“The best thing about India is I became the person I wanted to be “

“The best thing about India is I became the person I wanted to be “

Katya Tosheva is a gifted multi-style dancer from Bulgaria, an artist who has found inspiration in three main classical dance forms of India, a country with which she has a deep emotional connection. Trusting her heart, Katya quit her job as an engineer and began an endless journey into the depths of Indian classical dance. She currently learns three Indian classical forms of dance - Odissi, Kathak,and Bharatanatyam under highly respected and internationally recognized teachers - Sharmila Mukerji (Bangalore), Ravi Shankar Mishra (Varanasi) and Nivedita Badve (Pune).

Her training includes dozens of individual classes and group lessons with famous teachers and performers such as Swati Tivari, Saraswathi Rajathesh, Kalayamamani Kutalam M. Selvam, Vidha and Abhimanyu Lal (India), Karan Pangali (UK), Christina Zanni (Greece) and Stefan Hristov (Bulgaria). Visiting different parts of India, Katya explores not only the classical but also the rich folk dance tradition.

Following her dreams, she has founded an Indian Dance School "Kaya", where she shares her knowledge and interests with joy and enthusiasm. She conducts regular classes in Sofia and Plovdiv and teaches at Indira Gandhi School - the only school in Bulgaria related to India's culture. In 2018, Katya received an invitation from the Embassy of India to perform for the Independence Day celebration and for the President of India during his visit to Bulgaria. Katya has also participated in numerous events dedicated to the traditions of India, in Bulgaria and abroad.

For three years, she was invited to teach in Serbia, and during her trip to India in September 2018, she won the first prize at the prestigious dancing festival in Pune.

Katya's performances have been greatly appreciated in Greece, Cyprus, Spain, France, Serbia and India, where she engages the interest of the media. Her interviews are published in some of the most widely read newspapers, as well as on the national television channels Lok Sabha and Doordarshan.

Here is CSP interview with Katya Tosheva, the multi-talented dancer from Bulgaria :

What made you choose Indian dance?

I wouldn't say I have chosen Indian dance – the dance chose me ! It came in my life so naturally … I didn't even realise how the dance filled my days. I don’t know when and how it happened but I remember how it took me months to have the courage to search for teachers. I was thinking I will not be able to move so gracefully and so fast, to have the strength, the stamina... I still think the same way. But now I am brave enough and I keep trying! 

Who were your teachers and how long was your training ?

 I am still learning! This is a process which will never end. Presently, I am studying Odissi with Guru Sharmila Mukerjee in her Sanjali centre for Odissi dance, Bangalore; Kathak with Guru Ravi Shankar Mishra, Varanasi and Bharatanatyam with Nivedita Badve, Pune. I started 7-8 years ago and I through the years had the honour to take lessons from other respected artists in India - Swati Tiwari, Delhi and Saraswathi  Rajadesh, Bangalore.

What are the dance forms in Bulgaria, how different is it from Indian dance ?

There are a  lot of similarities between the folk dances in Bulgaria and India. We also have very rich dance tradition. The name of the dance is “Horo". It is a group dance performed in a circle during festivals and all kinds of celebrations. There are other different styles from every region in Bulgaria. Each has it's own typical costumes, ornaments and decorations. There is a special fire ritual dance performed barefoot on smouldering ember, called Nestinarstvo.

How has Indian dancing changed you and your life style?

Dancing and Yoga has changed almost everything - my way of thinking, of understanding,  my vision about what is important in life, my emotions, everything around me – people who I meet, things which I do every day. Surely I can say  I live healthier and I am more active. After I quit my office job my schedule changed completely and I am happy to spend more time dancing than sitting in front of the computer!

We see you learn 3 classical styles simultaneously -Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi. That’s’ amazing ! What makes it easy and difficult when transferring from one dance form to another? 

I have much more to learn about each of these styles. The good thing is that the stories,the mudras, and the expressions in dance are the same.The hard thing is to maintain the specific posture of each dance, to keep clean its essence. The difference in the position of the feet between Aramandi and Chowk is only a few centimeters:)  

Any preference of styles?

I really can't say I have favorite style. Each has its amazing beauty and it challenges me in a different way. I love Kathak because of its fast foot movements, the graceful wrists and the spins! Bharatanatyam with its sharp and geometrical movements, jumps and the expressive mudras are so beautiful!Odissi is impressive with its fluidity, torso movements and tribhangis.

How did you find the teaching methods of your Dance Gurus here? 

Every one of them has its own energy and approach. But the demands of a good discipline, hard work and everyday practice is common. I am thankful for their patience, as I need more explanations in regards the meaning of the lyrics, all the stories and characters. 

What are your practice routines? How did you manage your time from one class to another?

I try to have time for yoga practice every day, two days in the week for practicing every style. Also I have lessons with my students almost every day, which keeps me moving all the time. Of course when I have an upcoming performance I focus on the style which I will be performing. But many times I need to perform two different styles in the same program and this poses a challenge.

Did the Classical art form of India bind you and Rosen in your happy marriage ? 

Actually Rosen taught my first yoga lesson and I this was very important moment in my life. I remember  when we were dating and I gifted him a batik with the image of the meditating Lord Shiva. Now this  batik is in our home in my studio. Many times Rosen helps me to understand the rhythm when we practice together. He plays the tabla for me on the stage,this is like a dream came true!

Do you work/perform together ?

Yes, we were happy to be students of  the talented Bulgarian tabla player, jazz drummer and percussionist Stefan Hristov.Last year Rosen was with me in Varanasi and took lessons under my Guru Ravi Shankar Mishra. Since that time we had many opportunities to perform together at different festivals and events. We had the opportunity to perform for the Honourable President of India Shri.Ram Nath Govind .

 Where have you been to showcase your arts ?

We have performed together at various festivals in Bulgaria for Asian Festival, organised by the embassies of the Asian countries, in TV shows, concerts, and many cultural programs. Rosen is drummer in a rock band and percussionist in different musical projects. I have had the chance to perform in other countries too – Spain, France, Serbia, Greece, Cyprus and of course India!

 How do you manage the music for your dance?

For most of the performances I use recorded music, especially for Bharatanatyam and Odissi as in Bulgaria there are no musicians and vocalists who can perform Indian classical music. I am blessed to have live music for my Kathak performances, with Rosen and Marije Hristova – a very close friend and a talented violin player as my accompanists on stage. Recently we organised a classical concert with north Indian music and dance in Plovidv - the European capital of culture for this year. It was really an exciting experience for us – it happened for the first time in Bulgaria with non - Indian artists! 

 When did you establish your dance school ? How do your young students respond to Indian culture ?

I started teaching 4 years ago. I really wanted to have a group to share the happiness with. So in the beginning I had only adults students. I was renting different studio for my classes and often my students weren't enough in count to cover even the rent. So sometimes we were dancing outside. One day we were in the yard of a school and while we were practicing a few kids came and asked whether they can join us. On the next day I went to the director of the school and introduced my self. To work with kids is amazing.We talk a lot, we build together our  team, support each other. Of course our favorite moment is when we are preparing for performance.I am proud of the discipline of my students, the bigger ones help me with the smaller ones, everyone has a responsibility to take care of. 

 Do schools/ Universities in Bulgaria have knowledge about Indian dance ?

There is only one primary school connected with Indian culture in Bulgaria and it is the Indira Gandhi School where I teach. Sofia University has an Indological department where they teach Indian languages, history, literature, and culture. May be in the future they will include dances in the program too.

Please share with us your difficulties in the journey of a dancer. What suggestions do you have to solve them ?

The main difficulty for me is earning money. Many times I am invited to perform at festivals and all kind of events for free. It is really annoying  when an artist needs to explain that there should be a payment. I hope in the future people will have better understanding and will care more about art. Of course there are all sort of challenges in the studio, but its part of the process. The pain in the muscles brings a lot of satisfaction and pleasure when the audience is appreciative.

Has the Govt. of India supported any of your programs?

I had the honor to dance for the Independence day celebration organised by the Embassy of India in Bulgaria and also before the President of India during his visit to Bulgaria in 2018. I was also invited to perform along with the famous Saraswathi Rajadesh in Paris, France on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. I have been invited to perform in cultural programs and festivals , organized by different Indian or Bulgarian organizations. 

What is your goal as an artist? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years with the richness of the dances you are so passionate about ?

My hope is to be able to continue with my studying.To be able to travel again and again to India and to be with my teachers! To go deeper and deeper in this magical world of Indian art and to be able to share it with more people all over the world! I am sure I will continue with the three dance forms which I am learning now and, who knows, may be I will start exploring another one!

How do you find your Indian dance mates?

I just love my classmates!!! Especially those in Sanjali center for Odissi dance. Whenever I am in Bangalore I stay in a school and have the amazing opportunity to attend every class with the kids or with the senior students. I observe their dedication and passion, and it inspires me a lot! The best moments are when I am practicing with the others! They always give me useful tips about steps, telling me about the rituals and everything which I need to know. 

What was the best and the worst thing about India during your stay?

The best thing about India is the diversity, the people, Yoga and the best of the best - I became the girl I wanted to be! The worst thing during my stay – if I don’t count the few times when someone tried to steal my things and lie to me, I can't say I had bad experiences in India, everybody are really nice with me and I am happy to have friends all over India! 

Katya's interview for BBC News was translated into Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English and reached more than million views in two weeks!