By: Nina, NSLI-Y India, Summer 2014
While many are bedazzled by the intricate costumes and glittering jewelry, in India, study of the classical arts is taken very seriously. The commitment in the biggest dance companies and schools is similar to the rigor one would find in a contemporary or ballet dance company in the United States. Dance teachers are common both in rural and urban India, and because of this, the dance shows that result are stunning, heart-warming, and magical.
Watching a true traditional Bharatanatyam show in India for the first time was like watching a Broadway spectacle after seeing only high school plays. My host mother Rama, a dancer herself, was generous enough to take myself and “host cousin” Amanda to an incredible performance. It took place in a gorgeous and massive dance hall a bit far from our home. The first half was wonderful, but the second act really blew my mind. It was a fascinating Kalidasa dance. Kalidasa was a famous Sanskrit poet and dramatist who lived in the fifth century AD and his stories are intricate, complex and beautiful. The piece was about the changing seasons, but also unconditional human love. I was moved as the figures moved, and the multi-layered story peeled itself before me, revealing all of its parts.
In the United States, I have been a part of Indian dance classes for years and have become knowledgeable of the craft. I love Indian dance in all of its forms, from Bollywood razzmatazz to the perfect foot placement of Bharatnatyam. I realized after this show that the dance versions I have seen in my United States classes are somewhat sterilized, as if when they left India they lost some of their true meaning and form. I want to try and bring some of the magic of dance in India back with me as I progress as an artist and a consumer of this art.