Debapriya Das talks about her shift from bharatanatyam to belly dancing

At her institute Nrityakosh in Bengaluru, the students are taught oriental dance, its traditional and classical forms and also its fusion formats.
Debapriya Das
Debapriya Das

A professional dancer, performer, and instructor specialising in Middle Eastern traditional and classical dance styles, Debapriya’s dance journey started when she was just eight. “When I started teaching,
belly dance was more of a recreation for most students, however, now, there are people who want to take it up professionally,” says city girl Debapriya Das, who runs her dance institute and belly dance performance house Nrityakosh in Bengaluru.

Born in Kolkata, she spent her early years in the city and her dance training started at Bani Chakra with bharatanatyam. A few years down the line, her family shifted to Mumbai and she continued with her bharatanatyam training at Nalanda Dance Research Centre, Mumbai. After her schooling, she returned
to Kolkata to pursue her higher studies at Jadavpur University. And all this while, she never let go of her passion for dance. Once she moved to Bengaluru, she started training in contemporary dance initially and loved how physically demanding it was, challenging her sense of strength. She trained for 2-3 years, along with bharatanatyam, ballet and kathak. And with this, her journey with belly dancing began too. “I started researching about the dance style and opportunities for further studies and also watched a lot of renowned belly dancers, which eventually made me realise that if I had to grow, I would have to reach out to belly dance maestros. All of this research took about two years while I continued my
training in India,” says Debapriya.

Three years later she attended her first international belly dance intensive in Italy, studying with a renowned Egyptian percussionist, the late Hossam Ramzy and his then-wife Serena Ramzy. “The time I spent in Italy training with the masters made a shift in my thought process and for the first time, the thought of pursuing belly dance professionally came into my mind. It took another three years of planning, studying and travelling, for this thought to mature and in 2018 I bid adieu to my professional career as an economist,” she says.

At her institute Nrityakosh, a school of classical and contemporary belly dance, that has more than 200 students currently, they are taught oriental dance, its traditional and classical forms and also its fusion
formats. “Our first show was with a small bunch of beginner students; however, as a dance school and company I was determined to not do belly dance shows that were a norm in 2017. We created The Ras Project, a short 45-minute narrative of the Ramayana from the point of view of Sita, Mandodari and
Surpanakha. The entire show used Middle Eastern dance vocabulary to narrate the very popular tale known to every Indian. The show was very well received and this gave me confidence that good stories can be told in any movement language. Post that, we went on to create Safar-e-Raqs, a first of its kind.
This production narrated the journey of the dance we popularly know as belly dance, a historical narrative from 1790 to the present day. This production challenged the views most of us have when it comes to belly dancing. 

Nrityakosh had presented this in 2018 and revived this production again in July, this year,” says Debapriya. The lockdowns during the pandemic, she shares, was a very difficult time for them, as
artistes. Nrityakosh created M.O.V.E during this period, which is an anthology of nine stories, which came from the company dancers. The stories were of fear, loneliness, separation and anxiety but also about hope for the impending post-pandemic future. Along with this, she mentions one of their most notable works, Papusza — Rise and Fall of the Great Romani Poet — which narrates the journey of
the first female Romani Poet and her struggles with art, freedom and women’s education.

All these years, Debapriya has performed across India in various festivals, with her first international oriental dance festival representing India being the Solstizio Orientale & Gemme D’Oriente in Ascoli, Italy, in 2015. Since then, there has been no looking back. She later performed at the Broadway
Rose Theatre, Portland, United States and at the 4th New York Cairo Raqs Festival, New York; and also represented India at the 11th Budapest Cairo Festival and at the Roma Tribal Meeting, Rome.

When asked about her takeaway from belly dancing, she says, “Belly Dance as a dance style is immensely vast and diverse. For various reasons, to the general public, the dance has a certain look and feel but once you start studying it; there is so much to the art form. The dance is one of the oldest in the world and has influences from traditional dances belonging to North Africa and Middle Eastern countries. It has allowed me to study their traditions, culture and social set-up. And I think one of the biggest takeaways and learnings from belly dance is how to respect, appreciate and be inspired by someone else’s art while you practise it.”

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