Jump. Twist. Relax. Breathe. The art of dance for me represents the intersection of these most elementary of movements with incredible elegance and sophistication. Back straight. Head held high. Smiling. It is at once the most complex, yet the simplest and most expressive activities I perform in any day; it is poetry in motion. As my body adjusts to the challenges of specific movements and gestures, my mind is free to drift, to sift through whatever needs organizing—the next day’s tasks, discord with a friend, or stress. As my arm and calf muscles loosen and my labored breathing relaxes, I am able to release that stress, forget that argument, and set my mind in order. In the middle of my routine, I stop and stare at myself in the mirror to admire my Bharathanatyam posture. I pause to feel my own strong heartbeat. Then, I dance again.
Sixteen years ago, my amma (as I call my sweet mother) dragged me to a dance class to introduce me to Bharathanatyam. I recall that day with a smile, for my first impression was – shall we say – less than positive. I confess my condescending glances at the Indian classical dancers, who looked so different, sitting in half-squats with their arms extended. But yielding to amma’s enthusiasm, I committed to give it a try. I couldn’t have imagined then how this beautiful ancient art would shape the way I experience the world and nurture my appreciation for expressions of love and beauty. Originating from South India, Bharathanatyam is one of the most cherished and popular classical Indian dance forms. This epitome of Indian cultural expression has been a bridge between my American and Indian lifestyles.
Over the years, I have gained much more from Bharathanatyam than just a dance education. While the study focuses on physical techniques, I have also learned the essence of diligence, patience, and perseverance. The strict discipline of Bharathanatyam has taught me to work very diligently, a trait that has served me well in all my pursuits.
I smile now remembering my little five-year-old self choosing to dance on a whim. What began as an activity I had to do every Sunday has become something that is a part of me. My name, Abhinaya, is translated as dance expressions in Sanskrit; indeed, it is in dance that I find my fullest identity. Bharathanatyam has given me the courage, confidence, and unique charisma to become the person I am today.