Gayatri Patel Bahl is an actress and trained Kathak dancer. Dancing since the age of seven, she began her career by performing at a local Indian dance competition. At age nineteen, she moved to Mumbai where she starred in the Bollywood film, “Let’s Dance.” Gayatri had the privilege of being choreographed by Saroj Khan (Devdas), Longinus Fernandes (Slumdog Millionaire), and Rajeev Goswami. Her strengths as a dancer lie in her ability to not only be technically beautiful, but also expressive and engaging.
We Interviewed Gayatri…
1. What is your dance background?
When I was 7 years old we went to this local Diwali show in Dothan, Alabama. They used to have these dance competitions and I got it into my head that I wanted to win the next one. My parents were just happy that I wanted to perform. They asked a local friend to choreograph my first performance, Radha Nachegi from Saudagar. Her name was Lina Patel and she was my first teacher :)!
I went on to train in Kathak with Kumud Savla in Atlanta. My parents would drive me 2 hours every saturday from Atlanta. I’m amazed by how dedicated they were to exposing me to the craft.
When I was 15, I spent a summer in Bangalore training under Smt. Maya Rao at the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography. It was eye opening and the beginning of a strong foundation in Kathak and spins (hehe) .
In college, I was a part of the Dance Team, Sitara. It was my first opportunity dancing with a group of girls that had completely different styles and it was so much fun to dance not for competition but for joy! (Of course, we also won some competitions along the way) .
At age 19, I took a break (a long break) from college and moved to Mumbai to pursue a career in Bollywood. While in Mumbai, I had the privilege of training under and eventually being choreographed by Saroj Khan; training in contemporary and modern dance at Terrence Lewis’ studio; and finally training with Pandit Birju Maharaj’s direct disciple, Vijayshree Chaudhary. Vijay Mam taught me the finer nuances of dance. She rounded me out as a dancer like no other guru could have done. I miss her whenever I’m performing. I’m pretty sure my children will spend summers learning Kathak from her.
2. Tell Us About Your First Dance Performance.
I was 8 years old. I danced to Radha Nachegi at a local dance competition in Dothan, Alabama. I won that year and the next 2 years. They stopped the competition after that. . But I’ve not stopped dancing since. (Well, for four years, but we can talk about that later ).
I first heard about SA in 2011. I was planning my big move to New York City and a friend of a friend mentioned that I should join SA once I moved. I wasn’t ready to dance then, but in 2013 I saw a video of the SA 2013 Showcase and was enthralled. I later met Payal at Doonya and saw that she was incredibly passionate about dance as an art form. After dancing in Bollywood as a form of entertainment, I was starved for an opportunity to dance for the pure purpose of creating art. Payal’s passion, dedication and commitment to indian folk as an art form is why I chose Sa over all the other dance companies out there.
4. Who are your role models?
In Life: My parents and In-laws are the role models in my life. My parents are the reason why I am living the life I have dreamed of: creating a career as an actor & dancer. My dad has taught me to ‘Never say Never’. My mom has taught me to ‘Tie every loose end before jumping into the deep end’. My mother in law became a lawyer after age 40. I’ve learned from her that ‘It’s never too late’. And lastly, my father in law, reminds me that amidst all the chaos to ‘take a moment and smell the flowers’. I carry their wisdom with me through every challenge and moment of dispair in creating my life journey.
In Dance: Vyjayanthimala, Madhuri and Sridevi. I used to be all Madhuri, but my dance teacher made me really watch Sridevi as a dancer and I realized that she has this amazing range. I like watching her to stretch my natural ability as an dancer and performer.
Oh yeah. I went to a wedding last year where the mother of the bride danced for her daughter. She performed to ‘Mehndi hai Rachnewali’. And I thought, I’m going to do that. I’m going to do that for my daughter and my grand daughter and great grand daughter. I’m going to dance till that last moment before I step out of this body.
6. If you were stuck in a room and could only do one dance move over and over again what would it be?
I’d spin in endless circles!
7. One word that describes dance to you.
The eternal. There are moments when you are so engrossed in movement, so lost in just being the movement that you see a bit of God, the force, the eternal. I dance for those moments.
8. Describe your self as a dancer.
Payal asked me this when I joined SA, and I had no idea what to tell her. One day she emailed me and said, you’re powerful and precise. And it resonated. I definitely feel like a warrior when I’m performing.