Gretchen Hayden-RuckertPhysical Education Instructor, Dance
Teacher, performer, and choreographer of classical Indian kathak dance; founder and artistic director of Chhandika Institute of Kathak.
From its origins in ancient India to its dramatic emergence on today's international stage, kathak maintains a unique blend of the traditions and philosophies of Hindu culture combined with Muslim aesthetics. It is characterized by intricate footwork, refined gestures, elegant stances, swift spins, and rhythmic intensity—along with both subtle and dramatic facial expression.
In 1972 I embarked on a rigorous kathak studies and training program with the renowned and innovative kathak dance master, Pandit Chitresh Das. I was a principle dancer with the Chitresh Das Dance Company (based in California) during the late 1970s through early 1990s. I performed both with the company and as a soloist in the United States, Canada, Europe, and India. I assisted Mr. Das with his pilot accredited kathak dance program at San Francisco State University. In 1987 I was presented with a Senior Degree in Kathak Dance from the Nritya Bharati Academy in Calcutta. I am presently a part-time lecturer of kathak at Wellesley College and in the Tufts University Dance Program.
In performance and teaching I adhere to the classical style and strict principles of this art from as I was taught, while at the same time I’m inspired by exploring the story-telling aspect of this dance to render innovative themes and stories of universal significance taken from western myths and legends. As a teacher, I am always growing and learning. I continually adjust my teaching methods in order to make kathak relevant in the lives of students who come before me. I also enjoy the challenge and the possibilities presented by adapting this dance to suit different settings. I especially enjoy using kathak as a tool for working with teachers of a variety of subjects and artistic mediums (theater, visual arts, etc.). Kathak lends itself well to this as it involves movement, mathematics, culture, philosophy, history, kinesthetic intelligence, spirituality, theater, and self-exploration.
In 1992, I moved to the Boston area with my husband, sarodist and musicologist George Ruckert (who was hired to teach western, Indian, and world music at MIT). I established a kathak dance school, which eventually became a nonprofit institution in 2001—Chhandika (Chhandam Institute of Kathak Dance). Chhandika an offshoot of the Chhandam institution in California and is affiliated with the Nritya Bharati Institute in Kolkata, India. Chhandika provides a stimulating, supportive, and multicultural environment in which to explore the physical, intellectual, and spiritual benefits of kathak dance as a student, professional practitioner, or curious observer. Chhandika also brings kathak into local schools and community settings through outreach programs, fostering personal development, and cultural exploration through workshops and performance-demonstrations.