Vajira: The Pioneering Female Dancer
Vajira Chitrasena is regarded as a pioneer in the field of Kandyan dance, primarily for being the first female professional dancer. At nearly ninety, she was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2021, in recognition of her art form and her contribution to dance culture in Sri Lanka. Vajira has received numerous awards from the state and private institutions in Sri Lanka, and she has been the subject of numerous articles over the years. Most of the popular writings on Vajira highlight her critical contribution in advancing the female form of a traditionally male dance, paving the way for successive generations of professional female stage dancers. These commentaries that appeared in print and, later, in online media, also document the aesthetics of her dance and the supporting role she played to the acclaimed Kandyan dancer, Chitrasena, who was her partner on stage and in life. These accounts have, however, tended to ignore her role as a multifaceted artist. In addition to being a performer, Vajira is a choreographer of traditional dances and a co-creator of numerous productions; she has also been a teacher to numerous dancers over the decades and, in this process, she has developed her own, influential pedagogy for teaching Kandyan dance.