September 3, 2001
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Garba comes to Australia

Paritosh Parasher in Sydney

Youngsters in salwar-kameez, with dancing bells on their feet, match steps to classical Indian music as their guru looks on -- occasionally chiding errant disciples -- in a packed school hall in Sydney.

But the class in Burwood suburb, being conducted by Indian classical dancer Raghvan Nair, is actually preparing for a special guest from India -- a teacher of the Garba folk dance of Gujarat.

The much-awaited and revered guest of this giggling bunch of teenagers, tiny tots and not-so-young, is Birwa Qureshi, in Australia to teach the finer aspects of Garba.

"I want my students to learn not only about various aspects of Indian classical dances like Kuchipudi or Bharat Natyam but also about the vibrant mosaic which is Indian folk dances," says Nair.

Meanwhile, Qureshi collects the visibly impressed brood around her in a circle. The Garba danseuse immediately establishes a rapport with the students' group, which includes a large sprinkling of Australians of European origin.

These students will pick up the basics of Garba pretty fast as they have already been training in Indian classical dance, says Birwa, who is married to tabla exponent Fazal Qureshi.

Some of Nair's senior pupils live up to the Gujarati folk dancer's expectations by getting into the routine immediately, as if they have been practising for months.

But why are they taking such an avid interest in Indian dances?

"I have read Hindu religious scriptures like the Gita and it was my leaning towards Indian spirituality that drew me to Raghvan's school. I heard him speak at a lecture and was immediately hooked," says Rebakah Cashel who has been at Raghvan Nair's Indian Dance Centre for a while now.

Her friend and co-disciple Angela Miller, who performed in the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics with Nair's group, cites almost identical reasons.

Both are in the Sunday group at Burwood Girls High School hall to learn a few things about Garba from Birwa and one of the most well-versed non-Indian classical dancers, David De Silva.

A brief session on the history and folklore behind Indian folk dances is followed up with Birwa explaining the nuances of Garba to a group. She also details why the dance has come to occupy such an important place in the pantheon of Indian folk dances.

Birwa explains the other aspects of learning classical and folk dances, including the celebrated bond of the guru-shishya parampara' (teacher-student tradition), setting the pace for a Garba session.

The excessive number of students in the small hall fails to dampen spirits as they swirl around in a circle on recorded Gujarati folk music.

Birwa Qureshi is not the first Indian classical or folk dancer to come to Sydney at Raghvan Nair's invitation. Well-known Kathak dancer from Bombay Uma Dogra and Bharat Natyam danseuse from Mysore Vasundhara Doraiswamy have also organised workshops with students of the Indian Dance Centre.

Nair, who hails from a village called Vayal in Kerala's Kasaragod district, is planning to take the dance centre troupe to his ancestral place to pay homage to his father.

Indo-Asian News Service

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