one with all. Point your right knee to the right corner of the room. Point your left knee to the left corner. Bring your hands to the top of your head (symbol of Mind or Higher Being), then to your lips (speech), and to your chest (heart). Before you dance, honor your "Mind-Speech-Heart". Step 6: touch the ground, step 8: the heart, step 9: the ears, step 14: above the head. Say pranam before and after your dance. Simple sequence of 8 steps— stamp on ground. Kathak is derived from the word Katha meaning "telling a story". Bulls coming from thunder and earth. Body stands on earth for the divine. Krishna throws ball into the river to conquer Serpent (Kailya) in the river. This is Dance of Lord Krishna (Kathak dance, cartoon video).
    Katha yoga— doing multiple things at the same time. Feet stamping is like drumming. Singing and playing instruments at the same time. Think of clock— 16 beats: 1 through 16 and back to the One. Anita plays the manjira, small hand cymbals, sounding like bells. Music expressing feeling of complexity and joy. Go into sadhana (ego-transcending spiritual practice) where ultimate joy comes through. Feeling of dancing that transcends. Mudra of hand gesture with thumb and forefinger linked (I taught course on Einstein and the Wisdom Mudra at WPI in 1980 showing Einstein in this pose). Nine sensibles including deep love, anger, digust, and other emotions. We become Lord Krishna as we dance, flourishing from masculine to feminine (becoming Radha). This is not about playing gender roles but transforming energy. Drawing the veil (being modest). Put peacock feather over his crown head. Bow at the end of dance. Learn one composition. Thaat— doing footwork over a rhythmic cycle: ta-ta-te, ta-te, kay-ta-te. Beehive can start anywhere but ends at One. Soft graceful turn like a fairy coming out and coming in. Recite composition and then dance it. Cycle of repetition leads right into the dance. Katha dance has Hindu and Islamic influence. When the Moguls came to India [1526-1857], they brought influence of Persian music, poems, ghazals. This brought more energy to Indian dance. Farah's teaching-demonstration Kathak Classical Dance class ended at Noon. Had I not be taking three pages of notes for Donna's World Dance Class Report on "Bay Area Dance Week", I would have jumped up and danced!

Q & A Session:

Q: How do we enroll in your Kathak Classical Dance class?
A: Chhandam School started its Spring Session last week. There are 9 weeks of one-hour class each week. Students get structured examinations to guide their progress. There are 9 principles in attitude and etiquette. How does one carry oneself of the art received? Namaska, discipline, one-on-one study with dance guru.

Chat with Farah Yasmeen Shalkh:

Gemini Avenue

Constellation Gemini

Polaris Avenue

Polaris in Ursa Minor

Ravi Shankar 1967 Tour

Osvaldo Tofani (1849-1915)
Dante & Beatrice in Flight
Told Farah how much I enjoyed her Kathak Classical Dance class. She gave me a Chhandam School postcard and wrote her email (farah@kathak.org), telling me she'll be glad to answer more questions on Kathak dancing. I told her my walk to Pacific Ballet Academy passing Gemini Ave to Polaris Ave was like Dante's pilgrimage to Paradise. Dante was born under the constellation Gemini, and the Muses guided him to Polaris & Paradise. On his ascent to the stars (Paradiso 2.1-12), Dante says none has made such a journey. So he invokes Apollo, god of poetry as pilot & guide. He asks Minerva, goddess of wisdom to fill his ship's sails, and the nine Muses to help him navigate to "the Bears" (Ursa Major & Ursa Minor, where the Pole Star resides). Farah taught the class Namaskar hand gesture as greeting the Divine spirit within us. So I told her my experience with Ravi Shankar after his Cornell concert (circa 1967). I asked him to autograph along his sitar on the booklet I had purchased. When the ink was not showing on the glossy cover, I asked him to sign on the page of Tagore's quote: "Music fills the infinite between two souls" and his music did that tonight. As dozens of Cornell students crowded him for autographs, Ravi closed his eyes with his hands in prayer for almost a minute, and said "God bless you" before signing boldly on the page. I didn't know at the time he was making Namaste. (I just found a poem on my web site "Bazaar Dreams" written exactly 5 years ago on 5-5-2008 mentioning Ravi Shankar & Polaris).

— Peter Y. Chou, WisdomPortal.com (6-13-2013)

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© Peter Y. Chou, Wisdom Portal
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (6-13-2013)