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Designing a Margam of Service


In transient times, where almost everything has been mutating  and modifying to suit tastes, here is a dance teacher who believes that being tight-rooted helps bharathanyam flourish in its original form. Jayalakshmi Alva (81), who learnt under the illustrious KN Dandayudhapani Pillai and later from Swarnam Saraswati and Gowri Ammal, talks to CE going strong with her mission her journey across cities, grooming some of the finest dancers.


In the age of fusion and quick entertainment, Jayalakshmi has been sticking to her resolve, training students in Mumbai and Mangalore. Some of her disciples include dance legend Sonal Mansingh and actor Waheeda Rehman.“It was a resolve I made in the beginning. I have stuck to it till date,” she says. But she says she has nothing against other dance forms or fusion programmes. “There are dance ballets for incorporating other styles, and I have myself learnt kathakali. But when it comes to performing a complete bharathanatyam piece, I believe in following the rule book. There is always scope for classicism. If you present something good, there are many takers.”

Her dance school Sridevi Nritya Kendra, which was founded in 1974, is Jayalakshmi and her husband Ramakrishna Alva’s dream project. “We wanted to do something on the lines of Kalakshetra. Over a 1,000 students have trained there and close to a 100 have had their arangetram. Many may not be continuing dance, but even today, when they perform, the movements and the grace will be intact,” she says. Some of her productions are Chitrambala Kuruvanji, Krishna Tulabharam, Nritya Govindam and Panchakanya.

Calling her work as a service to the field of arts, the guru, whose daughter Arathy Shetty and granddaughter Saathvika have followed in her footsteps, says that she is not looking at changing the world. “I only believe that when you teach 10 students well and they teach a few more, the tribe of good and quality dancers will increase,” she says.

Acknowledging the support and role from her guru, she says that she was ordained to be an artiste sooner or later.

Enrolling for classes under Pillai when he was at Kalakshetra, she continued learning under him after he quit the institution. “I was born into a family of artistes. My sister KV Janaki was a popular singer and my grandfather was a Yakshagana guru. Pillai sir was a very strict teacher and a stickler for punctuality. I had to report at 9 am and the lessons continued till eight in the evening, I was his only student for a long time and had my arangetram in 1948. Later when he began taking classes for actor Vyjayanthimala, I used to take classes at his school in his absence,” she says.

Moving to Mumbai after her marriage, she set up the Chitrambalam Dance Centre in the late 50s. She calls Waheeda her favourite student, adding that the latter was one of the simplest persons she had seen. “Despite being a star, Waheeda had no airs. She was very particular about sticking to the tradition. Once during a show in Andhra, the organisers requested her to perform a number from her debut film Rojulu Marayi, but she refused saying that she was at a classical dance performance and would only perform a traditional bharathanatyam number,” she reminisces.

However, Jayalakshmi admits that today it is hard for dancers to carve out their own niche. “But I tell my students, they must focus on the art and if you teach, it is a service. It is not about spending lakhs on arangetram,” she says.