In the first three-part series of a new column called In the Name of Art, we speak to the veterans behind three traditional dance troupes on how they are evolving to stay relevant and engaging with a new generation of audience. Here, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy artistic director Santha Bhaskar and her granddaughter Malini share how the limitless possibilities for Indian dance choreography has helped them in keeping up with the times.
Tatler Asia
Above Cultural Medallion (1990) recipient and Indian dance veteran Santha Bhaskar (Image: Bhaskar's Arts Academy)

When Santha Bhaskar first joined Bhaskar’s Academy of Dance in 1955 after her marriage to the late KP Bhaskar, who founded the company three years prior, she had to quickly adapt to conducting dance lessons. That did not come easy for the Kerala-born dancer had no teaching experience. “I had no idea how to teach,” she notes in a Zoom interview with granddaughter Malini Bhaskar.

“Learning dance and music was a way of life for me growing up. I never liked it, but my father wanted me to learn the art form and thought I was quite talented at dancing. When I came to Singapore and was asked to teach [dance] by my late husband, I simply performed in front of my students and asked them to learn through imitation.”

(Related: 3 Parents in Singapore Share How They Raised Their Daughters To Be Empowered Women)

Tatler Asia
Above Santha Bhaskar (Image: Bhaskar's Arts Academy)

Santha teaches Bharatanatyam, which is the oldest classical Indian dance form that originated in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The dance movements are characterised by rhythmic footwork, bent legs, and highly stylised gestures to convey a dramatic mood or spiritual narrative.

Over the next 10 years, she commuted between Singapore and Malaysia to conduct lessons in order to make a living. She shares, “Singapore was still young and the population was very small so we had to travel to Malaysia to conduct dance lessons for a fee of $5 per head every month.” Today, Santha, who received the Cultural Medallion in 1990 for her contributions to dance, refuses to stop teaching and still is the artistic director of the company, which is now known as Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA).


I love seeing the product of my choreography on stage, as well as to groom the next generation of performers

- Santha Bhaskar -

“I don’t want to take a break,” says the 80-year-old, who even conducted Zoom lessons for her alumni students, all of whom have been learning from her in the past 40 years, during Singapore’s circuit breaker period in its fight against Covid-19. She admits she prefers teaching and choreographing to performing.

“I love seeing the product of my choreography on stage, as well as to groom the next generation of performers.” BAA has come a long way since its founding years. Singapore’s premier Indian performing arts group, which counts both Santha’s daughter, Meenakshy, and Malini as its core members, also has a dedicated teach-ing wing in the Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society (NAS). The non-profit teaching institution, with more than 800 students enrolled, offers courses in dance, music, theatre and yoga.

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