Interview with Sonali Toppur

Posted on May 23, 2013 by

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SonaliSonali Toppur, a senior member of the Chitresh Das Youth Company, will be graduating high school in June. We caught up with her to talk about her experience growing up with Chhandam and dancing in CDYC.

Sonali will be performing a traditional solo at the Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, CA, on July 20.

When did you begin your study of kathak with Chhandam?
I was 4.5 or so when I began studying kathak with Chhandam. My parents were searching for a place where I could get involved in dance, and they came across Chhandam in a newspaper, I think. I started at the Berkeley branch and there weren’t many kids, but as time went on, more kids joined.

When did you join the CDYC?
I joined CDYC in 2003 during their second year of operation, while I was in 3rd grade. I was 9 years old at the time.

How has your study with Chhandam and CDYC most affected your life?
Out of all the activities I do, kathak has been something I really do for myself. The Chhandam community has watched me grow up and it’s been an amazing experience having that as a support group.

I can definitely relate to all of the Nine Principles in my life. Through kathak, you see the results of what you put into it. As a young person, that’s really satisfying. With school, you can’t always see that. With kathak, you put in the work and you see the results. It’s given me focus and it’s really helped me realize that if I want to see results, I have to work for it. It’s given me perspective and helps me in all aspects of my life– at school, with public speaking – the upaj (improvisation) aspect is a good preparation for all that.

How has your study with Dadaji most affected your life?
I’ve grown up with Dadaji in a way. He’s been there for every major event in my life – and that’s a really amazing thing.

He’s able to see your potential regardless of who you are. I am very lucky to have him in my life and to have had that experience. I didn’t always believe in my own potential, but he did. He inspires so much confidence and he pushes you to reach that potential. It’s such a valuable thing to have, especially while you’re growing up and coming into adulthood.

And he doesn’t just tell you to go in a certain direction. He first makes sure he can do what he’s asking you to do.

Dadaji also changes his teaching approach, his style, the topics he talks about in class depending on how old we are, how mature we are and even where we are in our lives. He forces us to think about things that are bigger than kathak early on in our lives, and I love that.

You’ll be graduating high school this year. Where will you go to college?
I’m going to University of Washington, Seattle. I’m going to study Biomedical Engineering. I really love that there’s a strong arts community in Seattle. I’d love to ideally take advantage of that and maybe eventually teach some kathak workshops.

What advice do you have for all the young dancers who are studying kathak with Chhandam or considering it?
I would say take advantage of every opportunity you get. There’s so much room for growth. Believe in where your practice can take you. For a long time, I didn’t believe how important having my own riyaaz could be. Once I did establish a routine, I was amazed. You must believe that your riyaaz can take you places. Find something you can be passionate about and just go for it.

What is the most valuable thing an organization like Chhandam can give to the youth in its community, whether they are dancers or not?
Chhandam provides a forum for people to help preserve kathak and to connect with one another. It’s for people to come together and help preserve this art form for future generations. Chhandam is not only about dance, it’s for people who want to learn more about history and culture and that’s unique.

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