Sudnya Mulye – Bharata Natyam Dancer, Choreographer and Teacher in Metro Vancouver

sudnya mulye

A Conversation with a graceful and majestic Bharatanatyam Dancer and teacher, Ms. Sudnya Mulye

Sudnya Mulye, a Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and instructor has studied under the great masters in India and holds BFA (Bachelors in Fine Arts) and MFA ( Masters in Fine Arts) in Bharatanatyam dance and choreography from Mumbai University.

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Photo Credit: Aziz Ladha Photography

Here in the Lower Mainland Sudnya Mulye is an Artistic Director and Choreographer at Sudnya Dance Academy, based in Richmond, BC.

Sudnya ji has spent the last more than 25 years in teaching, collaborating for, practicing, performing and choreographing Bharatanatyam in her tireless and dedicated efforts for cultivating an appreciation for this classical dance form from southern India. She lives in Richmond with her husband and two daughters, Urvee and Kairavee.

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I absolutely enjoyed talking with this passionate dancer and teacher of Bharatanatyam. In this interview Sudnyaji talks about her journey as a Bharatanatyam student, her being fortunate enough to be trained under the guidance of world class Gurus, and her efforts at establishing a platform for Bharatanatyam dancers, students and teachers in the Lower Mainland.

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Q. Sudnyaji could you please tell us about where you were born and raised and how your journey as a Bharatanatyam Dancer began?

A. I am from Thane, Maharashtra, a district which is considered like a suburb of Mumbai. My mother was really fond of Indian Classical dancing and she is the one who enrolled me for a Bharatanatyam Dance class in Thane.

Q. Could you please let the readers know about your initial dance gurus in your childhood days?

A. I was taught by very talented and dedicated gurus like Guru Shetty and Guru Poonam Murudeshwar in my childhood and initial years of learning Bharatanatyam. Guru Shetty taught me to treat each and every class like a moment of performance. Hence from a very tender age I learnt the discipline for having perfect dress up, posture and presentation. Guru Poonam Murudeshwar taught me how not to give up in the face of adversity or lack of appropriate facilities. She didn’t have ‘mridangam ‘ to set our taal for dance practice, but that didn’t deter her from her path of being a dedicated Bharatanatyam guru. She learned how to play tabla in the absence of Mridangam. I learnt from these teachers that dance transcends the barriers of language and culture.

Q. After your school years how did you continue to learn and practice Bharatanatyam? In the age and time, when getting a degree in Medicine, Engineering or for that matter becoming a teacher (mostly for girl students) was considered most appropriate, how did you overcome social barriers and dogma and manage to get a Bachelors and Masters in Performance Fine Arts?

A. The majority of the credit for my successful post high school education goes first to my father Late Mr. Shrinivas Naik and my mother Mrs. Madhuri Naik, and to a remarkable and revolutionary Mohiniattam Guru Padmabhushan Dr. Smt Kanak Rele. My parents didn’t shy away from sending me to Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya in Mumbai. The first college of this kind made only for teaching and learning performing arts like dance. The founder- principal Dr. Kanak Rele of this unique Dance Mahavidyalaya offered Bachelors and Masters degree under Mumbai University. Kanakben as she was fondly called was the legendary Iron Lady who revived Mohiniattam. I am really fortunate to have been enrolled in her college for pursuing my studies in Bharatanatyam.

Q. Could you please share more about your learning at this unique college that was found for teaching dance and fine arts?

A. Great Guru Kanak Rele was the founder-director of Nalanda Dance Research Centre and founder – principal of Nalanda Nrityakala Mahavidyalaya, which was a unique college that didn’t give you degrees in law, medicine, education, engineering or language arts. It was the embodiment of Kanakben’s vision of giving opportunities to students to pursue arts and transition it successfully into notable and respectable careers. Kanakben founded this academy to encourage parents to send their young children to learn classical dancing and learn choreography for the classical dance. Kanakben is a legendary personality known for reviving and modifying Mohiniattam. I learnt a lot from this powerhouse of a tremendously creative, courageous, innovative and in true sense, modern lady, who dedicated her life to classical dance teaching and bringing it into mainstream education.

She was the one who saw my potential, who knew my strengths, who brought out the best in me by challenging me to perform the role of Kannagi, a very strong female character from ancient history and mythology. I was chosen by her to perform for the production of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya. It was a tremendous responsibility on my shoulders. Kanakben spent 8 hours with me to show me how to build the character of Kannagi, when she saw that potential in me. That was just the beginning, but those 8 hours really changed my life and built my character to develop Abhinaya and to become a professional Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer.  For my Arangetram too, Kanakben choreographed and taught me Padams, which are expressional dance pieces. On average, a Padam lasts about 7-9 minutes but mine was for 12-13 minutes. It was considered remarkable in those times and it shaped me to look deeper into the lyrics of the songs presented in Bharatanatyam. Kanakben was instrumental for my successful Arangetram(debut performance)

Q. Would you like to mention some other gurus whom you would like to acknowledge for your journey of learning and teaching Bharatanatyam?

A. Yes, definitely. I am grateful that I could learn the Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam from Smt. Thangamani teacher, the disciple of Padma Bhushan Rukhmini Devi Arundale who led the renaissance of Bharatanatyam. Another guru- Guru Lata Raman taught me the Thanjavur style of Bharatanatyam. She taught me to keep what I learnt originally as well as how to modify my learnings into teachable dancing skills. She taught me how to make my knowledge teachable. From her I learnt not only how to be a better dancer but also how to be a better teacher and performer.

Q. Could you please tell us when did you move to Canada and how did you start your journey as a Bharatnatyam dancer and teacher here in the Lower Mainland?

A. I got married in 1996 and moved to Canada with my husband. I realized that out of numerous Indian dance and art forms, people here at that point in time knew only Bhangra, or had only heard and seen Bhangra performances. Very small community knew about the existence of Bharatanatyam. I decided to not give up and to start cultivating this dance form one step at a time.

I met Dr. Mandakranta Bose, Emeritus Professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. She is a former director of the university’s Centre for India and South Asia Research, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, and the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Sanskrit scholar. She invited me to perform at UBC. That was my very first performance in Vancouver, or I would say in Canada.

As I continue my journey of performances I would like to highlight a few of my notable experiences-  Performing to a divine voice of Guru Sunita Bapooji in a Ramayana conference, Member of the Order of Canada -Lata Pada’s Sampradaya Dance Academy’s production – Song of Mira. Opportunity to attend a workshop given by the Kathak exponent Padma Vibhushan Birju Maharaj who taught me the nuances of Kathak and Bharatanatyam expressions to show Radha and Krishna. Learning Padam – Krishna Nee Begane Baro from Guru Shyamala Mohanraj a disciple of Padma Vibhushan T Balasaraswati.

Q. What challenges did you face almost over 25 plus years back while performing Bharatanatyam in the Vancouver area?

A. The first and foremost challenge was dressing up for performances. I had to do all the traditional dress up on my own, without any help. Another big and extremely difficult challenge was not having access to live music while performing and I had to find recorded music, find cassettes, or obtain recorded music which was shipped from India. Even though there was a lot of encouragement and curiosity for Bharatanatyam performance, there were numerous technical challenges that I had to overcome.

Q. When did you first start Sudnya Dance Academy? How did it grow successful?

A. In March of 1997, I started my own Bharatanatyam Academy with just one student. Slowly it came to be known by people. Academy started getting popularity and performed on various professional platforms, in schools, community events, cultural events, fundraisers etc.

Sudnya Dance Academy has produced and presented productions like “Soul of Dance”, “Buddham Saranam Gacchami”, “Ganesha Vandanam”, “Diwali”, “Married to Canada”.

Sudnya Dance Academy works hard to grow and build the art community by partnering and collaborating with businesses, organizations and multicultural artists on a global level. I believe that if art and business were to work together, it would benefit all youth, our future generation to be positive, creative and bright. To embark on this vision, the academy has partnered with businesses, organizations, and Art Councils and ventured to create community events like Kala Utsav, Maitri, International Dance Day Richmond, U Create Art Productions with many more planned for the future.

Q. Interesting! How did you get access to perform and engage workshops in public schools?

A. Vancouver School Board and Art Starts in Schools opened doors for me to perform and give workshops to present Culture Of India in schools of British Columbia. Through that initiative, many artists from different countries and cultures got opportunities to engage school students in their respective art forms. Through this initiative I got the opportunity to perform with artists like Fana Soro who is a musician, dancer and educator who hails from the Senoufo tribe in northern Côte d’Ivoire. In 1997, Fana moved to Vancouver where he became a cultural ambassador for West Africa, bringing his vast experience of engaging students over a hundred Canadian schools for years. We both as artists found similarities between African dance and Bharatanatyam. That shows the universal appeal of classical dance forms.

Q. What would you describe as a memorable experience of teaching dance in Canadian schools, or to Canadian students?

A. I worked in the school’s classrooms through the Learning through the Arts program initiated by Royal Conservatory Of Music and taught Bharatanatyam to Canadian students connecting through the curriculum in the Canadian way of teaching. These teachings were all linked to the art of storytelling.

I have performed and taught in various Storytelling festivals in Canada including a few in Yukon too.

Q. Any important message you would like to share with our readers and with the youth of this country?

A. I would like the youth from our community to know that the classical arts creates history, present and future. Give yourself an opportunity to learn, observe and understand the beauty of these arts. Use your skills of communication to promote the traditional arts and help in making it part of the mainstream.

I would like community organizations and events to acknowledge all the hard work the students do as dancers and performers by offering remuneration. This will encourage children to become artists, to appreciate art and to live a life full of artistic endeavors and help preserve the cultural arts of India. 

Arts help our youth to stay creative, positive and connected to our ancient culture. Classical arts are sacred and communicate human values and beliefs. We as a community should discourage the arts to be performed in the presence of any alcoholic beverages which dissolves the purpose of the art.

Q. A special achievement that you would love to share?

A. Recently one of our special needs students, a girl with Down Syndrome successfully completed her Arangetram (debut performance). It’s a very proud moment for me as a teacher. And mind well, she was never given a special treatment, never taught separately. She performed based on her group learning.

Before we finish this interview I would like to express my special gratitude to my Sookshma Yoga Guru -Guru Sunita Bapooji, award winning writer, poet and author Vidyut Aklujkar and Sanskritist and Indologist Ashok Aklujkar, for always being supportive and encouraging for me for my dance journey. They are my family here away from my family in India.


If you are interested in connecting with Sudnya Dance Academy, please visit their website or follow her on social media: FacebookInstagram.

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