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Meet Kiran Chouhan of I-RADHA (Indian Rhythms, Arts & Dances Heritage Academy) in Arlington Heights

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kiran Chouhan.

Kiran, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
The success I have achieved today in the field of dance is due to my mother’s encouragement, guidance, and continuous support. I received my initial Kathak dance training in India under the guidance of Mrs. Reba Vidyarthy and then got the opportunity to pursue further training under the expert guidance of the Kathak Legend – Pandit Birju Maharaj. I was fortunate to be able to travel all over the world with my Guruji for performances at many international dance festivals. My teaching abilities were honed by assisting him in numerous workshops in India and abroad. After gaining valuable experience, I was able to establish myself as a Solo dancer and choreographer. As an independent Kathak artist, I performed and presented my original choreography in countries like China, Indonesia, Africa, and the United States. In 2014, I was honored when my Guru Pandit Birju Maharaj accepted me as his “Ganda-Bandhit” Shisya – an ancient tradition where a Guru recognizes the dedication, effort, and talent of his/her student and deems them worthy of carrying on his/her legacy.

Since 2005, I started teaching Kathak Dance in the Chicago land area. Along with teaching I created and presented many Kathak Ballets like “Kumar Sambhav” – based on the scripture by the great Indian poet Kalidas and “Rajnartaki” (Royal court dancer) – based on true historic events.

In 2016, I fulfilled my dream of starting an institution I-RADHA dedicated to my mother Mrs. Radha Chouhan. I-RADHA is an acronym for Indian Rhythms, Arts & Dances Heritage Academy. Its mission is to preserve and promote the rich cultural heritage and provide learning opportunities to the younger generation of artists.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has definitely not been an easy ride. My family consisted of just me and my mother. When I began my dance training I had to stay away from my mother who worked in a different city which was very tough as a 13-year-old. She lost her job putting us in a tough financial crisis. Seeing that this might put a stop to my Kathak training my teacher Mrs. Reba Vidyarthy worked hard to find a job for my mother in the same dance institute.

When I began traveling extensively for dance shows at the age of 16 my formal education was seriously impacted. I had to complete my education through a correspondence (by mail) course from Delhi University. I faced many obstacles when I began to establish myself as an independent artist. Trying to make a name for me among many already established dancers was extremely difficult. Many times the financial remunerations were not enough to pay my musicians, cover travel expenses, costumes, etc. There were many occasions where program organizers would pay less than what they would pay male artists. Lots of times they would go back on their word and not fulfill my team’s requirements as promised. Like any other profession, the dance field is not void of pettiness, jealousies and back-stabbing which I faced numerous times.

I moved to the United States in 2005 to work as a dance teacher but soon realized that it was very difficult to stay away from my mother. Just when I decided to quit my job and return back to India in 2007, my mother was diagnosed with kidney failure. She had to be put on dialysis which is an extremely expensive treatment. In order to cover her medical expenses, I had no choice but to continue staying and working in the United States. Emotionally, it was extremely difficult to be away from her when she needed me the most.

As a classical dance teacher, I face some unique challenges. Often, I find that the honesty and dedication that I have as a teacher for this art is not reciprocated by the students. This classical dance form seems to be slowly fading away as today’s younger generations don’t have the patience and time required to learn and master a classical art form.

Alright – so let’s talk about your organization. Tell us about I-RADHA (Indian Rhythms, Arts & Dances Heritage Academy) – what should we know?
I-RADHA is a not for profit organization established to preserve and promote Indian cultural heritage. Our vision is to bring back the ‘Gurukul’ era where students would get the opportunity to learn various Indian art forms. I-RADHA offers classes in classical Kathak dance, Bollywood dance and Arts and Crafts. We plan to also introduce Yoga and Hindi language classes in I-RADHA. Currently, I-RADHA has four centers in the Chicago land area. Schaumburg, Libertyville, Palatine and Downtown Chicago.

We provide structured and traditional Kathak training. We are affiliated with Prayag Sangit Samiti, a reputed music university in Allahabad, India.

We are proud to say that I-RADHA is not just a school but a big artistic family.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
First and foremost is my mother who gave me the courage to dream big and achieve it. She was my strength and a constant source of love and encouragement. Both my dance Gurus – Mrs. Reba Vidyarthy and Pandit Birju Maharaj – taught me all that I know today about dance.

Dr. Birendra Sinha, who was my employer in Chicago and a guardian, taught me many skills about running an organization.

I would like to give a shout out to all my friends – Medha Bhargaw, Kam Gupta, Raj Deshmukh, Sachin Lal – who supported my dream and helped me make it a reality. They are the main contributors to keep I-RADHA running smoothly.

I am very grateful to Mr. Anil Agrawal United Plastic, who has been a great supporter of I-RADHA. Also Mr. Bali Jain and Mrs. Vibha Jain who has been a well wisher of I-RADHA.

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