Vol. 5 Num 243 Sun. January 30, 2005  

Benazir: A promising Odissi dancer

Dance was initially a therapy for Benazir Salam, a promising Odissi dancer. "My dance lessons began very painstakingly. Being a sickly child my mother, who had the idea that physical exercise is conducive to health, admitted me to a dance school," Benazir reminisces.

She has travelled a great distance since those days. Benazir started learning dance at the age of four under first guru Abdul Hasib Panna of Nikkon Shilpi Goshthi, a local dance school in Rajshahi. As a student she won prizes in the National Children's Award Competition arranged by Shilpakala Academy four times. Later, she learnt Kathak under Shibli Mohammad and Bharatnatyam under Belayet Hossain Khan. Shaju Ahmed and Minu Haque were also her gurus.

In 1985, dance teacher and choreographer Laila Hassan, impressed by Benazir's performance, invited her to work on dance direction. In 1996 she went to study dance at Rabindra Bharati University under an Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) scholarship. She scored the top position in both honours and masters and specialised in Odissi. She also got the first prize in the annual competition arranged by the West Bengal State Academy of Music. She still takes dance lessons from Murolidharan Majhi in West Bengal.

A regular teacher at the Shishu Academy, Benazir has also directed the dance drama Hridoye Mandrilo Damadam Guruguru. She took part in many awareness-based programmes organised by Shishu Academy.

Benazir teaches Odissi at her school named Nupur. To quote her: "There is little chance to develop fusion dance from Kathak. However, Odissi has the softness and attractive quality that other dance forms lack. For instance, the movement of the body is very flexible in this dance. So one can easily develop a different type of dance with the mudras of Odissi.

"Most of the dance schools in our country offers a limited chance for proper training and most of the teachers are not properly educated. Neither do they give enough time to the students," Benazir says, adding, "Sometimes they cannot even match the mudra with the song they are playing in background."

There is no suitable platform for the dancers in our country, believes Benazir. For example, dance programmes have short slots on television. Talking from first hand experience, she says, "I tried to complete my doctorate on dance but could not because of the unfavourable educational scenario which is not conducive to higher studies in dance. And, again, there is no separate dance department in our universities."

Benazir says, "Many people still have some negative ideas about dance. Here in Bangladesh the dancers think that there are only four genres of dance such as Kathak, Bharat Natyam, Kathakali and Kuchipudi. In reality, there are more genres such as Odissi, Mohini Attam, Gourio and Manipuri."

To the beginners of Odissi dance, Benazir has a word of advice: learn the grammar of dance. And, she believes there is no substitute for learning the basics with devotion and honesty.

Unravelling the wonders of Odissi dance