Published: 28th January 2020
Meet Riha Giri, one of the young recipients of the 'Best Performer' Award among many other professionals from Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha in Chennai
Bharathanatyam dancer Riha Giri talks about how she started dancing and now aspires to become a professional in the art form
Riha Giri performing on stage
From being a state-level swimmer to becoming a dancer of the classical art form of Tamil Nadu, Riha Giri shares with us about what Bharathanatyam is to her, what inspires her to become better at dancing and what kind of a dancer she aims to be in the future in the field of Bharathanatyam.
When and how did you start dancing?
Before I became a dancer, I was a swimmer. I was attending dance classes as well since I was five years old. I had a few issues with the swimming pool, so I had to quit the sport. Dance became my other choice when I couldn’t swim anymore. And I turned out to be really good at it. My teacher always says that the age for dancing develops when one is around five and a half or six years old. I started when I was five. Our body is not tuned to handle vigorous activities before the age of five.
What do you like about dancing and Bharathanatyam specifically?
Dance is a universal language and Bharathanatyam is the queen of dances. Also since Tamil Nadu is the cultural capital of India, I feel lucky to be from here. I get to learn from the roots of Bharathanatyam which tops the list of classical/cultural art forms. I am emotionally very connected to the element of Abhinaya in Bharathanatyam. Abhinaya means expressions. And this Abhinaya element somehow merges with the emotions that I feel when I am dancing. I am the happiest when I dance.
Few of Riha Giri’s achievements
‘Best Performer’ award by Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha.
‘Star Performer’ of the Rotary Club of Madras West.
Yuva Shri Kala Bharathi award for Bharatanatyam by the Madurai Natya Anjali.
Runner up award at the Rotary Natya Anjali.
Finalist in ABHAI's (Association of Bharathanatyam Artistes of India) Kala Praveena Pratiyogita.
How supportive are your family and friends?
I have an extremely supportive family and friends. If you are going to want to perform, it is going to cost you a huge amount. You’re going to have to pay for the venue, stage, orchestra, costumes, ornaments, etc. To take care of all of this, your family has to be financially equipped. Thankfully, mine is. They are ready to invest in promoting my skills. They’re really helpful in pushing me to get better with each performance and grow into a successful artist.
Riha Giri receiving the 'Best Performer' Award from Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha in 2018
What has Bharathanatyam taught you as a person, let alone a dancer?
Bharathanatyam has taught me how to be humble because it is a growing industry and humility is necessary if you really want to succeed. Humility is universal to any other industry as well. I believe Bharathanatyam comes with humility. It has shaped me into somebody who sees the world through my art form.
Riha Giri holds the Yuva Shri Kala Bharathi Award close to her heart because she won it when she was thirteen years old as she barely touched the surface in the dance world then.
What have you perceived to be as something unique about your dance form?
Bharathanatyam is both Nritta, which is hand and leg movements, and also Anga Shuddha. Abhinaya, which is facial expressions are also involved. So in Bharathanatyam, combining these aspects, something beautiful is produced which can be grasped or understood by the audience. I feel this dance form is very well received by the audience when compared with the other dance forms because in Bharathanatyam we use a lot of South Indian languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada and a lot less Sanskrit and Hindi. So often the audience is of the south region which makes them more familiar with the pieces that we perform because of the language. This also helps the artist to perform better, project their performance better.
How do you balance your studies and dancing?
This is one of the most asked questions I'd say for every student artist. I've taken History and history is about stories so you read and understand them. I have taken something that would help me understand Bharathanatyam and the culture of Bharathanatyam. So since my studies are related to my dance form in its own way, I express the same kind of energy with both. Also, I feel like I don't have the pressure in college to do well. So this pushes me to bring about pressure in myself to do well and excel in the future. If I had taken any other course like Chemistry or Physics, it would've been hard for me to cope. Since its history which is fundamentally knowing, understanding and learning stories that have happened, it isn't hard for me.
What are the difficulties that you feel one faces in dancing or in the field of dance?
I think the difficulty in Bharathanatyam would be stamina. If you have to dance 2 hours straight, you'll at least have to practice for 6 hours a day because with practice comes perfection. And also if you rehearse really well, only 40% of your performance pans out on stage. So you need to push your potential to at least 70% or 80% to be really good on stage. You need to practice for which you require really good stamina and also you need to understand and imbibe the song or music you dance to because you cannot be shallow when you're dancing. Your audience won't be involved in your performance. I feel this is one of the challenges that dancers face.
Apart from her idol Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Kathak dancer Birju Maharaj, Sudharani Raghupathy, Chithra Visweswaran, also her grand guru, inspire Riha Giri immensely.
What does dance mean to you?
Dancing means the world to me. It is everything to me. I would give up anyone or anything for that. That's just how much I'm passionate about it. That's how much I prioritise it. That's where I place dance.