Padma Shri awardee Gulabo Sapera has made outstanding contributions to enhancing India’s folk dance culture.

Her tryst with the Sapera dance began early in her childhood, and it’s a story that proves not only her dedication to her craft, but also her will to emerge victorious over all the challenges that have been thrown her way.

When Gulabo, born Dhanvanti, was less than a day old, she was buried alive for nearly seven hours before her mother and aunt heard her cries and dug her out.

Then, when she turned one, she fell seriously ill, to the point where doctors almost gave up on her. But even as an infant, her will to live was far stronger than the obstacles in her way.

At this point, her father placed a rose beside her as a sign of goodwill, and that is how Dhanvanti became Gulabo.

Gulabo began accompanying her father — who was a sapera (snake charmer) — to his shows when she was no older than six months.

From the snakes, she learnt the twirls and flexibility of a dancer, and soon, mastered the Sapera dance. “I learnt how to form a U-shape with the body, hip moves and swirls. It is mainly performed on the beats of the dafli, manjeera, dholak and chang.”

In 1985, Gulab got the opportunity to be part of the government’s contingent travelling to Washington DC for a show.

Performing on the international stage was the turning point of her life, and there has been no looking back since.

“I still remember people clapping in appreciation and astonishment after seeing my first performance. For the first time, I was not judged for belonging to a lower caste or being a girl. Dance gave me a fresh identity.”

She also notes, “There are no prerequisites to this dance. All you need is passion.”

Besides her accolades, Gulabo also runs a dance school in Denmark and gives free lessons to girls in rural Rajasthan. Alongside, she is the president of a caste association and has put the Sapera dance on the world map.