There is freedom in discipline.”

-– Menaka Thakkar

Menaka Thakkar (1942-2022)

2013 Lifetime Artistic Achievement (Dance)

Dancer, choreographer, artistic director, institution builder and teacher

In a career spanning some 50 years, Menaka Thakkar has made an extraordinary contribution as a dancer, choreographer, institution builder, and teacher. Acknowledged worldwide as a pioneer of Indian classical dance, this trail-blazing creator has had a profound effect on the appreciation and popularity of dance from a diversity of cultures. She is deeply committed to artistic integrity and excellence, and her vision and dedication have paved the way for countless emerging Canadian dance artists and organizations.

Dr. Thakkar was born in Mumbai in 1942 and began her formal training at the age of four. A brilliant and expressive dancer with over a thousand performances to her credit, she has created more than 40 choreographies, ranging from variations on the classical Indian forms of Bharatanatyam, Odissi, and Kuchipudi to experimental multidisciplinary works, and from expressive solo numbers to elaborate dance dramas. Her collaborations with some of Canada’s finest dance artists, including Robert Desrosiers, Danny Grossman, Claudia Moore, and Grant Strate, are at the forefront of North American fusion choreography.

She is the founding artistic director (1978) of the Menaka Thakkar Dance Company, which presents an annual season in Toronto and tours widely in North America, Europe, and Asia, showcasing her choreography and the superb performance technique of a company of artists who can trace their first dance steps to classes with Dr. Thakkar herself.

In 1972 she formally established Nrtyakala: The Canadian Academy of Indian Dance, Canada’s first full-scale Indian dance school. She is an adjunct professor at York University, has given workshops across the country (including annual sessions at Canada’s National Ballet School), and is currently exploring online teaching via live streaming.

“My proudest achievement is that I have become a vehicle for transmitting my culture through dance to all Canadians,” she says.

Menaka Thakkar’s awards and honours include the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce President’s Award (1998), Toronto Arts Award for Performing Arts (2000), Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts (2012), and an honorary doctorate from York University. In 2006 she took part in a tri-national creative residency administered by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, and was one of 11 artists featured in the City of Toronto’s “Face the Arts” campaign celebrating that city’s cultural mavericks.