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It is not easy summarizing half-a-century of dedica-tion to the arts. Anjani Ambegaokar’s lifelong com-mitment to kathak was recognized with the country’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts: the National Heritage Fellowship. Instituted by the National Endowment for the Arts, the award includes a one-time award of $20,000 each, presented to honorees from 10 states across the United States who are chosen for their artistic excellence, cultural authenticity, and contributions to their field.

“I feel very honored. It is a very humbling experience for me,” says an exuberant Ambegaokar. “However, I also feel certain responsibilities as an artist,” she adds.

The 59-year-old Ambegaokar began her association with kathak some 50-odd years ago when she sought the guidance of her guru Sundarlal Gangani in India. Today she continues the 4,000-year-old tradition and art of kathak through her institute, Sundar Kala Kendra Dance School, where she has trained hundreds of dancers in this complex, yet graceful art.

“I want to continue to develop myself as a complete artist, with open mind and deep-rooted tradition, to support my dreams of taking kathak dance to new heights and making it accessible to all audiences in the United States and worldwide,” says Ambegaokar. Her company, Anjani’s Kathak Dance of India, has performed and received great acclaim around the world. Stepping outside traditional instruction of kathak, Ambegaokar has also taught at universities, offering seminars such as the “Landscape of Mathematics,” demonstrating how kathak rhythms can be applied to understanding mathematical theories.

Ambegaokar believes that her greatest contribution to the field has been her devotion in passing on the tradition to the next generation. “I would like to believe that although they (many of my students) may not be dancing (anymore), kathak will be a major part of their lives.” That, she says, would be the greatest gift of all.