By Sheryl Young
“Bollywood” style dancing has exploded into one of the most popular types of dance in America today. Featured in recent movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” and on television shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” Bollywood is a vibrant, energetic dance form. It mixes Indian, modern, jazz, hip hop and other styles. But, the Indian art forms of dance don’t stop there.
The Srishti Dance Academy, in the Cory Lake Isles Professional Center on Cross Creek Blvd. in New Tampa, just a few miles south of anywhere in Wesley Chapel, is quickly helping to make not only Bollywood, but also Indian Classical, Folk and Fusion dancing a standard to be recognized and enjoyed by both children and adults.
The founder and director of the Srishti Dance Academy is Swapna Komarraju, who was born and raised in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh province in South India. She’s been dancing since age three, and now loves teaching.
“I was always passionate about Indian dance forms, as my mom inspired me to get into learning dance,” says Swapna. “When I moved to the U.S., I wanted to continue my involvement. I started small by teaching kids in our community and then moved on to start the Academy, which offers training in various Indian dance forms.”
Swapna started the Srishti Academy four years ago and it’s been at its current location for the past two, introducing various Indian dances and movement to more people beyond the Indian community.
“Since Bollywood became so popular, I’m seeing a large influx of Americans in my Sunday adult classes,” Swapna says.
Swapna was professionally trained in the classical dance forms of Kuchipudi and Andhra Natyam, by respected dance gurus in India (she credits Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna, Dr. Shoba Naidu, Sri. Sudhakar and Smt. Ratna Sri). Both easily recognizable by audiences everywhere for their colorful costumes and expressive movements, Kuchipudi is primarily focused on grace and expression whereas Andhra Natyam is more rigorous.
Today, she teaches Tiny Tots through Adults at the Srishti Dance Academy, beginning with Fundamentals of Dance through Intermediate and Advanced classes in the various dances. There’s even a “Dance as Workout” class for adults to get in shape.
“It’s very satisfying to see kids get closer to their culture,” she says. “And, I have seen shy kids who transform into confident individuals as they go through the training. It gives me great pleasure when our students receive compliments at events and win competitions.”
In 2010, students from the Srishti Dance Academy were declared India Festival 2010 Winners in the Junior Division, taking home 1st Prize Classical, Best Classical Choreography and 2nd Prize Bhangra Choreography. Banghra is another popular form of Indian folk music and dance. It originated to celebrate the harvest season.
“The India Festival is a yearly event organized by Gujarati Samaj of Tampa Bay,” Swapna explains. Gujarati Samaj is a non-profit organization for educational and cultural activities to promote the Indian heritage. The 2010 Festival took place at the USF Sun Dome. This year, the event was held on November 11 at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
“The dances are the highlight,” Swapna says of the event. “But, the variety of food and cultural items and the wide array of fashion clothing and jewelry displayed by vendors, attracts a wide cross section of the population in and around Tampa. Around 10,000 people attend the event every year.”
Swapna and some of her students were numbered among 2,800 Kuchipudi dancers in creating a Guinness World Record for performing big group dance choreography at the Second International Kuchipudi Convention in Swapna’s home town of Hyderabad.
Srishti’s website shows a long list of performances by members of the Academy in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas. The most recent on the list was at Saint Leo University near Dade City, the state’s oldest Catholic college.
More Than Just Dance at Srishti Academy
In addition to the dance classes, the Academy now offers instruction in Indian Art as well as Yoga. Swapna proudly talks about her Art and Yoga instructors.
“Shyama Rangwala is our very talented art teacher, who offers training in traditional Indian art, drawing, coloring, charcoal art, and acrylic painting. She has won several awards and hosted shows. Supriya Bellur is our professionally trained Yoga teacher. Her classes have been an instant hit with our adult students.”
But that’s not all! Just in recent months, Shyama has also started teaching two Indian languages at Srishti: Hindi and Guyarati.
Instruction levels vary depending upon age and expertise. Dance and Art students can start as young as four years old. This training provides an added perk for young students: Learning discipline and good manners.
Swapna also strives to teach her young pupils good values through the medium of dance.
Ritu Mitra is the proud mother of two Srishti Academy dance students, and says they are wonderful examples of this training.
“My daughter Neha started here in April,” Ritu says. “I am amazed to see the progress she’s made in the classical dance. Although she already knew Bollywood, doing the classical style has given her stamina, grace and elegance, and she’s improved in her ability.”
And, Ritu says there are other benefits of the training. “My son, Ankush, has lost stiffness and become more flexible. For both of my children, I am pleased that it’s also helped with respect for elders, discipline, manners, obedience and developing their personalities. Swapna can be strict, but she is very good with the children.”
Not wanting to take all the credit for the success of the studio, Swapna is grateful to her husband, with whom she moved to Tampa six years ago.
“My husband, Deepak Chinthamalla, is my backbone,” she says. “He helps me greatly with the studio set-up and upgrades, website and promotion of our Academy. His support is invaluable. It helps me focus on my dance classes completely. His contribution is huge when we have shows or events.”
The couple has a two and a half year old son, Ayush, and Swapna also thanks her husband for staying home with him while she is at the studio.
Monthly fees for Adult Dance are $50; Kids Dance – $65. Art and Language classes are ($60) and Yoga is $65. There are discounts available for multiple classes. In each discipline, there are four classes per month, and each class is one-hour long.
The Srishti Dance Academy is located at 10329 Cross Creek Blvd, Suite L. For more information about class schedules or to view photos of some truly stunning performances, visit SrishtiAcademy.com. The phone numbers are 404-1862 for Dance, 843-6784 for Art and 600-7561 for Yoga classes.