Meet dance teacher Ketaki Hazra, a 61-year-old who redefines what it means to be disabled.
Ketaki began teaching kathak, an Indian classical dance form, in 1985. However, a tragic accident in 1996, in which she slipped, fell and injured her spinal cord, took away her ability to dance. That didn’t stop the students from flocking to her doorstep in Karama to continue learning dancing.
A native of Kolkata, India, Ketaki began dancing at the age of four. “There are about 30 students who attend classes with me every day, to learn kathak and a few other traditional and folk dance forms,” she told Khaleej Times.
While kathak is predominantly learnt and performed by girl students, Ketaki has had a few male students as well over the years. She strongly believes that there is no age limit for learning Kathak, as one of her students is a 50-year-old woman. “She was 40 when she first came to me,” she recalled.
An osteoarthritic patient, Ketaki suffered a second fall in 2014, which has made walking or standing a tedious task. Again, that didn’t deter her from teaching. Kathak relies heavily on hand gestures and facial expressions. “I can teach that while being seated,” Ketaki noted.
Using hand gestures to form the swirling moments, she patiently encourages the learners to follow the beat of the song and corrects their form the very moment she notices it. She also instructs the footwork by tapping her feet on the ground.
“My students give me a lot of strength. When I’m teaching them, I feel like my pain is non-existent. Even during the days I was very ill, the girls would keep coming in to practice,” she said. Ketaki teaches 8-10 students per session and is also well-versed in Bharatanatyam and Manipuri dance forms. Her classes begin at 5.30 pm and continue till 10 pm sometimes.
Farah Shams, 30, a chemical engineer by profession, has been a student of Ketaki since the age of five. She said: “In all these years, dance has become a very important part of my life. I destress and channel all my emotions into dance, and Ketaki ma’am is much more than a dance teacher, and almost like a second mom to us.”
Ketaki has been organising an annual non-profit Indian classical dance concert, Nrityanjali, since 1996. This year, the concert will feature performances by all her 30 students. “There will be a special performance by the beginners, and the girls will also be dancing to songs of Rabindranath Tagore, and do a special performance to the sounds of clarinet,” she said.
The event will take place on December 16 at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates.