Payal started dancing under the instruction of Guru Usha Patel. Payal has trained in various classical and folk styles of Indian dance, in addition to ballet, modern, and jazz. Payal’s dancing and choreography have been the highlight of numerous events across the country. Her work has shone in televised, film and live productions, including the collegiate dance team that she established during her tenure at MIT, a movie premiere at Lincoln Center, and “Dancing at the Crossroads” in Times Square. Through the Sa Dance Company, she aims to increase awareness of Indian dance in the mainstream.
We Interviewed Payal…
As Artistic Director…
1. Why Did You Create SA?
I created the Sa Dance Company to help promote awareness of Indian Dance to the mainstream, and of course because my heart is dance. Sa embodies its own dancers by conveying the Indian-American identity through the various traditional and modern forms of Indian and American dance.
Alvin Ailey has served as one of my strongest sources of inspiration. Like him, I wanted to help the world understand Indian culture through dance the way he has done for other generations.. After you walk out of the Ailey Showcase, you cannot help but feel you have just come from experiencing the director’s rich culture and communal values. A critical part of communicating culture is presentation and professionalism, which is something I have tried to do for the Indian culture by creating Sa.
2. Where do you get your inspiration for choreography?
Music to me is very powerful. When I hear music, I begin to visualize concepts to convey particular emotions and stories. I like to find songs that relate to each other and sew them together to create a quilted story. When it comes to the choreography, the story and movement are extremely important to me. The actual steps come with time. Each movement has a meaning and needs to be expressed by the dancers, so it’s important to see what comes after the story is developed. This is one of the reasons I love musicals and would love to expand my experience to choreographing or producing one in the future!
3. Directing a show with 10 dancers that have unique dance backgrounds must be a challenge. How are you showcasing each dancer’s abilities?
My dancers come to Sa organically, and each one fits together with the company. Nevertheless, no two dancers are the same and I try to showcase each dancer’s unique talents in our performances. A few of the girls are trained in Bharatanatyam while one in Odissi and another in Kuchipudi and each dancer has their own X Factor which is my job to find and cultivate. It brings me so much joy to be able to dance with so many individually talented dancers. It is beautiful to see all of them dance together in symphony, while each displaying their own presence.
4. Will you be choreographing at 80?
I remember seeing people dancing in my head when I was 3, and I hope it never stops!
5. Who are your role models in choreography?
Alvin Ailey, Parul Shah, and the people around me.
6. How is this show different from your first SA show?
My style has matured as I have and I’ve grown up as a dancer, choreographer and woman. This show has everything we loved about the first show, but explores a whole new world of music and features an amazing new group of dancers. We show a Sa-esque version of Bollywood and also have experimented with some modern moment in our piece, Flight. There is also a lot of strength and power in this show which I think shows the growth of all the dancers and the company as a whole.
As a Dancer…
Throughout my life, I’ve studied a myriad of different genres of dance and have loved blending styles together.
I started dancing at age of 3 in the care of my mother’s dear friend, Usha Patel, who lived in my same town of Randolph, NJ. I trained in folk and classical styles with her for 15 years. I also was a cheerleader for 10 years so I had the opportunity to also learn a bit of tap, jazz, ballet during my childhood.
In college, I started the campus dance troupe MIT Chamak and I also took a short course on “The History of American Dance” that inspired and taught me a lot about dance, both Indian and non. I also danced with Pooja Narang at the Bollywood Axion Dance Company for several years post- college in NYC. In 2009, I founded The Sa Dance Company to create a platform for Indian dance in which I wanted to perform myself!
I still find time to grow as a dancer and have spent more of my recent time training in Kathak and ballet. I also love learning from each of the dancers in the company.
When I was 4, my childhood dance group performed to this old song called JhanJher (which actually is what Payal means). I don’t really remember the performance but I have seen videos and I definitely tried waiving to my parents while I was performing. I don’t think I realized I was on stage.
3. Who are your role models in life?
My mother, Mira Nair, Anjula Achara Bath, Oprah Winfrey. Women who make things happen in their life. They have dreams and execute on them.
I really love expression so I think it would be some type of facial gesture.
5. One word that describes dance to you.
8. Describe yourself as a dancer.
I always want people who watch me dance to feel euphoria and forget any of their problem. So I guess I would say Bliss 🙂