Dr. Sheela Unnikrishnan
Founder & Principal,
Managing Trustee, Sridevi Nrithyalaya Trust.
TRAINING IN DANCE
Born in a middle class family in the year 1970, Smt. Sheela was brought up in Chennai and was initiated into dancing at the age of 11. She studiously learnt the art of Bharathanatyam from Guru (late) Sri Sundaram (senior disciple of Mridangam Maestro Mangudi Sri DorairajaIyer) in the Melattur style. She had her ARANGETRAM along with her 2 sisters in1982 and continued learning and performing Bharathanatyam along with her Guru's troupe in and around Tamil Nadu, also excelling in learning Carnatic vocal music and playing Harmonium (Guru Late Dakshinamoorthy) alongside. Sheela was introduced to Yoga by her father, to develop her stamina and health. She out shined in academics too and was a role model to her younger siblings. At this time, a school topper in Higher Secondary, Sheela had also passed Bharathanatyam Higher Grade Exams (conducted by Govt. of Tamil Nadu) in first class as well as Carnatic vocal in Lower grade.
Sheela's parents dreamt of her becoming a medical practitioner. However, Time played its role in absorbing Sheela to the art of dance. After the sad demise of her Bharathanatyam Guru, Sheela took up teachingBharathanatyam to her juniors in Guru Sundaram'sVillivakkam branch. Since then, she has been instrumental in moulding young minds with the divine art, strengthening their physical and mental abilities.
Sheela joined Kuchipudi Art Academy in the year 1990 to learn Kuchipudi style of dance under the direct tutelage of Kuchipudi Maestro Padma Bhushan Dr. VempatiChinna Satyam and underwent intensive training for 7 years with a credit of performances in a few of his shows. Sheela was fortunate to inherit the talent of bringing out Anga-suddham and perfection while training the students in dance from her Bharathanatyam Guru and learnt the nuances of aesthetic choreography from her Kuchipudi Guru.
Sheela took up job as Dance Teacher in PSBB Schools, K. K. Nager in 1992, to support her family yet remained focused in running Sridevi Nrithyalaya at Villivakkam with the same determination and motivation. She worked in PSBB for 22 years and recently resigned for good. Sheela married Sri Unnikrishnan in the year 1995 and has a son. She successfully performs her duty as a caring wife to a supporting husband and a loving mother to an understanding son.
Sheela Unnikrishnan is a full time teacher - choreographer. She has totally dedicated herself to teaching dance to the young and aspiring students and derives joy in watching her ideas and thoughts visualized into much appreciated performances on stage. Though her institution is growing larger, Sheela practises dance to keep fit and experience the inner joy.
Sheela Unnikrishnan started teaching young children in the year 1987 in her residence on her mother's advice and later formed an institution, SRIDEVI NRITHYALAYA, owing her art to Guru Sundaram's Sridevi Natya Kala Mandali in Perambur. Sheela, as a mark of her staunch devotion and deep gratitude, named her dance school in the same name of late Guru's institution, in which she was nurtured to become a Bharathanatyam artiste of considerable promise, though hailing from then a culturally remote Villivakkam.
Sheela is a specialist in sculpting the young talents and this ability makes her a favourite to the parents and the students alike. Her training of techniques are highly looked upon and she has been invited by many Bharathanatyam institutes around the globe for workshops and training every year. When in station, she handles all the classes herself in her institution. A totally dedicated teacher of Bharathanatyam, Sheela spends about 18 hours a day imparting training to her students and promoting this art.
From those good old days, where Sheela used to hire a small space to run her dance classes in Villivakkam and K.K. Nagar, she has put in immense hard work, without compromising on quality, to a phase today, where Sridevi Nrithyalaya stands on its own with a newly constructed building with three halls for dance, an administrative office, a divine sanctum, a guest room, a small pantry, furnished store room and a well-equipped library, with due thanks to all its patrons and connoisseurs.
Today, Sridevi Nrithyalaya has grown to produce many young and aspiring dancers and Dance Teachers, with registered office in Vadapalani and dance institute in Virugambakkam. There are about 250 students on roll, undergoing training in Bharathanatyam and learning our rich heritage and tradition. Sheela's students have travelled across the globe, participating in many dance competitions both national and international levels winning glories and awards to themselves and laurels to their institution. Besides, Sheela has travelled all over India and abroad, giving performances with her troupe.To name a few -
*RashtrapathiBhavan in New Delhi for performance to former President Sri APJ Kalam
*Performances during the Music & Dance festivals in all the leading Sabhas in Chennai and other cities of Tamil Nadu
*Mamallapuram Dance Festivals
*Natyanjalis in chidambaram and other Temples
*Tamil Sangam programs in New Delhi, Tamil Nadu and other places
*Performed in PondicheryDoordharshan Golden Jubiliee Celebrations
* 147th Gandhi Jayanthi Celebrations by Information and Public Relations Dept., Govt. of Tamil Nadu and so on
*London Olympics Cultural Celebrations, UK
*Birmingham Sri Balaji Temple, UK
*FETNA Celebrations - New York, USA
*Boston University, USA
*The Hindu Temple Society of North America, USA
*Muscat Dance Festival, Oman
*India Festival, Taiwan
*India Today Festival, Germany
*Temple Festival, Malaysia
*Vadabadrakaliamman Temple Festival, Singapore
*KOTFA, South Korea and many others
Besides these, under the able guidance of Sheela, many of her disciples, proving their individual talents in Bharathanatyam have won many titles and awards making their Mentor proud. Four of Sridevi Nrithyalaya's students have been conferred the most prestigious BAL SHREE title, conferred by the Govt. of India, the award that will be handed over by the President of India for the excelling kids in the field of performing arts. Four others have been conferred "IlaMayil" by the Podhigai TV, a unit of Chennai Doordharshan. One of her students was declared the second Best Dancer by the Music Academy, Chennai. Apart from these, Sheela's Sridevi Nrithyalaya has a long list of artistes who have won Scholarships from the Dept. of Culture, Govt. of India, CCRT, Dept. of Culture, Govt. of Tamil Nadu, JawaharBalBhavan, BharathKalachar and many other organisations.
With the supreme Grace, self-motivation combined with hard work and continuous support of the family, Sheela Unnikrishnan has made Sridevi Nrithyalaya an internationally acclaimed center for Bharathanatyam, excelling with low-fee structure, efficient faculty for teaching, free-training to financially challenged students, personalized training to all, spreading the joy of learning Indian culture and heritage etc.
TITLES AND AWARDS
*Sheela has completed her research in dance under the title, “Dance Aspects in Minor Tamil Literature” and has been conferred Doctorate in the year 2017 by Tanjavore University. She has passed the higher grade Techinical Examination in Bharathanatyam conducted by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu in first class.
*She was awarded Scholarship for young artistes in the field of Kuchipudi by the Department of Culture, Govt. of India.
*Awarded Best Guru in Bharathanatyam award - 2005 by VDS Arts.
*Natya Sri - 2009 by Vysakhi Dance Festival Committee
*Acharya Kala Vipanchee - 2011 by Vipanchee.
*NCA Award of Excellence in Bharathanatyam - 2012 by Nungambakkam Cultural Academy.
*SadhakaSundaram - 2014 by Bharathanjali Trust.
*Acharya Kala Bharathi - 2015 by Bharat Kalachar.
*Kala VidushiSamman - 2016 by S..U.N.A.INA.
*Natya Kala Mani – 2017 by Karthik Fine Arts
*Nrithya Kala Siromani – 2017 by Chennai Cultural Academy Trust
* Vivekananda Navarathri Memorial – 2017 by Ramakrishna Mutt, Chennai
and many more.
Sheela had the privilege of presenting her first dance drama, BALA RAMAYANAM at the RashtrapathiBhavan in the august presence of former President of India Sri A.P.J.AbdulKalam in the year 2005. Later Sri Kalam mentioned and praised Sridevi Nrithyalaya's performance in his speech, in a seminar. BalaRamayanam has created a record of being performed for more than100 times and is still being well received by the audience.
Sheela, with her unique technique in choreography involving crisp nrittha and enthralling nrithya has about 450 solo numbers apart from many group and thematic presentations in Bharathanatyam. Her troupe is praised for vibrant presentation, absolute synchronization, magically woven group formations, dramatized visualization etc. Sheela has choreographed 18 dance dramas viz., BALA RAMAYANAM, SRI KRISHNA KARNAMRUTHAM, NANDHANAR CHARITHRAM, LAVA KUSA, YOGI RAMSURATHKUMAR, PARVATHI PARINAYAM, SHADAKSHARAM, DASAVATHRAM, JANANI JAGATH KARANI, RAVANESWARAN, SRI KRISHNA VAIBHAVAM, SIVAMAYAM, VARUDAMELLAM VAIBHAVAM, BRAHMASMI, SRINIVASA KALYANAM, VANDE MATARAM etc. and many well acclaimed thematic presentations that include Shanmatham (Tamil), Shanmatham (Samskrutham), Bharatha Bharanyasam, Vande Sambhum, Vaishnava Margam, Thrayee, Nava Rachana Kadambam, Thrayambaka, PARAM - the Ultimate, Kuralin Kural, Maalika, Om Sa Ra Va Na Bha Va, Leela Taranga Margam, Natramizh Nayagiyar, SIVAA, Arunachala Kavi's Rama Natakam, Sankaram Sivam etc.
Sheela abides by her motto, "Dance is absolutely divine, that should not be commercialized" - an unforgettable lesson that she learnt from her Kuchipudi Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. She considers and values the potential of every student who come to learn from her. She strives to bring out the innate and hidden talent in each and mould them into a promising artiste. DANCING IS BLISS is the Mantra that Sheela believes and follows the path, "NATYAM MOKSHA SADHANAM".