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Bridging the Cultural Barriers: Mohiniyattam Dancer Keiko Okano

Journey of Mohiniyattam Dancer, Keiko Okano, a Japanese native, training in the cultural hub of Kerala in South India.



Keiko Okano

“Art crosses all barriers”, and indeed it does. Art is the bridge between languages, traditions and cultures. Dance form then becomes one of the crucial art forms which transcends these societal barriers and unites us all. Keiko Okano is a living example of this unification. She’s a Mohiniyattam dancer hailing from Japan. She has been practising Mohiniyattam for a decade and a half now. Her journey has been a confluence of cultures, of transitions, and most importantly, of locating oneself in the variegated art form. 

Early Life

Japan-born Keiko Okano always wanted to move out and explore. She didn’t want to be restricted to one place. So, at the age of 17, she moved to the USA for her higher studies. The USA is the hub of western culture. America houses people from different walks of life. Moreover, there’s a plethora of differences and variety between the cultures and the art. Keiko’s interests in the western art, however, led to a different revelation. Staying in a predominately western culture, Keiko could feel her Asian identity even strongly. The multi-layered Asian culture was becoming clearer to her. It was in the US where Keiko got introduced to the Indian culture, which led her curiosity to Indian traditional art forms and later encountered Mohiniyattam.

The Opening of Doors to Mohiniyattam

Keiko Okano started practising Mohiniyattam in Japan, under her former teacher, Hiromi Maruhashi. A few years later, Keiko travelled to Kerala, and there she witnessed the art form in its true entirety. Keiko Okano says that the very air of Kerala was distinct, and it made her feel more connected to Mohiniyattam than in Japan. Even the intense training at Kerala grasped Keiko Okano wholeheartedly, and since then, she hadn’t wanted to let go of the lands of Kerala. 

Keiko strongly wished to learn Mohiniyattam in its origin, in Kerala. She joined Natanakaisiki Mohiniyattam gurukulam, Natanakairali in 2010 and started her rigorous training under Guru Nirmala Paniker, director of Natanakaisiki Mohiniyattam Gutukulam, Natanakairali, Kerala.

In this journey, her guru, Nirmala Paniker, has been her biggest inspiration, and her favourite artist. Keiko says that even to this date, her Guru’s beautiful abhinaya and extensive knowledge motivate her to practice even harder. She wants to attain in herself the grace and experience as her. Needless to say, Mohiniyattam has been a spiritual journey for her. It has been incomprehensible for Keiko to describe how performing and practising Mohiniyattam unites her body and mind into one. 

Since Keiko was from Japan, language also posed a barrier at times. Training was possible in English but in a deeper sense, it requires the language of the origin to understand further and develop. Her guru used to converse and teach her in English, and more often than not, her classmates helped her understand a lot of dance techniques, nuances and meanings. Recently during the pandemic, she had stayed in Kerala and started focusing on Malayalam language studies.

She aims to get well versed with it so that she can also connect with the local people of Kerala to deeply understand the culture and its art forms. She highlights that some knowledge and lessons can only be taken by immersing with the locals of the land, who’re the place’s elixir. 

Mohiniyattam Through the Eyes of Keiko Okano 

Keiko Okano presents her views, knowledge, and experience of the revered dance form of Mohiniyattam. All of this, she has derived from her Guru, who has been invested in the research of the Sangam Literature and Cilapattikaram. Guru Nirmala Paniker dedicated her life to research and bringing back the missing links of the old Kerala female traditions and revived back the Desi repertoires of Mohiniyattam.

Each guru and dancer has its own style. Her guru, Nirmala Paniker, also created and established her own style of Mohiniyattam. Keiko’s one of the speciality and training has been in Abhinaya, the subtle expressions using the techniques of Kutiyattam. She has learned this unique style of Mohiniyattam from her Guru Nirmala Paniker who is also a researcher on Nangiarkoothu (a female solo performance, an offshoot of Kutiyattam). Keiko had also blessings to practice special abhinaya training in Kutiyattam exponent Guru G Venu’s Navarasa Sadhana and a practice session by renowned Kutiyattam artiste and dancer, Smt. Kapila Venu. It immensely helped her to grow as a performer and acting techniques. Kutiyattam, an authorised UNESCO art form, is an ancient Sanskrit theatre and mentioned in Sangam Literature.

Keiko Okano also reveals how the majority of the common audience does not grasp Mohiniyattam in its true entirety. Popular culture doesn’t appreciate the traditional dance form. More than that, they don’t know about Mohiniyattam and have a vague stereotype in Kerala. Audience is limited, and even the ones who practice are limited to certain people. This beautiful art form should be more reaching to locals and to wider audiences in Kerala and outside, even globally. However, the communication and subtle expressions which make the dance form unique can be reached to the audiences. Through the experience of performing in India, and outside India like Japan and Pakistan, she realised that the art she learned from her guru is beyond the culture. Bunvat International Festival in Karachi, Pakistan in 2019 was a remarkable experience, the performance was highly appreciated and touched the audiences of Karachi. It was a realisation of moments.

In a dance form like Mohiniyattam (or Kutiyattam), the body is also the eyes through which the dancer expresses various emotions. The Abhinaya is very prominent in bringing these emotions in Mohiniyattam, driving the feminine power and communicate through the dance. A smooth flow is therefore created between the body movements and powerful expressions. Keiko highlights a beautiful resemblance of this dance form with the slow tempered, tropical nature of Kerala, its soothing yet deplorable waves, coconut leaves, its land and its people. 

Apart from the Hindu mythologies which Mohiniyattam depicts, Keiko also wants to try to incorporate the stories of the local people of Kerala or Japan and see the possibilities of creating art through what she learned from this art form.

Message for the Young Aspiring Artists

Keiko Okano believes that something can not just be achieved through innate talent. A person has to work and practice hard to hone one’s skills, and be as perfect as possible. As a Japanese, Keiko says that even the body language of Japanese and Keralites is different. Therefore, while performing Mohiniyattam, she had to rigourously practice attaining that equilibrium. Even the simple gestures, Abhinaya (expressions) all she tried to gain by being with locals and observing them and experiencing the life in Kerala. The talent is important yet it is more important to understand the talent in self and have the eyes to observe the possibilities within. Throughout her earlier years of her dance journey, Keiko had such days and conflicts too when she wondered if she can continue the practice or not. It was not so simple or easy to have an art practice focused life. However, at the end of the day, the classes and the practice of the dance made her realise she was indeed doing what she truly wanted. This kept her motivated to continue. 

To the young aspiring artists, she asks them to stay dedicated and be patient to their art. Keiko learned the dedication and patience from her gurus at Natanakairali. Staying in a gurukulam, being closer to the art master family, she experienced them live for art, their dedication and uncompromising life. She also says that you should not invalidate your inner feelings about the art you want to pursue and not be perplexed by those who discourage you. She also highlights how because of age or looks, we often think we’re too late now to pick it up, but completely push this restraint away, and know that you’re never too late to begin. And lastly, appreciate your failures and mistakes, because they make us stronger.

Credits: YouTube (Keiko Okano Mohiniyattam)


Embrace the Joy of Dancing

The passion to just dance while the world falls apart is truly commendable and the same is reflected in these dancers.



Dance Cover, Dance, Rohit Gijare, Urvashi Pardeshi, nidhi and neha, Renuka Deshpande

The art of dance is a powerful and transformative experience that has the ability to heal and bring a sense of certainty in uncertain times. Dancing has been used as a form of expression, therapy, and even spiritual practice for centuries. It allows individuals to connect with their emotions and bodies in a way that can be both cathartic and empowering. Dancers may have different motivations for why they dance. Some dancers may dance as a form of self-expression, using their bodies to communicate emotions and stories. Others may dance to achieve grace and poise, while some may dance simply for the joy of moving to music. Regardless of the reasons why they dance, all dancers share a deep passion for the art form. Today we bring to you such passionate dancers that you need to keep an eye out for.

Unholy X Apsara – Rohit Gijare

Choreographed by Rohit Gijare, this fusion is brought to life by Gijare and his team, Aaliya Islam, Anjali Mehta, Jeremey Davidson, Revati Mahurkar, and Sruthi Palanippan. Grooving to the mashup melody of “Unholy” and “Apsara” that took the Instagram reels trend by storm towards the end of 2023, this fusion acts as the perfect blend of tradition meets modern. The transition from “Unholy” to “Apsara” is so smooth that it makes one scream SLAY!  

Credits: YouTube (Rohit Gijare)

Ghodey Pe Sawaar – Renuka Deshpande

If this iconic song ever had a visual performance it would probably be Renuka Deshpande’s dance cover. Beautifully articulating each word of the lyric Deshpande gives the song a much-needed visual. From her eyes to her fingertips not even one bit is out of place. Dancing to the melody of such a hyped-up song is not an easy task, but Deshpande manages to make it look so effortless that it leaves the audience in awe.  

Credits: YouTube (Renuka Deshpande)

Varaha Roopam – Nidhi and Neha

Donned in the traditional Bharatnatyam costume from head to toe, the dancing sister duo Nidhi Ram and Neha Ram put on an elegant performance. Moving to the beats of Varaha Roopam from the movie Kantara, the synchronisation showcased by them is something that is achieved after weeks or months of practice. Gracefully transitioning from one stance to another, the sisters showcase how you can become one with the song through dance.

Credits: YouTube (Nidhi & Neha)

Raataan Lambiya & Ranjha – Urvashi Pardeshi

A mesmerizing performance by Urvashi Pardeshi brings to life the emotions that both songs carry. Just when you think all is happy and beautiful Pardeshi manages to leave you spellbound by transitioning from the happy phase of “Raataan Lambiya” to the sad phase of “Ranjha”. The transition is so swift yet gradual that it leaves you stunned physically yet moves you emotionally at the same time. 

Credits: YouTube (Urvashi Girish Pardeshi)

As the digital space is getting more and more accessible all over the world, the amount of inspiration a dancer can draw from it is endless. With such innovative dance covers coming out almost every day the possibility of running out of ideas seems impossible.

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Semi-Classical Dances Showcasing Artistic Essence Of Dancers

A set of semi-classical performances by talented dancers presenting art by their dance as well as portraying their rhythmic dancing skills.



Dance Cover, Semi-classical, dancers, art, dance

Dancing has always been an expressive form of art. Today creators and dancers have taken it upon themselves to present a customised version of their performance. Presenting a set of semiclassical dances by some fantastic performers. They’ll without a doubt capture your attention with their visible potential and talent. Performing and embodying beautiful song, their movements and expressions are spectacular to watch and cherish. The performers’ choreographies are well done and emphasis the dance so well, making it look effortless to the eye.

Dance with Shivi

A beautiful semiclassical performance by Shivi on the song Afreen Afreen. She embodies the lyrics with her movement and makes her presence known against the black backdrop. Shivi’s movement subtly flows and blends with the rhythm of the song. She expresses the song beautifully through her expressions, it’s a definite delight to watch her immersed while dancing. The number of circling around and swaying her hands shows and highlights the beauty of the song. Be on the lookout for more of her performances as she has a lot more to offer in the coming days.

Credits: YouTube Dance With Shivi

Vinita Mhatre and Vishwa Mhatre

A collaborative semi-classical dance choreography by Vinita and Vishwa is like a swift breeze tamed by the music. The girls in orange glide across the stage alluringly as they perform the song Kesariya. The choreography is easy to the eye and engaging which will get you on your feet too. The selection of songs and apt coordinating moves according to it, they have aced this performance. The sync between the song and dancers as the video proceeds completely blend together so well. The dancers seem to perform a single dance but with two projections which is stunning to watch.

Credits: YouTube Vinita Mhatre

Divya Singh

Chand Sifarish is a complex song with various rhythms and beats and exceptional lyrics. Divya completely does justice to this song and another dynamic to this piece through her dance performance. A Sneha Kapoor choreography, Divya is seen gracefully performing a semi-classical dance. Not missing a single beat and keeping the pace throughout the dance, it’s thrilling for the audience to watch her. The scenic beauty against which she performs makes the entire performance enthralling yet the focus solely remains on her. Her actions in the movements are complementary to the song and in a way visualise the lyrics. A passionate performance by Divya will leave you amazed, the energy of the song is channelled so well by her.

Credits: YouTube Divya Singh
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The Undefeated Reign of Indian Classical Dance Forms

Centuries-old Indian classical dance forms, despite being intricate and difficult to master their popularity is ever-soaring.



Classical Dance, Kathak, Odissi, Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Dance Covers

Dance, the most lively art form in the world that requires you to imagine and experience it with your eyes wide open. A song requires some part of your body to come to life but dance requires your entire body and dedication to truly thrive. 

Indian classical dance forms have been around for centuries and are well known for their beauty, grace and strong affinity for details. Considered one of the toughest forms of dance, it can be very well distinguished from its western counterpart by focusing on the attire and intricate make-up alone. In any Indian classical dance form, be it Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak, or any of the other eight major Indian classical dance forms, the main focus has always been towards pleasing deities and becoming one with them or telling the tale of significant historical figures of the culture. Hand gestures and facial expressions have always been given more importance in the classical dance forms of the Indian subcontinent than in their western counterpart. And there is nothing more beautiful than seeing today’s dancers keeping the tradition alive but reinterpreting it in their own unique ways. 

The Guru Within- Shreema Upadhyaya and Aditya Sharma

Being a trained Odissi dancer of five years I can completely vouch for the tediously long hours of practice that go into perfecting each mudra (hand gesture) and bhangi (pose/ stance). One might assume the rules would be comparatively more relaxed for kids than adults, but sadly the rules of Indian classical dance forms apply to all, regardless of gender or age. The reason it stresses so much on the importance of discipline is because it tries to unite your different personalities into one by removing all distractions and letting you explore and harness each and all of your personas as and when required. 

Beautifully highlighted in the dance video, “The Guru Within”. Conceptualised and choreographed by Shreema Upadhyaya and Aditya Sharma, this dance piece was a confluence of Bharathanatyam and Kathak both being well-known for their storytelling aspect. The dance consisting of two dancers, one male and one female explored the different emotions that a dancer goes through from joy to fear until they find their groove and become one with their inner guru or teacher that guides them in their journey. 

Credits: YouTube (Shreema Upadhyaya)

Anondodhara Bohichhe- Subhaijt Khush Das

Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore is very well-known in Indian history as a poet and freedom fighter. Being a lover of art and believing in the power of different forms of art in uniting us, it’s no wonder that Subhaijt Khush Das conceptualised and choreographed a confluence of three Indian classical Dance forms, i.e., Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathakali, to the tunes of Anondodhara Bohichhe by Rabindranath Tagore as a tribute to him on his 161st birth anniversary. The song that reminds people of the bliss that is flowing around the world is brought to life by the harmonious tap of dancers performing three different Indian classical dance forms together but at the same time telling one tale.

Credits: YouTube (Subhajit Khush Das)

Mere Dholna- Purnima Garg

The different Indian classical dance forms are deeply rooted in the customs and culture of each part of the Indian state they originate from. And being dance forms that rely heavily on elaborate costumes and makeup it’s not always feasible for today’s crowd to get their hands on each piece of jewellery for the perfect dance ensemble all the time, thus, came modern interpretation of classical dance forms. Infused with Bollywood beats and lighter clothing and jewellery it kept the essence of the classical form alive but gave it a modern twist. 

Perfectly captured by Purnima Garg who portrays two personas, one in white and another in black, in her Kathak cover of the catchy and ever-green classic song “Mere Dholna” from the movie, “Bhool Bhulaiyaa”, fully complete with light makeup. Her devotion to her art cannot go unnoticed as she doesn’t miss a beat as she switches from one persona to another. The way her eyes move shows how engrossed she was in the beats of the song, just like a true dancer. 

Credits: YouTube (Purnima Garg – Kathak Dance Co)

Aayat- Eshna Benegal and Eeshani Mitra 

Another example of such a beautiful fusion can be seen in the Kathak cover of the famous song “Aayat” from the movie “Bajirao Mastani” performed by Eshna Benegal and Eeshani Mitra. Given that it is a song from a Bollywood movie and not necessarily a traditional classical dance, the way the classical dancers incorporated their traditional art form with it shows the beauty and flexibility Indian classical dance forms hold. By sharply and gracefully doing different mudras and poses of Kathak as they tapped their feet to the tunes of this modern song, the dancer kept it authentic and gave it a twist of their own.

Credits: YouTube (Eeshani Mitra)

As the popularity of fusion dances keeps increasing day by day the concern regarding the loss of pure Indian classical dance forms also worries many. But given the intricate gestures and significance that each move holds in each Indian classical dance form, there’s hardly ever a chance that it will ever lose its essence to any form of dance in the modern world.  

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Refreshing Dance Covers Showcasing Talented Emerging Dancers

Dance is an art of communication. A movement of expression from an individual to all by simply embracing the song and flowing accordingly.



Dance Covers, Dholida, Ram Leela

Dance expresses art in way of movements channelling ways of emotions. A form presented by an individual to show devotion, joy or a depiction of a lyrical beauty of music and feelings in a visual way. Presenting you with a set of artists showcasing some amazing dances. The fluidity of their moves blends easily with the flow of music. Making the festive season more lively, they bring so much joy through their passion for dance and performances. Emerging dancers show their skills and passion in their own format of customized art. 

Mere Sohneya – Kalpita Kachroo

The dance choreography is acing an attempt to embody the lyrical beauty of the song. Kalpita looks stunning while presenting a semi-classical dance on the song Mere Sohneya. Her choreography paired with the song is pleasing to the eyes and shows her skills, doing absolute justice to this song. The synchronization of her steps and coordination highlights the choice of music. Her expression truly captivates you with a smile throughout her sequence. This small dance performance manages to show Kalpita has so much potential to deliver through dance in future.  

Credits:YouTube Kalpita Kachroo

Ram Leela – Mouveen Sharma

A powerful performance bringing a compilation of all songs from Ram Leela. A tribute to the film with a commendable and diversified music range, she takes every beat of the music her own. The scenic beauty in the video with amazing cinematography with some focus on Mouveen moves and her expression is a visual to see. The variation in her dance ranges from performance in three different songs, showing a different form of dancing. A completely different persona of Mouveen in every song changes. Her talent to captivate the audience with subtle moves and portrayal of art in her way is beautiful. A piece to watch as she gracefully moves and adorns the song.

Credits: YouTube Mouveen Sharma Official

Dholida- Srija Ramakrishna

Embracing and celebrating the Navratri season, Srija presents a spiralling performance on Dholida. A complex choreography is presented appealingly. Grooving to Dholida and adding the Garba sequence, will make you excited and get your dance nerves tingle. Srija’s expression throughout expressing the song and the joy of the festive season is visible. She uses the floor to its maximum while performing and swiftly gliding with her moves. A fun performance to watch and hopefully learn for the coming festive season.

Credits: YouTube Srija Ramakrishna

Saiyaan – ShruNetra 

ShruNetra presentation of her devotion to her Guru through a fascinating dance rendition. As part of her Bhakti series, she presents her art through the medium of art in different locations as devotion. The scenic beauty, the cinematography and her dance moves, all together make this beautiful peaceful piece. ShruNetra’s passion is seen as she completely makes the song her own and moves gracefully according to the rhythm and lyrics. ShruNetra’s portrayal of art and devotion is inspiring and shows the beauty in discovering passion and its acting as a driving force to progress in life. A performance to watch as the song Saiyaan comes to life visually through her dance moves.

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Visiting Rabindra Sangeet With These Engrossing Dance Covers

Rabindra Sangeet is incomplete without the dancers and their graceful movements. Here’s some beautiful dance covers on the same.



Bengali Dance, Dance, Rabindra Sangeet

Rabindra Sangeet, most commonly known as Tagore Songs, as the name suggests, are the songs penned by the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. With a collection of more than 2000 songs, Tagore maintained his position in society as not only just a writer but also a lyricist. His depth of writing, with intense themes, has rendered everyone in deep awe. Apart from the mesmerising flow of the lyrics, the music of his songs was heavily influenced by classical Indian, Folk music, as well as international music. The perfect balance between the poetry and musicality in Rabindra Sangeet renders all other music dull in its presence. Tagore has immortalised himself with his passionate art. Here are some equally heart-touching dance covers on Rabindra Sangeet, reminding everyone of the liveliness and vigour of the Indian culture and dances. 

Monomor Meghero Sangi – Bidipta Sharma

Bidipta Sharma performs a soulful dance on the song, ‘Monomor Meghero Sangi,’ and exudes perfection and grace in every step of hers. She adds her own hypnotising trance to the song, which is already so absorbing and enthralling. Adorned in a blue saree, with pleasant expressions, the dance cover successfully delivers a splendid performance, wanting for more. Rabindra Sangeet is surely empty without its dancers. 

Credits – YouTube Bidipta Sharma

Jagorane Jay Bibhabori – Sharmistha 

Another magnificent Rabindra Nritya performance is of Sharmistha’s. The dance performance is brimmed with elegance and sharp steps, which play the rhythm to each and every beat of the song, Jagorane Jay Bibhabori. Sharmistha justifies the performance with her beautiful red outfit, which makes the entire performance even more resplendent. The ending of the dance cover will definitely be everyone’s favourite part, since the ending dance steps, along with her expressions, add one final beautiful dance movement, which complements the lyrics of the song and its profound music.

Credits – YouTube Dance with Sharmistha

Bhalobeshe Shokhi Nibhrite – Payel

Payel and Dwaipayan perform a very beautiful and composed dance cover on the song, Bhalobeshe Shokhi Nibhrite. The duo, with each elegant and poised dance step, elevate the charm of the song. What’s more striking about this performance is that the dance duo also highlights the culture and traditions of India. The wedding ceremony, the surrounding architect, the attires, all encompasses the unique sculpture of the country. 

Credits – YouTube Dance with Payel

Bhenge More Ghorer – Nritya Chandraja

Namrat Chakraborty and Chandraja Guha come together to give an energetic, resplendent and vigorous dance cover. Choreographed by Chandraja, the dance cover exudes the dance skills of Chandraja. Matching to the rhythms of the songs, the dancers do not miss enjoying every moment of this performance. Accompanied by the perfect expressions, Namrat and Chandraja remind us of the wholesomeness of a dance cover. Moreover, with the sync and coordination that two are in, the dance becomes even more distinguished, and effortless. 

Credits – YouTube Nritya Chandraja
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