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Lokvani Talks To Neena Gulati

Chitra Parayath

Neena Gulati, dancer, teacher, is something of an institution in the New England area. Known to her students and friends as Neena didi or Neenaji, she possesses great charm and grace.

Having moved to the US in 1968, Ms. Gulati’s first performance here was at MIT in 1969. Helping to stimulate students' imaginations and broaden their cultural experiences, Neena Gulati started teaching in Boston in 1971.

Neena Gulati is the director of the Triveni School of Dance in Brookline, Massachusetts, which she founded over twenty years ago. She is on the roster of artists recommended by the Massachusetts Cultural Council for school programs. She has taught about two thousand students, one hundred and sixty of who have performed their Arangetram (the first complete recital danced on a professional stage).

Neena was born in New Delhi, India and performed her Arangetram at the Fine Arts Theater in New Delhi in 1961. She was invited to perform at the United Nations General Assembly in the distinguished presence of Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, and many foreign dignitaries on Human Rights Day in 1964. Since then she has performed extensively in the US and different parts of Europe.

Lokvani caught up with the talented Ms. Gulati for a chat.
Chitra: We know that you were one of the earliest teachers of Bharathanatyam in the Boston Area. How does it feel to have been in this field so long, to have taught so many young folks to dance?
Neena: I feel blessed to have had this chance to do what I love to do most! I teach seven days a week. Of course, I have three very talented and dedicated young assistants, all students of mine.

Chitra: Whew! One hundred and sixty Arangetrams! How many students are enrolled in Triveni now?
Neena: I have over 200 students, earlier we used to have two or three Arangetrams a year, this year I have seven, and eight the next year. I often encourage student pairs jointly doing their Arangetrams to try new pieces. Without deviating much from the traditional pieces, we bring forth innovative choreography that enthralls the audience. Radha Krishna, Shiva Parvathy, the potential is immense and varied. I teach Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi and that too offers a varied sense of enjoyment. Choreography too, should be innovative by re-combining centuries-old steps in contemporary ways.

Chitra: Do you have many American students? How about male students? How old is your oldest student?
Neena: (Laughs) My youngest student is five and the oldest is 55. Most of my students are of Indian origin but I have many American students as well,about 20% of my students are non-Indian. I have four male students; I wish more would take up this dance form. Students who can combine both the rhythmic footwork and the dramatic facial expressions of storytelling are the ones who blossom into greatness. Since Triveni is registered as a Non Profit Organization, we also have scholarship programs for our students.

Chitra : Dance scholarships? Could you elaborate on this please?
Neena: An incident about twenty years ago comes to mind. While informing a young mother about the slight increase in my fees at that time, I noticed that she was uneasy. She explained that she needed time to think it over, as she did know if she could afford to teach her daughter at that rate. She was a young mother who was raising three adopted daughters. Tears came into my eyes and I decided that I would not charge her a cent thereafter.Here, I thought, was this woman with such a large heart! I also decided to teach free of charge, every adopted child who enrolled in Triveni. Their Arangetrams are also arranged and paid for by Triveni. I respect and honor the men and women who have gone to India and Bangladesh and other underdeveloped countries and adopted these beautiful children. I could not adopt a child myself but I vastly respect the people who do so. We also believe that no child should be denied an education in dance because he/she cannot afford it. We have scholarships for the financially challenged students.

Chitra: How about your upcoming show for SAHELI? How important is it for artists to perform for such good causes?
Neena: I have performed extensively for charities. We have performed in charity shows almost every year. Many of my students are from Mother Teresa’s orphanage and we had a benefit for Mother Teresa’s orphanage in 1998. In 1999 we performed for the Heart Institute which co sponsored by Jyotsana Sahane who lost her husband to heart disease. It is also an enriching experience for the artist to be able to perform for a worthy cause.

Chitra: Have you performed with Mr. Robert Bly before?
Neena: Oh yes! Our partnership goes back about ten years. Robert is a great poet and he translates the works of poets like Tagore Mirabai, Kabir, Rumi, Vidyapati, to name a few. I bring Roberts words to life as he infuses my dance with meaning. We have traveled to New York, London, LA…when we were performing at Somerwille a young gentleman, Craig approached me and showed interest in sponsoring our performance. He happens to be the director of the Brookline Adult Education service and when SAHELI approached me, we figured out that we could put this show together. Most of the proceeds from the show will go to SAHELI. They are a group of very dedicated individuals and I am glad to be helping them.

Chitra: I spoke to many of your students, it’s amazing to see the love and affection they and their parents have for you. How do you command that kind of love?
Neena: It’s very mutual; I am blessed with the most supportive group of parents. Even now they come to me and offer to help with every program I am involved in, God bless them. My students are lovely too. I get these young children and am so fortunate to see them blossom into such great talents over the years.

Chitra: What about your family?
Neena: I have a wonderful family. My husband has always been very supportive of my dance career. My daughter who is a lawyer has helped me so much with the running of Triveni. She and her husband are expecting their second child, a baby girl in 3 weeks. My son and daughter-in-law live in New York and my adorable little grandson, three-year-old Rohan is waiting to join my school to learn dance! He has a keen sense of rhythm and loves to go tha tha thaiya.

Chitra: It has been a pleasure talking with you. We wish you the best.

A Symphony of Moods will be brought to life through Poetry and Dance. Robert Bly, poet and translator joins Ms. Gulati at a benefit concert to be organized jointly by Brookine Adult Education and SAHELI. This is a fundraiser for SAHELI a premier New England non-profit organization that offers friendship and support to women. This unique collaboration will have East meet west in rhyme and rhythm as Mr. Bly and Ms.Gulati weave an enchanting tapestry of poetry, movement and dance. Mr. Bly has translated extensively the poems of Tagore, Mirabai and Kabir and he has collaborated with Ms. Gulati on several occasions. Celebrating love, devotion and piety, the dances will be accompanied by live music.

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