Kathak dancer Uma Dogra is sitting on a bench in Juhu’s Prithvi Theatre, sipping coffee, as clouds sweep in with the promise of rain. It is a brief moment of respite before her dance festival, Raindrops, begins. “After the death of my guru, Pt Durga Lal, I created two festivals to carry on his legacy. The first is the Pt Durga Lal Festival, which invites classical Masters, and the Raindrops Festival, which is a platform for talented and ambitious youth,” she says.
After her guru passed away, nobody was willing to offer her a stage since she was a student without a mentor. With this in mind, she created the Raindrops Festival 27 years ago to showcase classical dance forms such as Bharatanatyam and Odissi besides Kathak. Since then, the festival has been one of the prominent platforms where young performers can showcase their skills before a knowledgeable crowd and critics. This time, the festival presents two newer dance forms — Sattriya and Vilasini Natyam.
One of the leaders of the dance form, Dogra initially wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, a sitar player. “Being the fifth of eight children, by the time it was my turn, my father was weary of teaching his children and my mother enrolled me in Kathak,” she says.
Dogra began her own Kathak school to revive her guru’s teachings. She says that she had not planned to be a teacher at a young age. Her spiritual mentor, the Buddhist teacher and philosopher, Sensei Ikeda, taught her that a mentor must want his disciples to surpass him. Dogra’s unwavering faith and appreciation of her students, coupled with her passion for learning while teaching, has culminated her success over the years. She doesn’t take in children below eight years of age, as Kathak is a dance form that is dependent on foot work. The repeated banging of the feet on the ground can inhibit bone development in children. “This knowledge was not accessible in my time,” she adds. She adds that being a teacher, forced her to improve herself so that she could resonate positively upon others.