Surrounded by friends, family and teachers in the crowd, Anita Anand ’19 stood center stage, feeling a rush of adrenaline as she Bharatanatyam-danced through religious stories of her solo performance.
Bharatanatyam is a genre of classical Indian dance that incorporates religious stories and themes from Hinduism. It is most popular in Southern India.
Like other types of dances, Bharatanatyam utilizes many techniques, including intricate footwork and use of expressions.
“There are a lot of big movements,” Anand said. “It is different from ballet because it is a very grounding artform. For me, I really like the technique pieces. There are some pieces that are all technique and some pieces that are all expression and storytelling. I like the ones that are technique dances because that’s my strong point.”
Anand has been practicing Bharatanatyam dance for 10 years, starting at the age of six. She was following in the footsteps of her mother, who also danced while growing up in India.
“For me, dance is like a cultural thing, and there is a lot of tradition behind it,” Anand said. “My mom danced when she was in India so she always wanted this for me. She is always able to help me out with hand gestures and what everything means in the [religious] text.”
Anand became friends with other dancers from her studio who she said she shared a lot in common with.
“They had the same values and family life that I have, so it was really good for me when I was younger because I got to see people who were similar to me who were not at school,” Anand said. “I just didn’t have a lot of Indian friends when I was in school. At dance, I got to meet a lot of new people who I connected with.”
Along with a shared culture, Anand said that her friends from her company are supportive of her.
“There is a lot to learn, and it is in another language, so there is a lot of translation you have to do,” Anand said. “It is a lot of understanding, which is difficult because I only speak English. But my friends that I have in the company are always really supportive. ”
As she grew older, Anand was able to connect with dance on a new level. She felt a connection through the stories that she told through dance, both on a cultural and a religious level.
“Later, I took dance more seriously as a cultural thing,” Anand said. “All of the stories I tell in dance are part of religious texts or religious stories, so for me, this was a connection to religion, which I didn’t really have. I didn’t really have a connection to all the stories and religion behind [Hinduism], but with dance I do.”
One of Anand’s dances during her Arangetram, the three-hour solo performance that would prove her as advanced in Bharatanatyam, told the story of Krishna, one of the deities in Hinduism.
In the story, Krishna eats dirt and gets caught by his mother. When he opens his mouth, his mother sees the whole world and unveils his supernatural abilities.
“That is one of the first stories that I learned,” Anand said. “In dance, [the story] is really easy to show. So, it was super fun.”
For her Arangetram, Anand spent a year practicing various dances, including expression and technique pieces. In ninth grade, Anand trained for three hours each day for five to six days a week.
“It was crazy because I had my own stuff that I had to be learning, and I was in group dances,” Anand said. “So, I had to go to two group classes, and the rest of the classes were private classes for my show. It was a lot of rigorous work.”
The audience of the showcase was made up of Anand’s friends from her dance company and school, along with family members and teachers, who all came to support her and watch her dance.
“I thought that it was very impressive how long she danced for,” Tierni Kaufman ’19 said about Anand’s showcase. “She worked really hard, and it was cool to see how different it was from a regular dance performance.”
According to Anand, many of her other friends were also surprised at her performance.
“Apparently, it was shocking first seeing me,” Anand said. “Because I think it’s unexpected. I don’t think I come off as someone who dances in general because it is considered a very flexible art form. I don’t feel like I come off as a very dance and art person, so I think it might be a little surprising that I dance. But a lot of my friends have seen me dance, and once they see, they are really supportive.”
Ever since her solo performance, Anand has been officially part of her dance company. Her routine consists of classes for herself as well as classes that she helps teach.
“Although I have a lot more to learn because, with dance, there is never really an end,” Anand said. “I am allowed to start helping out in the studio and I can help teach, so I’ve been doing that too.”
Anand said she sees Bharatanatyam as an outlet for relaxation because it is not school related and allows her to clear her mind.
“It is a release because I don’t have to think about school,” Anand said. “It is 3 hours away from work. It’s super nice. I don’t have to think about anything else. [Dance] is a release for me. I love to dance and I want to continue for as long as I can.”