Koyali Burman: A storyteller through dance and community work

Koyali Burman’s living space is light and clean when you first enter the corridors. Her home hangs a few artworks on the walls such as colourful Indian dance portraits. Burman provides cups of chai tea, samosas and cheesecakes. She apologizes for not cooking.

Burman said this kind of hospitality is nothing and when you go to any Indian family homes, they go all out with their food fare.

“I like providing snacks and treats for my guests when they come over to my place.”

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Koyali Burman, an Indian Classical dancer through dance forms Kathak and Tagnore. She specializes in community development work.

Learning India’s history through dance

Burman works for various communities in Vancouver, being active with speaking engagements through community projects.

Growing up in a small town in India near Bengal, Burman is also a professionally trained dancer in Kathak, one of the eight forms of classical Indian dancing.

The word Kathak is a North Indian dance that derives from the Sanskrit word of katha, which means story. Dancing Kathak resonates with Burman because it helped her understand the history of India.

Burman is also trained in the dance form of Tagore called Rabindra nritya natya, a drama style dance inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, a notable Indian poet from Bengal.

She began at the age of three and has studied at two prominent gharanas (which means school of dance): Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas.

Burman trained under notable dance guru, Bina Moitra. Her dance background includes winning regional awards and honours back in India. Burman received the status of Sangreet Ratna (an honour relating to dance), after finishing her degree at an Indian University.

Burman explains how she began getting into dance as a little girl and her mom noticed her interests.

“[My mom] was very interested in teaching me dance because she got to see probably some of my interest when [I was a child] moving hands, like being very rhythmic as soon as any music is around,” Burman said.

Community engagements

Burman is involved with many community projects, including a welcoming event for Syrian refugees, featured in The Voice.

Her work also led her to do an international scope of working with organizations like the United Nations-Commonwealth, speaking at conferences in places like New York, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Burman says her involvement with community work began when she left India to study in Vancouver, obtaining a Masters degree from the University of British Columbia.

“Even at UBC, I see community there. Because when I came [to] UBC, [I didn’t know anyone] in Vancouver. I was just there by myself.”

Burman credits her intense dance regime brought discipline to her studies. Her work with communities draws inspiration of being connected through storytelling, similar to how she connected with dance.

Balancing community and arts

Despite her professional life has been more of a focus this past year, Burman points out she doesn’t separate her dance background from her community work.

“I like to balance both, I would say that. And definitely through my dance I can come in touch with a very diverse community and through my work as well,” Burman said.

She plans on dancing again and hopes it will lead her to teach dance classes at community centres in Vancouver.

Koyali Burman, a Kathak dancer performing an impromptu dance about the Vancouver weather


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