Odissi Teacher: Lisa Santhanam {Spotlight}

Lisa Santhanam is the founder of  Odissi Lasya and is one of the more recent teachers of DMV.  She is an IT professional and is passionate about dance. Read on to know more about her and her school! 
Head shot lisa
1. When did you start your dance school and describe your first year.   
With the blessings of my Guru’s Ratikant and Sujata Mohapatra and US teacher Dr. Aparupa Chatterrjee Odissi Lasya was launched in September 2019.  It has been an exciting few months of creating and promoting my dance school and even creating choreography for an intro workshop.  
2. Who are your gurus and how did you start dancing?   
I always liked dancing as a kid but felt like I had two left feet.   I started taking odissi classes post college cause I loved the beauty of the dance and the music!   My initiation into Odissi dance was under Smt. Jayantee Paine.  For the last decade I learn exclusively with my Guru’s in India at the esteemed school Srjan. My Gurus are Guru Ratikant & Sujata Mohapatra and Srjan teacher Dr. Aparupa Chatterjee.  I train twice a year with my Gurus in India, and weekly with Dr. Aparupa Chatterjee in both classes as well as rehearsals with the professional dance company, ODC.  
3. One dancer/musician who continues to inspire you.   
Very hard to choose just one but I would say my Guru Sujata Mohapatra.  She is a continuous inspiration. Her dance and uncompromising commitment to Odissi is empowering.  Being with her, involved in even day to day errands I learn so much from her about philosophy, bhakti, and dance. 
4. What are your challenges as a dance teacher (or as a dance professional?)  
The main challenge as a dance teacher is having students understand that this is a long journey.  There are no short cuts, you need to constantly work on your basics, your technique, and practice.  
As a dance professional, the most challenging aspect is creating a platform for solo  professional dancers and building a strong rasika base in DC.   Also finding sponsors who would be willing to promote solo professional artist and/or the ODC dance company.  
5. Seeing the students perform is always a moment of pride. What is that extra thing they do that makes you feel grateful and happy, and maybe even bring a tear in your eyes?  
When you see a student from day 1 grow into the student on stage that alone makes you very happy.  But what means the most to me is knowing that they have respect for the art form and always strive to continuously improve.
6. If you had to pick just 3 qualities for a good student of dance, what would that be? 
Three qualities for a good student of dance are: 
A. Patience – knowing it will take time and hard work to reach the end result.
B. Discipline – attend class and practice with a focused mindset.
C. Awareness-  strive to be better,  find your weaknesses and self improve.
7. It’s 2029, where do you see your dance school and yourself as Guru?    
Well, I am not a Guru but a teacher with a goal of lifelong learning and sharing this sacred art form.  Ten years from now I will continue learning and perfecting the art form, travelling to learn and perform.  As a teacher, it is important to continuously learn and have your skills reviewed so that you ensure you are teaching correctly as your Guru’s intended.  Secondly,  working in tandem with fellow artist, hopefully Washington DC will be established as a known hub for quality Indian classical dances like Singapore.  Lastly, I hope to continue to be a “smart dancer,”  through theory workshops at Apsara Arts/Dance india in Singapore.  I have met so many noted Bharatanatyam, kathak and kuchipudi leading artists and benefitted from their advise, teaching techniques, and knowledge of Indian stories etc.
I envision that the dance school will have evolved substantially by 2029. That the school will be recognized as a leading promoter and preserver of Odissi dance with a strong connection to our Srjan lineage in Orissa.  At the same time, I hope to produce beautiful dancers and smart choreographers who can use the theory to create their own compositions.
8. Finally, what do you hope to achieve with your dance (or dance school) 
The goal of Odissi Lasya is to promote high standards in learning and performance by using individualized, purpose driven, and innovative teaching techniques for students.  I envision the school as an outlet that promotes a love for Odissi dance in the audience, and gives the audience a glimpses into new compositions.   
Secondly, I’d like to nurture all stages of the students growth to include creating a  platform for individuals who want to pursue dance professionally or at a university level where they can cross train, collaborate and one day choreograph their own pieces.   Lastly, all students are connected to my Guru’s and mentors from Srjan.  This gives them the opportunity to dive deeper into the art form,  build their dance network as well as potentially audition and join esteemed dance companies. 

Lisa Santhanam offers classes in the Fairfax, VA area. More on her website

Read other students and teachers of dance from the DMV area: Profiled here! 

Disclaimer: All opinions and words in this post are by the interviewee. The post may have been edited for language clarity, but not for content.

Author: tandavam