Shanta Rao (1930 - 28 December 2007) was a notable dancer from India. She studied and performed Kathakali, Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi.
She was a recipient of the Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Kalidas Samman for Classical Dance.
She was born in 1925 in Bombay, and lived in Mumbai and Bangalore. She hailed from Mangalore. She died on 28 December 2007 at her home at Malleswaram, Bangalore.
Shanta Rao was born in 1925 to the Saraswat Brahmins, who were an honourable family in Bombay. She wished to pursue Kathakali but faced opposition at an early age. Eventually, she went on to develop a passion for classical traditions away from an urban setup. She rejected the ideology of mainstream schooling to pursue dance. Rao traveled to Kerala Kalamandalam with a chaperone, G. Venkatachalam, in the year 1939. The proprietor of Kerala Kalamandalam was a poet named Vallathol Narayan Menon.
P. Ravunni Menon, a Guru from Kalamandalam, was taken by surprise at the sight of a young girl wanting to participate in a masculine art form like Kathakali. Shanta Rao was one of the first female pioneers of Kathakali who challenged the traditional norms of classical dance. In the Kalamandalam, Shanta had the opportunity to meet the last great Guru of Mohini Attam, Krishna Panikkar, who eventually endowed his legacy of movements and music. She made her debut in Kathakali in 1940 in front of an audience of Namboodiris and Kathakali experts in Thrissur.
Shanta Rao learnt Bharatanatyam from Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai. She made her debut in Bharatnatyam in the Music Academy of Madras in 1942. Rao explored the dance form Kuchipudi under Vempati Chinna Satyam when she was believed to be in her 50s. She formulated Bhama Natyam, inspired and influenced by Venkatachalapathi Sastri, who introduced her to Bhamasutram rituals. Sastri entrusted and blessed her with the sanctity of the art.