Ajna Dance Company is New York’s premier Indian dance company, specializing in artistic and authentic choreography. The company was created in 2012 with the purpose of sharing Indian dance in all its forms – folk, classical, and film – with a global and diverse audience. The Ajna Ensemble and teaching staff are trained in a broad range of dance styles and pride themselves on offering stunning performances and highly skilled instruction. Ajna’s signature style is elegant, high-energy, and blends the excitement of Bollywood with the grace and technique of classical dance.
Ajna offers classes in a number of styles for dancers of all levels. These include Bollywood, Bhangra, classical Indian dance (Bharathanatyam and Kathak), semi-classical blend, Gujarati folk dance, cardio dance, and yoga-movement. Weekly group classes (available for both children and adults) teach technique, conditioning, expression, and choreography. Ajna also provides private classes for technique and special event choreography, and educational Indian dance workshops and assemblies for schools and corporations. The Ajna teaching staff is professionally trained and is adept at teaching and choreographing for your skill-level, age, and preferences.
The Ajna Ensemble dancers have had the honor of performing at various high profile events for such venerable institutions as the United Nations, Macy’s, Barclays, Wells Fargo, S&P, Google, Nasdaq, MoMA Film, and The Rubin Museum. Ajna works with a number of nonprofits and professional organizations including the Women’s Education Project, NY Cares, and the American India Foundation. The company has had the honor of performing at a number of festivals in New York City, including the Fourth Arts Block (FAB) festival, the India Day parade, Dance Parade New York, the South Asian International Performing Arts Festival (SAIPAF), and Sangita Yesley’s 8 in Show at Dixon Place. Finally, Ajna partnered with the New York Indian Film Festival in 2014 and choreographed flash mobs (covered on BollySpice and TV Asia), promoting the festival at Union Square and Times Square, and has performed on ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC.com’s Red Nose Day celebrations in 2015.
The Ajna Team
Minila Shah – Founder & Director (Minila’s Bio)
Shachi Phene – Assistant Director
Hometown: Lexington, MA / Mumbai, India
What does dance mean to you? I feel the most free when I dance. There is something so liberating about using every bit of your body to tell a story because you are literally stepping into another character for a moment.
About Shachi: Shachi began her formal education in Bharathanatyam at age 8 under Smt. Ranjani Saigal of the Eastern Rhythms Dance School in Boston. At 13, Shachi spent a summer training in Chennai with Smt. Kausalya Srinivasan of the Sunartaka School of Dance and at 14, she completed her Arangetram (solo debut) under the tutelage of both her teachers. That summer, she performed in Vasantha Vaikunth’s dance drama, “Dancing Into Orbit”. Following this, Shachi had the privilege to study at the Thillai Fine Arts Academy with Smt. Sunanda Narayanan who trained her in the grammar and theory of the Vuzhvoor style of Bharathanatyam.
In college, Shachi co-founded Bates Masti, which prided itself on authentic Bollywood/ Indian folk performances by dancers of all backgrounds and experiences. She performed and taught workshops throughout the New England area. Since moving to New York in December 2013, Shachi has enjoyed performing with Ajna and teaching classes in Bharathanatyam, Semi-Classical, and Bollywood dance. As Assistant Director, she manages the Ajna Dance School and works with Director Minila Shah to create new and engaging works for the Ensemble.
Alisha Desai – Performing Artist, Instructor
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
What does dance mean to you? Dance is not only a career of mine, but a passion. It is an expression of the soul, and originates in the rhythms innate in one’s heart beat. Dance is a way to bring communities together while celebrating the diversity among us.
About Alisha: Alisha Desai has been a part of Ajna Dance since it’s conception in Fall 2011 as a performer and instructor. She has expertise in Bollywood and Bharatantyam (Indian classical), and is also skilled in theater jazz, hip hop and modern. Currently, she is also a featured dancer in AATMA’s Mystic India: the World Tour (www.mysticindiatheshow.com), where she has performed for audiences nationally and internationally including in China and the Middle East. She is a core member of NYC Bhangra Dance Company (www.nycbhangra.com) as well. Alisha discovered her passion for Indian dance when she spent a year abroad intensively training in Bharatanatyam at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India.
Alisha is also an experienced choreographer and teacher. She has taught with Unity Stage Theater Company/ArtsACTION, Fit4Life Kids, and the Children’s Theater Company. A graduate from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in performing arts, Alisha has a background in theater, film, and vocal performance, in addition to dance. Notable projects include The Death of Don Juan, a modern opera and the feature films Karma Road and Captured Hearts.
Ankita Ray – Performing Artist, Instructor
Hometown: Delhi / Salt Lake City, UT
What does dance mean to you? Lifeline
About Ankita: Ankita Ray a sophomore at College of Arts and Sciences at NYU is a trained classical Orissi dancer. While being a part of the Jayantee Paine Ganguly’s Konark Dance School in Maryland, Ankita has performed in Washington DC, Boston and New Jersey area. She has won first and second places in Orissi competition (IDEA) in Washington DC area for the years 2006 and 2007.
Ankita visits India to train at Padmavibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra’s school, Srjan under the tutelage of Sujata Mohapatra. She has also trained under Orissi gurus like Aruna Mohanty, Manoranjan Pradhan and Jayantee Paine Ganguly.
Ankita has taught Orissi workshops at Salt Lake City Community College during 2010-2011. She has performed regularly at the ISKON temple in Spanish Fork, Utah as well as the LDS church and the Hindu Temple and as part of Indian and International festivals in Salt Lake City.
Along with classical training Ankita has trained in Indian contemporary dance in Shiamak Davar’s school in New Delhi and taken modern dance lessons from Angie Ventero in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ankita has taught modern dance at Surachandam dance in Salt Lake City. Presently she is affiliated to Ajna dance school and learns and performs in and around the NY area.
Proma Khosla – Performing Artist, Instructor
Hometown: Boston, MA
What does dance mean to you? Home
About Proma: Proma Khosla made her stage debut at age three, as a particularly still and petrified Lord Krishna. She studied dance with her mother, Bipasha Guptaroy, founder of the Srijan India Dance Company and longtime student of the contemporary Indian dance style of Uday Shankar. Through Srijan, Proma performed at Danza in Fiera in Florence, Italy, and been part of collaborative and interactive performances with various choreographers and artists. In 1999, Proma moved to Michigan and began her Bharatanatyam training with Sudha Chandrasekhar, culminating in an Arangetram in 2010. At the University of Michigan, Proma basically majored in Indian dance, performing Bollywood, folk, and bhangra in annual Indian American Student Association culture shows and competing around the country for two years with the university’s co-ed Bollywood dance team, Michigan Manzil. Dance has been a wonderful constant in her life and she is thrilled to continue pursuing this passion with Ajna.
What does dance mean to you? My passion
About Radhika: Radhika is a multitalented dancer who started training in the classical Indian dance form of Bharatnatyam at the age of 4 from internationally recognized Ms. Chaula Thacker. In 2006, after many years of rigorous training and dedication, she completed her Bharatnatyam Arangentram from the Chauladevi Institute of Dance and Yoga, in Michigan. In college, Radhika was President of her Indian Student organization where she performed and choreographed in their annual cultural shows. Prior to moving to New York City, she continued to dance with her dance troupe Nadanta where she performed many forms of Indian dance (folk, classical, bhangra) over multiple performances every year. Radhika has also performed and competed in US and Canada including the Super Bowl XL multicultural show entitled “Nations in Rhythm Detroit!” She uses her classical foundation as a base for her expressive and energetic dance.
Anesha Agarwal – Instructor
What does dance mean to you? Dance is an artistic form of expression for me. No matter what beat is playing, I am always thinking of choreography to it! Dance is my creative outlet, my high when I’m low, my favorite form of exercise, and my aspirational activity that keeps me striving to always be better.
About Anesha: Anesha has danced various Indian forms for over 20 years. She started her training in Bharatnatyam as a 6-year-old. Soon after, she began performing Bollywood dances at various cultural functions and state-wide events. When she entered college at Cornell University, she was the only female freshman to be selected for the Cornell Bhangra team, in which she competed for 4 years. She also served as the Lead Choreographer for Bollywood dances performed at campus functions, where she taught numerous individuals with different skill levels and dance abilities. After graduating, she moved to NYC where she worked as an Investment Banker for JPMorgan while training on weekends with the all-female Bhangra team — Shaan Mutiyaaran Di. She competed with the team nation-wide for 3 years, and in her 7-year Bhangra career, has performed in over 20 competitions.
Reshmi Nair – Instructor
What does dance mean to you? The only thing that’s on my mind is focusing on the next few minutes on stage and the only thing in my heart is trying to communicate what I couldn’t with words through dance. The moment the curtain opens, everything else vanishes.
About Reshmi: Reshmi Nair is an Indian classical performer, teacher, and choreographer. She started her training in Bharatanatyam at the age of 4 at Noopura Institute of Indian Classical Dance, New York. After graduating from high school, she traveled to India where she trained in Mohiniyattam at Kerala Kalamandalam. She then joined Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai – the highly traditional and prestigious school of Bharatanatyam – where she graduated after an intensive 4-year diploma course. Underlying her passion for dance was her love for the North Indian classical art form, Kathak. Reshmi enrolled at the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (NIKC) founded by Dr. Maya Rao. After graduating with a Bachelors in Kathak in 2011, she continued on at the college as a lecturer in the field of dance. Reshmi returned back to NY in 2016 with the hopes to spread her love and knowledge of Indian classical dance in the US. Reshmi has given Kathak solo performances in the United States, Canada, India, Japan, and Korea.
Veena Vijayakumar – Instructor
What does dance mean to you? Dance has always been my constant. During happy moments, it allows me to express my joy. During difficult moments, it is my source of catharsis and relief. I dance when I’m happy, I dance when I’m stressed. I dance to connect with others and I dance to bring joy to others.
About Veena: Veena began learning dance at age 5 under Miss Ruth Varghese at the Kalapadma Dance Academy in Chicago, IL. Twelve years later, in 2007, Veena completed her Bharathanatyam Arangetram in Chicago. Since then, she has been teaching dance to anyone and everyone who wants to learn. At the University of Illinois, Veena taught Bharathanatyam, Bollywood, Hip Hop, and fusion pieces through the Asian American Association and coordinated a cultural dance team that performed pieces from all over Asia, including a Taiwanese Ribbon Dance, a Vietnamese Hat Dance, and an Indonesian Saman Dance. Over the past 15 years, Veena has choreographed pieces for students of all ages to perform at weddings, competitions, religious conventions, and more.