Güngur’s Journey: Solace to the Soul

by Patricia Salgado

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Mishra

Photo Courtesy: Debiprasad Sahoo

My name is Patricia Salgado, I am an Argentinean born in the United States but settled in Barcelona, Spain for the last 14 years. I have been working as a fashion designer, designing clothes for different brands for over 15 years. Since early childhood, I have always been attracted to art, painting, and sculpture. I was also very interested in various disciplines rooted in Eastern cultures, thanks to the deep influence of my mother. I chose a career in design because it allowed me to express my creativity. But deep inside my soul, perhaps subconsciously, I was hoping to find my true vocation elsewhere.

My professional routine as a designer was very regimented. From morning ’til evening my life centered around picking up tendencies, fabrics, colors, visiting international fairs, travelling, creating new collections, and so on. For many years, I would ask myself, ‘Is this it?’ While I was very grateful to have a successful career after years of hard work, there was always a part of me that felt incomplete.

Searching for something with a deeper meaning, I assisted in the production of a classical Indian dance performance in 2000, where I met Kuchipudi exponent Guru Ranga Vivekanda. That was a day I will never forget. The costume, the wonderful colors, the make-up and ornaments, the unforgettable music, eye movements, delicate hands, precise technique and unique movements made a deep impression on me. I was captivated from that very moment.

From that day, I started my new path towards the magical world of Indian classical dance. I took my very first dancing steps together with my sister Natalia at Rangaji’s school. I immediately discovered that Indian classican dance was an extremely demanding discipline that would require full dedication and commitment, which was too difficult for me at that particular time in my life. Argentina was also going through a difficult period so I considered the idea of moving to Spain for some time.

And so I moved. At the beginning it was very difficult and intense, I was fully dedicated to my professional career. However I never stopped searching for teachers, schools and dancers that could allow me to continue learning the beautiful art of Indian classical dance. For years I practiced alone because I could not find anyone with enough experience and knowledge to guide me. In 2007 I decided to take some time off and travelled to India to visit my sister, who was studying Bharatanatyam in Chennai. My initial plan was to enjoy my holiday and give my sister some company, but when I arrived, she gave me a practice sari, a stitched pajama-choli and said: “Change your clothes, in half an hour we have a class.” During that trip I realized that if I really wanted to learn these dances seriously, I would have to go to the birthplace of these art forms. Since then I have been traveling to India regularly for my training.

When I was in Chennai, my sister and I bought several CDs and books on Indian classical dance. I discovered Odissi through a video of Smt. Sujata Mohapatra. My sister and I just loved it. We decided to travel to Orissa to start learning Odissi. We chose to study at the Konark Natya Mandap Gurukul because we wanted to really live and experience the depth of Odisha’s dance culture. Natya Mandap was the perfect choice for us – surrounded by nature, we could completely immerse ourselves in learning and studying. We could also witness the Gotipua dance training, which is very important to Odissi. We were very lucky on that first trip to have the opportunity to learn from the great Padmashree Guru Gangadhar Pradhan himself, along wth his two senior disciples Guru Sri Manoranjan Pradhan and Guru Lingaraj Swain, who continue to teach us to this day. I have been visiting Konark Natya Mandap every year since then for my training and it has become a second home to me.

I have always been fascinated by how Odissi uses torso isolations, and how the delicate movements of the arms and upper body are simultaneously contrasted with the strength and precision of foot movements in the lower half of the body. It is the perfect combination of Tandava and Lasya! This combination can only be achieved with years of practice and hard work. Each of the basic steps can be refined to look more natural. This is a personal challenge and I love it. I never get tired of waking up every morning and repeating the same chauka and tribhangi steps over and over again. On the contrary, my body feels more comfortable and relaxed, my torso moves with more fluency, and my legs acquire more strength and resistance. Studying Odissi gave me the perfect balance that I needed in my life: Discipline, constancy and permanent dedication. It connected me with my body, with music, and with my spiritual side.

In 2009 when I was in India, my sister and I decided to meet up after months of intensive dance practice. It was during our holiday that we felt a deep contradiction inside. On one hand, we felt an immense happiness for everything that we had, being together and learning dance in India, while on the other hand we felt a deep sadness at the thought of having to return to our lives, work, and continue our practice alone.

At that very instant, we had a moment of inspiration: what if we could combine our professions and passions into one umbrella project that we could share with other people? And from that moment, Güngur was born.

We returned to our respective countries and started to write down each and every idea, dream and intuition we had for this potential organization. We even named each of the sections we wanted to have. Slowly and slowly we were able to turn these ideas into a reality. Güngur was launched first in Buenos Aires in 2010, and then later that year in Barcelona (the Barcelona branch opened its own space in March 2015). Through Güngur we found a way not only to realize our dreams, but also to to stay together regardless of the distance.

The main overarching goal of Güngur is to expand classical Indian arts to Western cultures. To that end, we try to manage each and every detail meticulously. My sister graduated in Marketing and Advertising and handles all of the communications, proposals, etc. to our students and customers. She manages the Buneos Aires branch of Gungur. Having graduated in design, I handle all of the visual and advertising aspects of Güngur and I manage the Barcelona branch.

Güngur has three pillars. The main pillar, “Anjali” is dedicated of course to the promotion of Indian classical arts. We currently offer regular classes in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi in Argentina, and Odissi in Spain. We have expanded the dance classes to include Kathak as well. We also offer classes and workshops in Indian classical music (Sitar, Sarod, Tabla). In addition to regularly scheduled (intimate) performances, we also present our annual student showcase. We also organize seminars and performances for renowned dancers whenever possible so that we can continue to improve our technique and learn new choreography.

The second pillar, “Sundar” was inpired by the “Aharyaabhinaya,” aspect of Indian classical dance which refers to the aesthetic beauty and adornment of the dancer and presentation. Being a designer by profession, I have a tendency to always look at things with ‘designer’s eyes,’ and so I always draw upon Indian art aesthetics and this channel these ideas where I can. ‘Sundar’ is a full collection of clothes inspired by Indian classical dances. In addition to dresses, we also make pajamas and t-shirts for dance; we also design ornaments and bag sets for dancers to organize  their jewelry and costumes.

The third pillar, “Pooja,” is a collaboration with NGOs that support women and children. We have been working with foundations such as “Friends of Orissa,” “Vicnte Ferrer,” and “Mujeres 2000.” India is not just another country to us – it is a place where we found our true vocation! India has given us so much, we feel the need to give back from the bottom of our heart, and to help and collaborate in any way we can. Some of the work we do includes working with NGOs to produce our products, having fundraisers for India-based initiatives, or using our dance in some way to support work in India. And we feel good because we really believe that sharing is an expression of love.

Today Güngur is a community that continues to grow each day with a lot of work, dedication, love, and humility. Our development as dancers may not be very extensive; we are not from India and we have not been learning dance from childhood, but our objective goes beyond this.

Güngur is an organization about sharing, learning from one another, working as a team and feeling confident while dancing. It is about setting goals and achieving them, overcoming challenges, and through hard work and discipline, evolving to a higher level spiritually. Güngur aims to be a repository of Indian arts and culture, a center that exists for the community, to help one another in the same way that dance has helped us.

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