Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Meenal Chakradeo . We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Meenal , appreciate you joining us today. When did you first know you wanted to pursue a creative/artistic path professionally?
I am a trained Kathak dancer. I started learning the art form at the young age of 7. Right from my childhood I was very passionate about Dance. At the same time I was also very ambitious academically.
I came to the USA in 2001 with a dream to pursue graduate degrees in Computer science and Business Management, In 2003, After completing my Masters in Business Administration I landed a great job in a software company. As time passed I continued to advance in my career. On the personal front I had a happy family with a supportive husband and 2 little kids. Dance continued to be my passion but never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I would be a full time Classical Dancer, educator and performer.
Along with my corporate job and managing the family, I was keeping the passion of dancing alive. I continued to perform and I was teaching a small group of students as well. But as time passed, I realized that it was getting more and more difficult to balance my corporate career and my passion for dancing. In 2010, there came a point where I had to choose between the two and the more I thought about it the more I knew that I could live without my corporate job but I couldn’t imagine my life without Dance (performing and teaching). I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in an office; instead I wanted to perform, teach and give back to the community. In August of 2010, with support from my husband, I took a leap of faith and decided to quit my job to develop my own brand and start my dance school and there has been no looking back since then.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
As a dancer, I wanted to teach and give back to my community, but at the same time, I also wanted to establish myself as a performer and creator. Thus, my dance school Meenal’s Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA) came to be. At MAPA, I teach students of all age groups and help them nurture their passion for dance. Learning at MAPA happens in a very structured way. My academy is affiliated with Bharati Vidyapeeth University in Pune, India and we prepare students for Certificate and Diploma level exams in dance. I also believe that everyone deserves a chance to showcase their dance and commemorate the efforts that they have put in. This led the way to my Annual Student Recital, where every student at MAPA takes the stage to present what they have learned over the past year. MAPA annual recitals are one of a kind where the students get to perform to live music accompaniment. Pictures from our past recitals can be seen on our FB page. Our last annual recital was in 2019 (before the pandemic began). That year we celebrated 10 year of my teaching career with a grand 2 day Kathak festival. First day of the festival was a student recital and for the second day I had invited a professional repertory troupe to perform. MAPA also has a repertory troupe and is very involved in performances across town for various community organisations. Our troupe actively participates in fundraising events for various non-profits.
MAPA actively arranges concerts, lecture demonstrations and workshops with senior artists of my field. For the last 7 years, MAPA in collaboration with Shambhavi’s International School of Kathak, has also been organising a residential dance retreat with senior Gurus and artists of Kathak. In these 5 day long retreats the students get to immerse themself in the art form, that too under the mentorship of senior teachers.
None of this would be possible without the blessings of my teachers (Guru-s). I am blessed to have dedicated Guru-s in my life who guide me every step of the way and enable me to do what I am doing today. I started learning Kathak at the age of 7 under the tutelage of Guru Shri Suresh Dharmadhikari ji in India. Since 2013, here in the US I have been taking advanced lessons from Guru Shambhavi Dandekar ji. I am also learning Taal Vidya under the guidance of Guru Pt. Divyang Vakil ji.
I strongly believe that to be a good teacher one has to be an active performer as well, and that’s why frequently performing and observing others’ performances and dance styles is so important to me. In addition to teaching, I regularly perform in San Diego and other cities in the US. I have even performed internationally.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
I feel tremendously blessed to be an artist. Honestly it’s hard to pinpoint just one aspect.
As an artist and a teacher, the satisfaction that I get in passing down this art form to the next generation cannot be expressed in words. The joy of seeing the students master a technique or perform on stage or do well in exams is immeasurable and it never gets old. Year after year training students to become dancers and performers brings the same joy and happiness every single time.
Being an artist I get to touch the lives of others in a very positive way. My art has the ability to bring a smile to another person’s face. The ability to create something new for others to see is extremely gratifying.
What can society do to ensure an environment that’s helpful to artists and creatives?
First and foremost, we need to have more programs to educate artists about the resources that already exist. e.g Grants. I am sure many artists would benefit if they knew how to apply and take advantage of grants and other resources that are already available.
Secondly, we need to create more avenues for the artists to display their art. We also need to make sure that artists are paid proper remuneration. It’s so often that an artist is asked to perform for free. Even the organisations that pay the artists try their best to negotiate the fees of the artists. This needs to stop. To make it happen, awareness and respect for art and artists needs to be cultivated in each individual right from their childhood.
As artists continue to explore and establish their worth, society needs to be more understanding about the unconventional yet incredibly unique value that artists add to the world. Sadly careers in art are still not recognized at par with other conventional career options. It’s about time that society accepts it as a valid career path that requires an incredible amount of hard work, dedication, and effort.
- Website: mapasd.com
- Instagram: @meenalchakradeo; @mapasd_meenalchakradeo
- Facebook: Facebook.com/mapasd
Vikram Bhide, Anand Sangam