From behind the scenes to center stage
Passion for dance has been a driving force in Vasudha Kudrimoti’s life.
During the week, she works as an IT project manager for the federal Department of Transportation, managing a group of about 60 people and a demanding workload. Her weekends, on the other hand, are filled to the brim with the arts — dance, choreography, theater productions, cultural events, and more.
“It makes me feel liberated, whenever I dance,” Kudrimoti said. “Life is monotonous, like you know, start work at 8 a.m. and then go on up till 5, 6, 7, whenever, and then dance … brings (a) lot of happiness to me … I feel it quenches the thirst of this artistic talent that I have in me, like it kind of drives me.”
At the age of 8, her mother, Leela Maslekar, enrolled Kudrimoti in an Indian classical dance program, which she remained in until graduating from it when she was 15.
In college, Kudrimoti taught dance to support herself. At 23 years old, she moved from her home country of India to the United States with her husband Sanjay. At that point, Kudrimoti found herself taking a break from dancing.
“After the marriage, my interests took backseat, and all my focus was on being a wife and being a mother,” she said.
Then, Kudrimoti said she noticed her son Shreyas taking an interest in dance, which she said perhaps she had passed onto him genetically. She began teaching him, and then expanded her teachings to her son’s friends and other children, who went on to perform in various cultural programs.
As others noticed her talent for choreography, Kudrimoti said she began receiving requests to teach more people. She never charged a fee for these classes.
“That creation process is something that brings an adrenaline rush in me,” Kudrimoti, who has lived in Lynnfield for almost 12 years, said.
Much of her choreography work has been for Indian cultural events, volunteer programs such as Lynnfield for Love, and nonprofits like the India Association of Greater Boston.
She practices and teaches out of her home studio, where she said she frequently invites groups to rehearse before performances.
Kudrimoti said she stayed “behind the scenes” for many years.
“I would be teaching the students, (and) many of them said, ‘Why don’t you dance?’ And I kind of felt like I’m not at the age where, you know, I should be dancing. Somehow, it was in my head that ok, after a certain age, you don’t look great on the stage,” she said.
Her mindset began to change after she started working with SETU (Stage Ensemble Theater Unit), a volunteer-based nonprofit theater group in Malden. While volunteering alongside her husband, who joined as an actor, an opportunity presented itself for Kudrimoti to do some choreography for one of the productions. She said the group was impressed with her work and decided to add more dance into future productions.
Kudrimoti gained confidence and inspiration from her interactions with SETU’s diverse performers, ranging in age from teenagers to adults in their 60s.
“I felt, ‘No, I should be able to dance, I should be able to go on the stage,’” she said.
Kudrimoti credits SETU with polishing and refining her choreography skill set, and with getting her back on the stage as a dancer.
“Dancing makes me feel happy, liberated, connected to my roots, and it relieves me from the stress,” she said.
One moment in her dancing career that stood out to her came after she performed a dance with her son in a SETU production. Kudrimoti said the director of the company approached her at the cast party to tell her how much he loved the way she danced. She cited this as a turning point in her dancing career in the U.S., as she became more recognized within the Indian-American community and was offered a more formal entry to dancing on the theater stage.
“This made me feel as if I got my life back,” she said. “I used to perform as a classical dancer before marriage and then it kind of came to halt in between, and then it was kind of reliving that, when I got that opportunity, and then from there it just took off.”
Kudrimoti still dances with her son, now 26, at community performances such as those held for India Day and Diwali. A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Shreyas followed in his mom’s footsteps and participated in Penn Dhamaka in college, an all-male, Bollywood-Broadway fusion dance group that competes all over the country.
Kudrimoti said her younger son Shlok, a sophomore at Lynnfield High School, takes after his dad — acting in theater productions and playing in a jazz band.
Kudrimoti describes herself as a “team player” who prefers to dance with others.
“That synergy and the energy that you get from your co-dancers is way higher than when you try to dance alone,” she said.
She and five other women are part of a dance group called Jhoomar, which performs at various Indian cultural events. During the pandemic when events were stalled, the group took to social media to showcase its dances. Kudrimoti said her Jhoomar co-dancers are a “constant source of motivation.”
She also said that social media itself is an inspiration to her, as it allows her to find new dance forms to try out.
“It breaks the monotony for me … and it gives the satisfaction of doing something different,” she said.
Kudrimoti said that her husband is a huge source of motivation as well, always telling her, “You have to dance, you have so much in you, you should express it through the dance.”
“He’s not a dancer, but he supports me and he kind of has an eye of what looks good,” Kudrimoti added. “He gives me all the feedback and anytime, everytime he has said something is not right … he was right … He kind of jokingly says, ‘I’m your Simon Cowell.’”
When asked what her favorite part about dancing is, Kudrimoti answered, “everything is favorite about it … the whole process, I love it.”
She described the extensive process of putting together a production, from editing the music and choreographing the dance to then teach to the performers, to putting together the costumes — sometimes hand-making pieces or ordering traditional items from India — on a budget and coordinating with other performers, and finally to the grand finale: the performance.
She said her favorite production was SETU’s “Devdas” in May and October of 2019. There were two dances in this production, and she choreographed and performed in both.
Kudrimoti said she has a message for others regardless of whether or not they can dance.
“You should dance to your heart’s content,” she said. “It doesn’t matter (if) you’re perfect or not perfect, you should always dance, and dance will make you happy.”