July 12, 2024

Styles Of Dance

Dance Styles Unite in Harmony

5 Top Female Sri Lankan Dancers in the Classical Style

5 min read

On the teardrop-shaped island, a triumphant collection of female Sri Lankan dancers has been woven through the ages.

Whilst many dance individuals celebrate an array of dance styles, the classical form continues to be the most popular. 

Steeped in history and culture, classical dance has been shaped by the hands and feet of countless figures.

Among them, a handful of extraordinary women have danced their way into the annals of history.

These Sri Lankan dancers, with their grace, innovation, and passion, have not only pushed the boundaries of dance but also challenged societal norms, inspiring future generations to follow in their footsteps.

We look at and celebrate these remarkable women and why their legacies have laid the foundations for the future of classical dance.

Vajira Chitrasena

5 Top Female Sri Lankan Dancers in the Classical Style

Deshamanya Vajira Chitrasena is a veteran Sri Lankan traditional dancer, choreographer, and teacher.

She is regarded as Sri Lanka’s first prima ballerina and the first Sri Lankan woman to practice the traditional Kandyan dance, which was traditionally performed only by men.

Vajira is credited for creating a brand for the female style of Kandyan dancing and setting the tone for women to become ritual dancers.

This dance form is characterised by its dynamic footwork, leaps, and whirls.

Vajira, as the first woman to practice it, would have brought a unique elegance and femininity to these traditionally male movements. 

Her first domestic solo performance came in 1943 on stage at the Kalutara Town Hall.

She and her husband Chitrasena co-founded the Chitrasena-Vajira Dance Foundation in 1944.

Both toured India on several occasions between 1959 and 1998 to collaborate with artists from different genres.

Vajira and Chitrasena are known for their close bond with India and for their contributions to strengthening the ties between the two countries in the field of arts.

Vajira has also choreographed several acclaimed productions and has been teaching dance to students for over 60 years.

Likewise, she has taught prominent actresses like Nilmini Tennakoon and Jeevarani Kurukulasuriya.

Her work in the dance industry was recognised when she was conferred with the Padma Shri award, one of the highest Indian civilian awards, in 2020.

Upeka Chitrasena

5 Top Female Sri Lankan Dancers in the Classical Style

Upeka Chitrasena is one of the most well-known Sri Lankan dancers.

She is one of the dancing duo Varija and Chitrasena who pioneered the introduction of Sri Lankan ballet in the 50s.

Manori Wijesekera in 2011 called her “Sri Lanka’s finest female dancer” and described her relationship with the drums as unique.

Chitrasena’s first stage performance was in 1958, in the children’s ballet Vanaja when she was just seven years old.

She got her first lead role at 15 years old, starring in the 1965 children’s ballet RanKikili.

In the same year, she danced in the ballets Karadiya and Nala Damayanthi, which were the first times that appeared on stage with her parents.

Her movements were likely fluid and expressive, with a strong emphasis on storytelling and emotional expression. 

Since 2011 she has not had a stage appearance but teaches and mentors young dancers in her dance academy.

Her current aim is to build a residential dancing school for children of Sri Lanka to learn dance.

Veronika Dassanayaka

5 Top Female Sri Lankan Dancers in the Classical Style

Veronika Dassanayaka is a choreographer, artist, and lecturer.

She has also served as a major in the Sri Lanka Army and as leader of the Sri Lanka Army dancing troupe.

Veronika received the prestigious Indian Council for Cultural Relationship scholarship offer in 2002 and enrolled at the Bhatkhande Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya, a renowned art school based in Lucknow.

She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree with first-class honours in 2008 from the Bhatkhande Music University.

She has performed Kathak dances catering to Indian audiences during occasional tours to India in her illustrious career.

Additionally, Veronika has extensively toured other countries, performing recitals and lecture demonstrations.

With her training, Veronika brought a sense of passion and intensity to her performances.

Kathak is characterised by its fast spins, intricate footwork, and dramatic movements, and Veronika’s performances would have reflected this.

Her dances were likely a captivating display of technical skill and enriching depth.

Yamuna Sangarasivam

5 Top Female Sri Lankan Dancers in the Classical Style

Yamuna Sangarasivam is a Sri Lankan-American dancer, academic, and writer.

She was well known for dancing with Michael Jackson during the shooting of the video song ‘Black or White’ in 1991.

The song was eventually premiered in over 27 countries, targeting a wider audience range of 500 million.

Yamuna has engaged in teaching and research in various fields including terrorism, social conflict, cultural anthropology, gender studies, and sexuality.

Yamuna has a prevalent background in Bharatanatyam and Odissi.

So, she brought vivid cultural interpretations to her dancing, which are seen in her performances.

Both these dance forms are popular because of how they require you to use every muscle of the body.

Mastering the movements and sculptural poses, Yamuna’s dancing is complex and emphasises the vast amount of control one needs for these classical dance forms.

Rajini Selvanayagam

5 Top Female Sri Lankan Dancers in the Classical Style

Kalasuri Rajini Selvanayagam, affectionately known as the Queen of Dance, was a revered traditional dancer hailing from Balangoda, Sri Lanka.

Her life was dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the heritage embedded in Sri Lankan dance.

In 1975, Rajini Selvanayagam established the “Chamara Kala Nikethanaya”, a dance academy rooted in Tamil values and enriched by the arts.

Her vision extended beyond mere choreography, aiming to imbue culture, traditions, and customs through the captivating medium of dance.

As a distinguished dance educator, she gained renown for her unparalleled teaching prowess, placing a profound emphasis on the proliferation and endurance of distinctive forms.

Rajini’s style was characterised by a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation.

Throughout her illustrious career, she garnered accolades such as the prestigious Kalasuri Award in 2005.

Additionally, she received the esteemed titles of Kala Keerthi and Vishwa Kala Keerthi, further solidifying her impact on the global stage.

In October 2023, Rajini passed away but left behind a warm and infectious legacy that was in the hearts of those fortunate enough to witness her perform.

These Sri Lankan dancers have danced their way into the hearts of audiences.

Their passion, dedication, and innovation have exceeded the realms of classical dance and redefined it for the ages.

They have played a crucial role in shaping the cultural identity of Sri Lanka, ensuring that the rich tradition of Sri Lankan dance continues to thrive and evolve.

As we celebrate their contributions, we also look forward to the future, to the next generation of dancers who will continue to carry the torch of Sri Lankan dance.


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