Colorado has always had a special connection with the Eastern world—the beautiful, towering Rocky Mountains call to mind the Himalayas, and the liberal and healthy residents of Denver and Boulder love yoga, meditation and Eastern recipes. However, one aspect of Eastern culture that often gets overlooked is dance. Classical Indian dancing, while an ancient art form, is alive and well here in Colorado, and well-known local dancer Swagata Banjeree has made this art form her life’s work.
“I was only four years old when I started learning dance,” Banjeree told CULTURE. “I always enjoyed dancing but my mother was the first one to take it seriously and put me into a formal training program in one of the classical dance forms of India. From there the journey started and I ended up becoming what I am today, a classical Odissi dancer. My family are ardent followers of traditional music and dance. I have grown up listening to Indian classical music. My mother, Srilekha Banerjee, being a vocalist and specializing in a very rare field of traditional Bengali songs, has always been the biggest source of inspiration for me. I am also grateful to all of my teachers who have taught me throughout my 23 years of dance career.”
“I feel that since it’s been legalized there has to be a good reason behind it. I am hoping that just like other medical drugs this one will also create miracles to heal people.”
“I practice a 2,100-year-old dance form known as Odissi,” she continued. “It had its origin in the temples of Orissa, a state from the eastern part of India. The sculptors in the temples depict different body postures and the sculptors come to life through the dancers when it is performed. Archaeological evidence authenticates Odissi dance as one of the oldest surviving dance forms of India.”
Banjeree currently has a lot of interesting creative projects in the works, as well as a successful career as a dance teacher. “Currently I am working on two projects,” she told us. “One is ‘the Odyssey of Odissi’ and the other one is ‘The Moods of life.’ The first project focuses on the emergence of the style of Odissi, and basic postures, hand gestures and foot movements used in Odissi. The second project highlights how the moods in daily life influence dance expressions. Expression is one of the essential components of any classical dance forms. It is best portrayed when the dancer realizes that we are always using expressions in our everyday life.
As Banjaree practices her craft, her goal is to spread the word about this type of dance and get others more educated and involved. “I teach Odissi in Colorado and perform and conduct workshops all around the country,” she stated. “My goal is to reach out to people around the globe and get them a feel of the intricacies of the ancient art form. I have been awarded the title ‘Singarmani’ for outstanding performance in Odissi dance by Sur Singar Samsad, a prestigious organization in India motivated to promoting Indian classical dance forms. I feel the best when I see my students’ keenness to learn the ancient dance form with enthusiasm. As I appreciate diversity, I am fortunate to teach a very diverse group of students in terms of age and ethnicity.”
In addition to spreading the word about classical Indian dancing, Banjaree is also an advocate of legal cannabis. “I feel that since it’s been legalized, there has to be a good reason behind it,” she explains. “I am hoping that just like other medical drugs this one will also create miracles to heal people.”