Preston manager and dancer Abhi Kodanda is on a mission. Determined to share the joy of Indian classical dance she learned since childhood, she set up her own dance school in the city.
For her, the ancient classical dance known as Kuchipudi is a beautiful art form and celebration – and also a devotion.
Abhi (short for Abhinandana) settled in England with her husband, Preston GP Dr Praful Ram, 11 years ago.
Armed with qualifications in business and English she became manager of the Preston Gujarat Hindu Society and also set up The Abhinamdana Dance Academy.
The mother of two young boys is a sought after performer and relishes the opportunity for her pupils (known as disciples) to showcase their talent at community events and big city occasions,
She explained her love of dance was sown early: “I belong to a cultural family – my father is a poet who has written a lot of books and my mother was a dancer so she wanted to pass on her dancing skills.
“I started when I was seven years old back in India.
“I was really fortunate to be trained with really renowned teachers who not only taught me skills of dancing but the associated skills of rhythm.”
She studied her dance while also achieving an MBA in business administration and a Masters in English literature in India.
Prior to moving here she had given many performances in the UK but acknowledged: “When I moved here, it was a very humble beginning. I started from zero again.
“Not many people know about Kuchipudi dance, one of the eight prominent Indian classical dance forms.
“It has a lot of emphasis on storytelling and facial expressions.
“A lot of epic and mythological stories were narrated as street shows through Kuchipudi dance historically.”
In Preston, her students start their education at around four or five years of age.
Those with her at the beginning in Lancashire have all now completed their basic training and are advanced students.
Abhi continued: “Through the academy I’ve been providing cultural education to the students in terms of dance, storytelling and choreography skills.
“Dance is a very comprehensive art. It’s got a lot of little arts combined with it.
“It has make up skills, literature skills and a lot of physical exercise and training involved...It trains your emotions – it’s mind, body and soul dancing.”
Abhi herself trains several times a week, knowing that stamina must be maintained for the demanding performances.
The costumes, eye catching and colourful, are specially ordered and made in India.
A unique move in Kuchipudi dancing is where a performer dances on the rim of a brass plate – a feat of balance and skill.
She explained: “It signifies Krishna dancing on the head of a serpent called Kaliya. It is a difficult dance form and takes a lot of time to master.
“All the rhythms created by the percussionist have to be repeated on the plate and it takes a lot of perseverance to get to that stage of dancing and balance.”
Overall she describes Kuchipudi as a very graceful dance form with a lot of firm but fluid movements and emphasis on expressive eye movements.
There are dances with words too – known as Vachika Abhinaya with dialogues within the routine.
There is also a devotional side to the dancing.
“They always say dance is the epitome of divinity” Abhi added.
“It’s the highest form of worship, I would say, and it’s the source of expression.
“There are particular Indian classical dances which are in praise of the Gods and they are more to do with worship.”
Abhi also teaches dance classes at the Blackpool and Fylde Hindu society and until recently taught in Lancaster too.
One disciple was Professor John Whittle who, while employed at Lancaster University, studied Kuchipudi dance, having taken beginner classes while working in India.
Abhi said: “He was a fantastic dancer who has broken the myth that men don’t dance.
“An Englishman who thought it was a very beautiful dance form to be involved in.”
Her husband Dr Ram, who is a GP at the Briarwood Medical Centre on Blackpool Road, has, she said “been very supportive over the last 11 years”.
She added: “He supports me in my passion and of course the Gujarat Hindu Society is an excellent platform for children who are learning to perform.”
Abhi, who is from Hyderabad in the south of India, also teaches Bollywood dance and said: “I conduct a lot of workshops in schools and colleges and as much as possible I try to pass on the culture of dance, the idea of Indian classical dance and story telling... and how it caters to your physical mental and emotional self.
“I really want to create this new generation of Kuchipudi dancers in the UK.
“They are torch bearers for the future and they are the ones who will carry the tradition forward.”
She and her dancers have performed at prestigious venues around the country.
Memorably, her dancers appeared at the Tour de France festival in Halifax in 2014 creating a picture of a bicycle with coloured powder on their feet as an ode to the cyclists.