Padma Vibhushan Dr. Sonal Mansingh is a celebrated and distinguished Indian classical dancer, Guru, choreographer, and a well-known social activist, researcher and motivational speaker. Truly the icon of Indian dance, she has specialised in Odissi and Bharatanatyam, and is proficient in several other Indian dance styles, including Kuchipudi and Chhau.
Of the role of dance in society, Sonal Mansingh says, " Dance is designed to ennoble people. It entertains while educating the people. In India, dance is considered an integral part of daily life. It nourishes people with spirituality and provides social commentary. If a message is depicted directly it will be boring. But if it is enveloped in beautiful movements, attractive costumes and interesting stories, the message will be well received by the audience. I would say the role of dance has been very crucial in India. There were devadasis, temple dancers, court dancers, dancers for various social occasions. Today’s dancer combines all these roles. The dancer’s role is merely to point out things. The dancer points out an issue, a problem or explains a metaphor for people to act upon. Since it is an art form, the process is very subtle."
Sonal Mansingh's dancing career started in 1961 with her Arangetram in Mumbai. In 1977, she founded the Centre for Indian Classical Dances (CICD) in New Delhi, where she has trained four generations of dancers well-versed in dance, music, yoga, Sanskrit, and knowledge about India's vast culture.
Over the years, dance has taken her all over the world and brought her many awards, including the Padma Bhushan (1992), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987, and the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, in 2003, thus making her the first woman dancer in India to receive such an honour. This was followed by the Kalidas Samman of Madhya Pradesh Government in 2006 and, in April 2007, she was conferred with a Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) by the G.B. Pant University, Uttarakhand at Pantnagar.She is also the first recipient honoured with the title “Kameshwari” at the ancient temple of Ma Kamakhya in Guwahati, Assam.
To mark the completion of 40 years that she dedicated to dance, in 2002, noted Hindi film director, Prakash Jha made a documentary film on her entitled 'Sonal', a film that also won the National Film Award for Best Non-Feature Film for the year.
Sonal Mansingh has danced to several of her own choreographic works and has been responsible for a large number of group productions. This body of work is unique in range and scope in the history of Indian dance, and covers several themes, both of traditional and contemporary interest.