The crowd at the University of Ottawa’s Academic Hall couldn’t stop clapping and cheering when Hemant Panwar performed his impeccable Kathak footwork on stage. His wife, Vaishali Panwar, smiled radiantly as she gracefully danced around him with her elaborate hand movements. Four young musicians sat on a carpet placed on a raised platform on the stage and played classical Indian music to which the couple danced. Such was the scene at ‘An Evening of Kathak’ event on Jan. 17, 2015.
The word ‘kathak’, meaning ‘story-telling’, is a Hindu classical dance form having its roots in India. Kathak dancers tell a story through their dance. The story that Hemant and Vaishali told through their dance that night was the story of a Hindu princess, Meera, and her love and devotion for Lord Krishna, a Hindu God.
The event was part of a three-day dance festival called The DANs/cE KAPITAL Festival 2015. This yearly event was organized by Saveeta Sharma of the Upasana Dance Company in Ottawa.
Saveeta, a professional Kathak dancer, has been teaching Kathak for 25 years now. She says most of her students are college and university students.
“I prefer those students really because the young kids are the ones who test your ability as a teacher,” she says.
According to Saveeta, it takes 15 years of training to become a professional Kathak dancer. Saveeta started dancing at the age of four and trained for about eight to 10 hours a day to get to where she is today.
Two hours before the main event, Hemant and Vaishali serenely rehearsed their dance moves, while the four musicians rehearsed their music. The tabla, the harmonium and the dilruba were the musical instruments used to produce classical Indian music that night.
It was Kathak that brought Hemant and Vaishali together. As children, the two went to the same Kathak class where they were often paired together by their teacher to perform duets. They eventually fell in love. The two have been dancing together for 20 years now.
“When you’ve come this far, you realize there is no other way but to be together,” says Vaishali.
Vaishali’s family got her into learning Kathak when she was only a child. At that point she didn’t know that she would one day grow to become a professional Kathak dancer and be appreciated by so many.
“It started out as a hobby,” she says. “Slowly my hobby became my passion and I thought to myself, ‘if my passion were to become my profession, my life would be perfect.’”
The event ended with a round of applause and a standing ovation from the audience. The crew spent the rest of the evening socializing with guests and looking pleased with the work they had done that day.