Atlanta’s Exemplary and Compassionate Dancer-Guru Neelima Gaddamanugu

By Mahadev Desai

GATA President Anupama Subbagari felicitates Neelima at Sankranthi Celebrations

Graced with beauty, talent, zest, poise, and compassionate nature, soft-spoken, genial Founder/Director of Nataraja Natyanjali has made her Dance Academy a name to reckon with in performing arts field of Atlanta. Hyderabad born Neelima is fortunate to have parents that loved fine arts and wanted to see their daughter become involved in it from young age. Every day, her father D. Sri Ramachandra Murthy, a bank executive (now retired) used to drive young Neelima to her guru Smt.Mythili Prabhakar’s house which was over 10 kms away, while her mother Smt. Ramani, AIR artist herself became her first teacher in vocals. Later, Neelima formally learnt Carnatic vocal under Smt.Sitamahalakshmi Garu for 15 years and Veena instrument from Sr.Butchi Babu Garu for over six years. Simultaneously,Neelima’s dance journey started when she was four years old under Smt. Mythili Prabhakar and continued for over 16 years. Later she studied under Sri. Narayana Dandibhotla Murthy,a disciple of Padma Bhushan Dr. Vempati China Satyam mastaru. She graduated from AMAL College, Andhra University, earning BSc in Botany and Chemistry.

All through childhood, winning competitions have become a forte of Neelima. While at School, she stood first and won gold medals in Navya Nataka Samithi’s All India Dance Competitions for three consecutive years in 1987, 88, and 89, in Hyderabad. Later, she won several Prizes from Lions Club of Hyderabad, Secunderabad;Rotary club , Balananda Sangham and other Inter- school festivals and govt. programs. Representing Andhra University in classical dance segment at Inter- college youth festival, Neelima had a privilege to perform in other places like Jaipur, Rajasthan, Delhi, Lucknow,several places in Andhra Pradesh,Dubai etc. and win several accolades and awards. She also won the Beauty Contest conducted by Rotary Club of Anakapalli and several singing and dancing contests in Andhra Pradesh & Telangana areas,India.
She got married to Siva Gaddamanugu  and moved to Atlanta in July 1999. Neelima continued with her post-Graduate education and through distance-learning earned an MA in English and Diploma in Kuchipudi Dance.

Nattuvangam with singer Dandibhotla Sastry Garu.

Neelima started teaching dance from her 8th grade and it soon became her second nature often teaching to students who were even older than her and time. After arriving in Atlanta, with a view to spread the richness of Indian culture and heritage and also to put her passion and dancing and singing talent to constructive use she opened the Nataraja Natyanjali Kuchipudi Dance Academy in 2002. After humble beginnings, the student enrolment grew and she registered the Academy in 2006. Currently the Academy has about a hundred and twenty students ranging in age from four to forty seven years. Neelima imparts all the training in Kuchipudi dancing, and traditional folk dances if required for any specific dance performances.
When asked, Neelima noted that the method/intensity of learning with newer generation is vastly different from her own. “Now it is mostly a weekly class, one of many weekly activities, which limits the attention and time towards dance. Still it needs to be applauded because learning dance in US creates a strong bond with culture, tradition and language and forges friendships that can last a lifetime.”  

Kind-hearted Neelima has supported many worthy humanitarian causes. When asked causes she has helped, she replied,” I  like helping poor kids & their education, old age homes, and also any upgrades in remote villages in India. I do annual recitals  and I prefer to participate in Fund raising events. Most of my annual recitals have been fund raising events. My first annual recital was in 2009 and we gave  funds to Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Riverdale. My second Recital was in 2011, through which we raised funds for an old age home in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, India, and a Guru Datta temple in Gangapur, Maharashtra. In 2012,performed a 20 minute dance drama on Panchabhoota Prasasthy especially designed & choreographed for ATA 2012 convention.My third annual recital in 2014 was a traditional Kuchipudi dance -drama HANUMAD VAIBHAVAM, to raise funds for Hanuman Mandir, Alpharetta’s land acquisition plan.Neelima had a privilege to perform the same dance- drama HANUMAD VAIBHAVAM at Raleigh Hindu temple to raise funds for Hanuman temple construction. She was a co-chair cultural for NATA2014 convention and choreographed a special inaugural song with 100 of her students and also did a  prime time performance on Ramayanam theme.In my 4th Annual recital, we raised funds of around $10,000 for HUDHUD cyclone which affected several areas in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh. We also performed at Birmingham,Alabama for HUDHUD cyclone fund- raising event organized by local Birmingham Indian Associations. In 2015 - we participated in several local fundraising events by local organizations like Sewa, and Shirdi Sai temple in Atlanta.Her next annual recital in 2017 will be to raise funds for Amanvedika rainbow home for Orphanage kids in Hyderabad.
Neelima has also been invited to be a Judge at various Dance,Antyakshari Music;Star Mahila Competitions,Beauty Contests for women,Cooking Competitions,etc.   

Her impressive and commendable work has been much appreciated and recognized and she has received Awards from NATA, ATA, TAMA, GATA,GATeS,TATA & N.Carolina Indian Association,Philadelphia Telugu association,SEWA,Shantiniketan non-profit organization & several other Organizations in USA.
Currently, Neelima is Standing committee chair-cultural for NATA
Neelima is proficient in three languages- her mother tongue Telugu,Hindi and English .When time permits, she loves listening to music, performing songs at family & friend’s events, watching old classic Telugu & Hindi movies,painting, and handicrafts. She also has a passion for clothing & accessories.
In her Academy, Neelima tries to inculcate life lessons like self-confidence; discipline; team spirit; kindness; passion for the chosen art –form etc. She tries to ignite creative spark in her students, help them overcome their initial stage fright and in providing them a springboard to showcase their talents.
Neelima believes that dance is an exciting and ever evolving art-form and one must strive to push the boundaries with continuous learning, practicing and experimenting with innovative, creative and imaginative dance technique and choreography. She updates her own knowledges by reading books on dancing and also practicing latest dance forms while visiting India.
The determination and the drive to pursue her passion for dancing and music,  teaching her students and helping deserving causes burns brightly as ever.
Several of her students graduated in last 5 years -Meenu Reddy,Geetika Jape,Meghana Nuthivana,Isha Kambalapally,Yamini Reddy,Shalini Vemuru,Sanjana Adepu,Juhitha Porika...She has other 9 rangapravesams coming up in three years..

Below are a few Testimonials from her Students:
Meenu reddy -
I have been learning Kuchipudi under our guru, Smt. Neelima Gaddamanugu, for nearly a decade. Her compassion and love towards her students is what makes them constantly strive towards excellence. I am proud to be her disciple and will be forever grateful for her continuous support.

Geetika Jape –
Dance is an art that comes from within your soul. It starts to improve with the dedicated years of practice. After years and years of practice, this form of art turns you into a person with substance. An example is Neelima Aunty. She has learned dance and is sharing this knowledge with us, her students. She teaches dance like it was her first day of learning. She teaches from her heart, with love and passion. She dances with astonishing energy. Being a senior student of Neelima aunty’s dance academy, I am honored to be a part of her school. I have learned so much about dance in my years of training to be a dancer. I hope to be an amazing teacher and dancer like Neelima aunty  one day.

Meghana Nuthivana -
I've known Neelima auntie for the past 14 years and throughout this time, she went from being just my dance guru to being part of my family and an incredible mentor for me. Every bit that I've learned about dance can only be traced back to her wonderful teaching and dedication to the art. She's an amazing guru and an inspiring and hardworking individual. We love her so much and cannot thank her enough for all that she has done for us.

Yamini Reddy -
A great dance teacher not only passes down great dance skills but also gives you the answer to why you started dancing in the first place. Neelima Aunty has been a pillar in my life that I revere and inspire to be like one day because she molded me into the person I am today. To me Neelima Aunty is more than a teacher, she's family, and I'm proud to be a part of this family where she showers nothing but love and wishes the best for everyone.
Sanjana Adepu -
Neelima Aunty is a hardworking teacher that tries her best in everything she participates in. Over the past 9 years, I learned determination and persistence from her through her love for teaching and dance. Not only did she make a dance school, she made a dance family.

Neha Chaparala -
‘I have been under the training of my guru, Smt. Neelima Gaddamanugu for the past almost 10 years. Under the direction of my guru, I am constantly growing as a dancer and as a person. I am continuously learning and improving as a dancer with her. Her dedication and commitment to the art of kuchipudi still amazes me to this day. Without her constant commitment, she herself would not be the dancer she is today nor would she be able to be one of the best dancers I have ever come across. I wholeheartedly thank my guru for sparking my love for dance and deeply hope she continues to spread her love for this art form.’
There is no doubt Nataraja Natyanjali Academy will scale new and loftier heights and continue to shine brightly in Atlanta’s Performing Arts field.

Watch Neelima’s journey unfold!