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A Deeper Look

Asian-American, Shalaka Kulkarni is a dancer and choreographer trained in Indian Classical dance who creates experiences that bridge the ancient and contemporary while uplifting marginalized voices.

Kulkarni began training in the Tanjore style of Bharatnatyam as a child in India. After immigrating to the U.S., she continued her final training for her 'Arangeteram' (Bharatnatyam Graduation Ceremony) under Mandala Founder and Executive Artistic Director Pranita Nayar, a Padma Vibhushan Sonal Mansingh disciple. Kulkarni was also trained as a Kathak dancer by the international artist Sandhya Desai, a disciple of Sangeet Natak Akademi and Padma Bhushan honoree Kumudini Lakhia. She holds an MFA in interdisciplinary arts and media from Columbia College Chicago, where she worked closely with the dance master Nana Shineflug, one of the pivotal voices from Chicago in American Modern and Contemporary dance style. 

Kulkarni has performed in India, the U.S., and Europe. Her experience performing traditional Indian Classical work for Leela Samson, Birju Maharaj, Malavika Sarukkai, and other Indian Classical stalwarts has shaped her discipline and passion for exploring storytelling through Indian Classical dance. She is interested in creating and presenting a hybrid movement form that fuses techniques of Bharatnatyam and Kathak with other movement influences, text and technology. Her choreography includes the traditional style of Indian Classical dance forms while delivering a contemporary narrative or an idea based on current happenings in society using movement derived from Indian Classical dance to build a unique movement vocabulary for that particular piece. She is currently a principal dancer & choreographer for Mandala South Asian Performing Arts. Prior, she was a principal dancer for Kalapriya Dance Company and Anila Sinha Foundation. In addition, she founded a dance collective called SurTaal (inactive now) that presented a hybridized version of Indian Classical Dance. Among her other credits are performing with Chicago Danzetheatre Ensemble, studying under Guillermo Gomez-Pena in a Performance Residency with La Pocha Nostra Collective, choreographing for the Dance Chicago Festival, creating work through a commission for a DanceBridge residency at the Chicago Cultural Center, and earning a grant through the Center for Asian Arts and Media at Columbia College Chicago. In 2021-22, she was in residence with SloMoCO (MoCO: movement and computing community), Mandala Arts with support from Illinois Arts Council, High Concept Labs, and See Chicago Dance and guest choreographer for Momenta Dance Company. She recently performed as one of the lead characters in 'The story of Ram' with Mandala Arts at Harris Theater, choreographed & performed for Fever up series at Chopin Theater, and was invited to collaborate with visiting artists from Japan at Bridge Dance Festival at Links Hall. She is currently a fellow in residence with High Concept Labs for 2023, where she will continue to create new work. 

She has more than 10 years of experience teaching dance classes for children and adults through dance companies, private dance studios, after-school programs, and undergraduate courses, and as an adjunct faculty at the Illinois Institute of Art in media arts and storytelling. Intentionally straddling her teaching philosophy between fluidity and discipline, Kulkarni shares the knowledge of Bharatnatyam or Kathak while making room for the student to approach their practice in their own way with joy, curiosity and discipline. 

Through High Concept Labs, her most recent project is studying myths and mythological female-identified figures in various cultures with an investigative focus on Indian culture and the Devadasi system. Her work revolves around the ideas of female identity, questioning societal norms, celebrating gender fluidity, and empowering marginal voices


She is  a creator and producer for Dancing Chakras shows that presents Indian arts interpreting 7 Chakras of Yoga. 

The prime focus of every work is to create a space for the audience to feel hope or release of negative energy so that they can take what they see through the work whether created as a serious work or work filled with absurd hilarity that can give them a thread to create a ripple of positivity for others. 

Contact to invite her for facilitating workshops or presenting work listed below.

Represented  by Chicago Talent Network and DeSanti Talent for acting and voiceover


​Shalaka has her own unique dance language and form that intersects with Indian Classical dance and Western theater, to present the undocumented or erased stories from Hindu Mythology, Indian culture, and the diaspora experience. In the act of abstracting dance and straddling lines between storytelling and presenting an idea, Shalaka aims to disrupt the unending expectations for women she detects based upon mythological ideas built around female-identified deities and monsters. 

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