July 22, 2017: A day that celebrated years of my passion for dance. A reflection of the hard work, tears, laughs, sweat, and dedication I have had towards Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form, all portrayed in one day. My arangetram, a Bharatanatyam recital, was performed as a duet with my sister. This recital is a test of your dedication to Bharatanatyam, and with the discipline and blessings of my teacher and family, I was able to accomplish what I thought was just a dream. This debut is like a coming-of-age celebration, but for dance. The recital is a three-hour showcase of core dances. Bharatanatyam is not just an intricate dance, but also an echo of my culture. It tells the story of my ancestors through the portrayals of religion and life’s daily struggles that come to fruition by dancing.
When I first started dancing, I used to keep this part of my life secret from all of my friends at school who would not understand the importance of this dance as an embrace of my native country. I felt so different from the rest of my white classmates. I would often ask my mom, “Why can’t I just take ballet and jazz lessons instead?” My mom would always explain to me how one day I would appreciate this dance and realize the value of this discipline. Of course, she was completely right. Twelve years later, Bharatanatyam has become a platform to express not only my emotions but also the centuries of history originating in India.
Now a little over a year since my arangetram, I have learned not only to embrace my culture but to celebrate it. I am no longer shy to tell my peers of my greatest accomplishment, explaining to them what the extraordinary day was all about. It is no longer a secret part of my life, but one that defines a large part of my core. It taught me that no auspicious work should be done without the blessings of your parents and guru. I remember moments where my dance guru would explain the epic stories to me and tell me of the devotion and strength of the deities. I realized then that there is so much history involved in these dances. The more I learned about the religious stories I was portraying through dance, the more I gained an understanding of the movements and essence I had to capture to tell the story. I embody the compassion and confidence of Shiva, the love and strength of Parvati, the devotion of Ganesh and the divinity of Namokar Mantra as I dance.
Preparing for my arangetram helped me embrace my Indian culture not only by understanding the religious epics recited from generation to generation but also by listening to the music and wearing the intricate dresses, transforming myself into a devi. I start and end with a series of steps that pay tribute and respect to the ground I dance on. Each beat of the tabla, an Indian drum, and chime of the bells articulates the beat my sister and I dance on. As I tie my ghungroos, or string of bells, around my feet, I get ready to resonate the sound of music through my body with each strike of my feet. Through each piece of jewelry we wear and pose we create, we embody a powerful goddess. This is the confidence that I try and take with me outside of dance. This journey is an involved and rather important part of me.
It got harder to continue learning Bharatanatyam when I went away to college, but every break I went home, I took hours-long classes with my teacher. I knew this recital was something I was going to accomplish because I’ve had dreams of it since I started learning at the age of 10.
This journey taught me that my sister is, and always will be, my number dance partner. Our sisterhood was stronger than I imagined, and years of dancing together have synchronized our steps and our movements. After training together now, we realize how natural it has become for the two of us to synchronize not only our dance steps but also our thoughts. Dancing together has created this bond between us brings us closer every day.
Learning Bharatanatyam from a young age was one of the best passions I have ever developed thanks to my parents and my dance teacher. I am grateful for my culture that sets me apart, and for dance to be a way to tell religious folklore. I am grateful for this dance that taught me strength, and grace. The passage to my Bharatanatyam recital taught me so much about myself, created stronger bonds with my sister, my dance teacher, and the rest of my family and conveyed so much of my Indian culture. My journey with dance most definitely does not stop here as I continue to learn new forms and challenge myself.