PASSION, PATHWAYS & POTENTIAL
By Subhojit Panda
Gone are those days when Odisha had a dismal record at the national level dance reality shows. With a slew of winners and creditable performances by the Odia contestants over the years, the state has emerged as the next dance capital.Ever since then we have witnessed a rise in qualitative dance institues. From infusing western dance forms in their training sessions to preparing the dancers for the reality shows, the dance institutes have raised the bar of dance in the state. One such dance institute that has not only produced several dancers of national and international repute but has set new dance goals for dancers and choreographers in the state is M-Zone Dance Studio, helmed by two top choreographers of the state, Mandakini Jena and Pravata Kumar Rana.
Located in the heart of Bhubaneswar, M-Zone is an accomplished dance studio enriched in teaching, nurturing and producing the finest dancers in various dance forms of all age groups on par with the international standards. M-Zone that started off in 2006 with only 4 students today proudly has over 400 talented students.
The initial years for M-Zone was not smooth. Since there were not many professional dance institutes around, people thought M-Zone was just another dance institute that would go into oblivion soon. “Initially it was difficult to convince parents to send their children to our dance academy. We were constantly being challenged by them that we won’t sustain for long. But we never gave up. We were firm and focussed in our approach. Making commercial gains through M-Zone never crossed our mind. Our only aim was to impart quality dance training and take dance to a different level in Odisha,” reminisces Mandakini, currently working as a dance instructor at DPS Kalinga.
Rana was never really interested in dance. His father was a national level football player and under his father’s insistence, Rana briefly learnt Odissi from Late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. But it was during his college days, when Rana’s love for dance blossomed and he began following Michael Jackson videos on Youtube. “Probably it was destined to meet Mandakini. I knew her long back when we learnt taekwondo together. Mandakini was already into dancing under the guidance and inspiration of her father Late Gagan Bihari Jena. Then we took part in several dance reality shows on Odia television and won almost all of them. I’ll always remain indebted to Mandakini’s father who had a major role in shaping my dancing career,” points out Rana, presently working as physical teacher for East Coast Railway and also as a dance instructor for Doon International School, Bhubaneswar.
Rana always dreamt of representing the state at national level dance contests. His dream came true when he made it through the Boogie Woogie Mahayudh in 2002 and finished among the top 16 contestants. But the turning point came in the year 2006 when Rana and Mandakini finished runners-up in Boogie Woogie (duet category). The victory was a first for Odisha as the state had never produced winners at a national-level dance reality show before. The following year, Mandakini also took part in the solo category of Boogie Woogie and finished second best to Dharmesh Yelande. But the moment of pride for Odisha came in the year 2009 when she finished in the top 10 in Dance India Dance Season-1. Since then the duo have never looked back.
M-Zone is known for producing some of the most finest dancers from the state who have made Odisha proud with their tremendous results. Arundhati Garnaik, who finished in the top-6 of Dance India Dance-4 is a major find of M-Zone. Similarly the likes of Jhanvi (finalist of Tara Rum Pum-2 and Top 26 of Dance+), Lisa Mohapatra (top 5 of Tara Rum Pum-2), Sukanya Bharadwaj (winner of Tara Rum Pum-1), Susanket (winner of Tara Rum Pum-2 & Dance Odisha Dance Junior), Swapnil Panigrahi (Runner’s Up of Chak Dhum Dhum Team Challenge), Padmini Patnaik (2nd Runner’s Up of India’s Dancing Superstar), Anjali Reddy (2nd Runner’s Up of Dancing Star) and many more suggest that M-Zone is the cradle of dancers in Odisha.
Mandakini and Rana both believe in spreading the joy of dance to the less-privileged. Hence they thought of giving back to the society through dance and got collaborated themselves with several non-profits. In 2014, M-Zone joined hands with Jeevan Jyoti Ashram, an orphanage that educates and rehabilitates destitute children. For the past 5 years, the dance academy has not just imparted free dance training to the orphanage inmates but also stood by them as a pillar.
M-Zone also works closely with a Khurda-based NGO named Palli Unnayana Seba Samiti (PUSS). Besides, the dance academy trains differently-abled children for Anjali International Festival Bhubaneswar, imparts yoga and aerobic classes to senior citizens and provides free dance classes to the transgenders group headed by Madhuri Maa,” says Mandakini.
After working as dance partners for over 20 years, the duo decided to tie the knot in 2017 and became life partners forever. “Mandakini understands me like no other. She has seen my highs and lows and always supported my passion for dance. This is one quality that I liked the most about her,” said Rana.
Every year the annual function of M-Zone is the most talked about event in Bhubaneswar. From jaw dropping performances by the students to celebrity appearances, the dance academy draws scores of crowd to witness its annual gala event. Interestingly, every year people look forward to the performances by children of Jeevan Jyoti Ashram, housewives and the transgenders group.
Rana feels the hard work of students, dedication of dance trainers and support of parents have done wonders for M-Zone. “We’ve never felt the need to publicize our dance academy. The positive word-of-mouth has kept the ball rolling. Most importantly, I’d fail in my duty if I do not thank Gopal Reddy, the head instructor at M-Zone who has set an example for others with his dedication, passion and love for dance,” Mandakini says emotionally.
The dance academy also invites national and international dance instructors and choreographers to teach the students in their specialized style. “We had invited celebrity choreographer Terence Lewis for a 5-day long dance workshop at M-Zone which was a huge success. Dance workshops by leading choreographers Dharmesh, Sidhesh, Mayuresh and Suchismita were of great help for students at M-Zone,” says Rana adding that plans are afoot to invite the whole crew of ABCD-2 for a special dance workshop later this year.
Jyotiraditya Nayak, one of the students of M-Zone says, “I feel fortunate for being a part of M-Zone family. The dance trainers at M-Zone are very cooperative who treat us like their own children. My stint with the dance academy has helped me take part in several Odia dance reality shows before and hence I’d always remain grateful to M-Zone for honing my dance skills.”
“It’s been over 3 years of association with M-Zone. I stayed in Keonjhar and knew nothing about dance though I was passionate about dance since childhood. Mandakini ma’am spotted me in a reality show and impressed with my skills, she asked me to join M-Zone. Creatively, it is so satisfying to learn dance here. I hope M-Zone will continue in its endeavor to spot talents from rural backgrounds like me in the future,” says Amarjyoti Ranjan Patra, a dance trainer of M-Zone. Sharing about his future projects, Rana says, “There are plans to spread wings to Berhampur, Phulbani and Kolkata. Setting up a world-class state-of-the-art dance academy is a long cherished dream that we’re chasing. We both will strive hard to take M-Zone to pioneering heights, create good dancers, choreographers and impart quality dance training till our last breathe.”