Bala Kondala Rao, the legendary Kuchipudi dancer of Visakhapatnam, wins Sangeet Nata Akademi Award

kuchipudi, dancer, visakhapatnam
Bala Kondala Rao receiving the award on the hands of president

Bala Kondala Rao, the muse behind renowned documentary filmmaker Dulam Satyanarayana’s ‘Balakka: Dancing with Tradition’ is a legendary Kuchipudi dancer of Visakhapatnam.

In a heartening news, Bala Kondala Rao, Visakhapatnam’s renowned Kuchipudi dancer, has been awarded Sangeet Nata Akademi Award by India’s president Sri Ramnath Kovind.

Bala Kondala Rao is a Kuchipudi exponent who has had over 50 years of experience. Dancing since the age of nine, the artiste in her was eager to learn, even as a child. Kuchipudi wasn’t something she was familiar with, but it was her father who decided to support her love for dance by introducing her to it. And soon, under the able leadership of Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, there really was no looking back.

Her dedication was such that she moved to Chennai from Rajahmundry and stayed with her guru to hone her skill. Even at the tender age of nine, Bala Kondala Rao was looking for nothing less than perfection. “Even if people didn’t push me to improve, I would do it for myself. I wanted my name to be the synonym of perfection in the world of Kuchipudi and for me to be a role model like none other,” she says. She was adamant with her guru that she would never impersonate anyone else, and would instead focus on the originality she possessed.

It wasn’t long before her guru could also see the potential this legendary Kuchipudi dancer had inherited. She was only 13 when she was officially chosen as her guru’s assistant teacher from a throng of beautiful ladies, actors and renowned dancers that learnt at the institute. “I’ve always had the eye to not just correct my own dance form, but others’ too. It was this talent of mine that my teacher recognised when he said – Bala is the first and foremost in transforming stones to statues. There’s no need to be beautiful for dance because what God gives you is inherent. Your inner beauty, the exquisiteness in your form and character grows every day and no one can take that away from you. I always liked teaching people that.”

Marriage brought her to Visakhapatnam over 32 years ago and she served as the Principal of Kuchipudi Kalakshetram for 12 long years. It was in 1997 that she decided to set out on her own and founded the Kuchipudi Kalaa Kendram. This legendary dancer is now 60 years old and has been successful at teaching her students the true essence of this dance form. “I’ve learnt to be my own teacher as time goes by, and the learning process never ends. I’ve gained the reputation and respect I’ve craved for through the years,” she says. Lovingly called as ‘Balakka’ by her disciples, she was also the recipient of the Kala Ratna award by the state government in 2012 and many other awards. Recently, she even won the Sangeet Natak Academy award from the Central government for her immense contribution to the field of Kuchipudi.

“Dance is an enjoyable form of meditation, science, and discipline. It is the perfect combination of rhythm, steadiness, art, and mathematics. We don’t just feel the God we’re describing about while dancing, we make the audience feel His presence too. Is there anything else on earth as beautiful as that?”

It was during the screening of ‘I am Satyabhama’ that Dulam Satyanarayana met her. He wanted to make a documentary on someone who has dedicated their life to art and she was the perfect muse. It took more than a year to shoot and release ‘Balakka: Dancing with Tradition’ due to some glitches. But the first screening of the documentary was successfully held in the city on April 28 this year as part of the UNESCO Dance Festival.

Bala Kondala Rao believes Kuchipudi is the flawless echo of our culture and tradition. Talking about the controversial performance by 7000 girls in the city on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti, she says, “Instead of terming their performance as Kuchipudi, they could’ve just called it a tribute through cultural dance. But when they term it as Kuchipudi; they need to pay attention to details. Kuchipudi is our state’s dance, and yet people always confuse it with Bharatnatyam. An officer once asked me the same and I told him without hesitation to learn the name of the state’s dance. When such learned people themselves aren’t knowledgeable, how will people of the state know the difference? My point is not to insult another dance form, but to give Kuchipudi the recognition it deserves.”
Her inherent gift will not just continue on in her disciples, but also her younger son Sri Aditya and first daughter-in-law Maalyada Anand of the ‘Swarabhishekam’ fame who are gifted in the dance form. Her elder son Anand supports her on the mridangam.

Having dedicated her life and soul to Kuchipudi, the legend lives amidst us, imparting her knowledge to those willing to learn. A strict teacher, she is thorough in detail and this is the guru much head to when they seek perfection. Living a simple life, her home displaying the many awards and recognition she has gathered, she not only lives to dance but dances to live.

Dance is an enjoyable form of meditation, science, and discipline.

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