Author Archives: Like Telling a Secret

About Like Telling a Secret

Coming into my own as a dancer, singer, and writer. Because I believe in Harmony, Unity, Understanding, Inclusiveness, Respect, Humanity. I will stand with Those Who Love

9 Months Later…

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I’m back!

Where have I been? Well, the title of this post will give you a clue.

We have been blessed with a daughter, named Naimi Sharanya, born on August 8, 2013. Somehow, from the moment I discovered this blessing was happening to us, I felt intensely private. We didn’t disclose our news on FB or any other social media platform, and as my belly grew, that internal mood only intensified. Although some pregnant women continue all their activities like normal, it felt more natural to me to simply take a break from dance; my thoughts surrounded this little soul growing inside me, and I also was very aware of the constant changes in my body. It has been quite amazing to witness how my body changed and expanded to accommodate this growing life inside my belly (and afterwards, seeing the body shrink back close to its original size within weeks).

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(By Jiva Photography)

Yet during this hiatus, my desire and determination to dance has only grown stronger , and now that I’ve recovered sufficiently from the delivery, I’m officially back and ready to rock-n-roll!

So I will begin where I left off, literally. In my last post “Choosing a Fresh Perspective,” I was on my way to Chennai, and I shared with you some of my thoughts and apprehensions about returning to my alma mater, Kalakshetra, a place that has so much influenced my life. Arriving newly pregnant in Chennai certainly overwhelmed my senses and put another spin to my experience there. Instead of getting to dance, I was an observer and facilitator (I was there with my student Gayatri, taking her to classes and dance performances). Hence I didn’t quite have the immersion that I’d thought I’d have or get answers to some of the questions I posed.

Yet to my surprise and delight, my apprehension around returning to Kalakshetra vanished as soon as I was there. I felt completely at home. I was warmly greeted by everyone I knew, and I remembered names and what little Tamil I knew 🙂

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As I walked around Kalakshetra and observed the classes and rehearsals, I was awe-struck by the complete focus and dedication of the students and teachers. I watched in wonder the students put complete effort into each adavu-step, sweating, pushing the body beyond its limits. I could see the muscles quivering in a student’s limbs as he pushed himself to sit deeper into aramandi/plie. Sweat dripped down their bodies. commitment blazed in their eyes. As I sat there watching, a completely unexpected feeling came upon me – I knew that I once was this student! I have given my life-energy to these adavus! It was a beautiful feeling of complete satisfaction, an affirmation of the time and effort I have put into this dance-form, no regrets. It was like I suddenly realized and gave myself credit for investing all that time into this striking art-form.

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(Photo from my first year. Seen in background, Aishwarya, one of my best friends)

On that note, I am sharing below my first step towards bringing dance back into my daily life again: Alaripu, often the first dance a Bharata Natyam student learns. I consider it evidence of the thorough training I received at Kalakshetra that I can stop dancing for nearly a whole year but still retain technique (Stamina is another monster altogether!):

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Choosing a Fresh Perspective

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Tomorrow I’m traveling to Chennai, the hub for Bharata Natyam and Karnatik music. As I’m returning to my old stomping grounds, I’m contemplating how to approach my time there. What immediately comes to me is the desire to have a fresh perspective. I want to renew my relationship to dance and explore what dance can be in my life. I would like to create new associations that are enlivening and empowering.

It’s been more than fours years now since I left Chennai. Since then, I’ve gained some insights about myself and my approach to dance. See, when I lived and studied in Kalakshetra I approached my training as a self-imposed boot-camp. I see that now. Eventually, I came to associate dance with hard relentless work and even pain. I was never good enough, no matter how hard I tried. Yet I wasn’t aware that my ‘truth’ was in fact a web of self-limiting beliefs. In my ongoing attempts to unravel the threads of this web, I’ve started sharing openly on this blog and elsewhere. (Of course, I’ve also come to see that this is ‘a dancer’s syndrome.’ Or as my little sister Jambu says, “you dancers are so mental.” If I may venture to generalize, we artists are quite vulnerable to self-doubt.)

Another painful truth that I had to face as I left India was that I had tried to do away with myself to become a South Indian girl. In my eagerness to be accepted and imbibe it all, I was all too ready to sacrifice myself. I think I was afraid, and still sometimes am, of being my own unique person. I was convinced that I couldn’t be me and be an authentic Bharata Natyam dancer. I felt self-conscious about my whiteness and foreignness, instead of simply accepting that both of those are intrinsic aspects of my current psychophysical nature.

Because of these factors, I’ve been afraid to return to India and especially Chennai fearing that my ‘old ways’ would be reactivated, and that I would be pulled into my self-critique again. Even though I do feel anxiety about this, I also feel ready to put that old way of being behind me.

So this time in Chennai, I want to consciously accept myself, including my limitations, my progress, my inner depth, my reactivity, all of it. Basically, I plan to be 100% honest with myself about my feelings. This usually leads me to a greater awareness and acceptance of what goes on within.

During my time in Chennai, I want to truthfully explore my feelings for dance. Where do I want to go with this? What is dance in my life really? What do I feel inspired to work towards, if anything?

I’m also excited to observe what’s happening in Chennai’s dance world and gain some clarity through that where my heart is. What do I resonate with? What do I want to stand for? If I was brave enough to walk my own way, where would I go?

I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you.

There’s a Limit to Your Love

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Somehow my urge to share my dance-journey and my thoughts suddenly slowed down. It’s been over a month now since my last post. Emotionally, I go back and forth about being so open publicly. Part of me wants to be bold and open; another part of me wants to protect all that I treasure, my inner life.

While I ponder this tug-of-war, I found an “old” piece I made last year. My friend Jahnavi Harrison suggested this song to me. Needless to say, it is not a polished or complete dance. But unlike other free-flow stuff I did in my dance-challenges, this one is actually choreographed. I don’t think I was quite able to convey the depth of the feeling the song actually invoked in me, but that’s precisely why I call it an experiment:

Beyond Bharata Natyam – YouTube Videos of “Contemporary Bharata Natyam”

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I want to know what’s out there in terms of “Contemporary Bharata Natyam.” What are other Bharata Natyam dancers doing with the questions they have? So I decided to search far and wide (on YouTube) to see what I could find. Negotiating borders is not an easy thing to do, tastefully. It’s usually too much of one element or the other, or just a painful clash of worlds. To tell you the truth, this is a new flavor for me, so my taste may not be that refined. But I don’t know if I’m that refined overall anyhow! I can’t quite point out what works and what doesn’t work, if a piece is strong or weak. I also must admit that I don’t really understand contemporary dance in itself. I admire its technique and can admire a strong expressive dancer, but often I’m not sure what the message or meaning is. Here, however, I’m going to share pieces that I found compelling or interesting. The key-words I used was “Contemporary Bharata Natyam” and I got to page 20, so there is a lot more out there! The clips I’m sharing here are the ones that I “liked” – I think they were successful in, as I read on one site, “pushing into new territory while still keeping one foot in the rich terrain of Bharata Natyam.”

Here are my tentative findings. Please share yours!!! I got to page 20 on YouTube under “Contemporary Bharata Natyam” (that means I screened through about 400 videos)

What I was looking for was anything Bharata Natyam based, or something that clearly had BN roots. And this is by no means a comprehensive search. There is infinitely more out there…

Videos I liked: 

Angika Dance Company perform “Ether” –  Here is another by them “Urban Temple”

Elegant solo by Anusha Subramanyam

Kinda fun, Sooraj Subramaniam, dancing in his PJ’s 🙂

Mostly, this reminds me of me dancing with Mayapuris 😛 I also do like the voice of the singer!

Navarasa – Aparna Sindhoor trailer for “Encounter”

Mavin Khoo – more like a dance collage meant to play with your sense of sound and imagery. I couldn’t find another video of Mavin, whom I’ve seen live and was moved by.

A bunch of different “Alaripu” renditions:

I’ve seen the Post-Natyam Collective live, and I thought they were quite interesting. This video doesn’t necessarily capture that, but still: Alarippu Gone Astray 

The clash of two clans, Romeo and Juliet through alaripu

Contemporary Alarippu by Umesh Shetty

Malika Sarabhai is of course known in India for being an iconoclast. I don’t quite get it, but sorta cool: Changing Planes

Here is one of my favorites:

“The Shiver” by Sadhana Dance Company – directed by Subathra Subramaniam – Very cool movements, and formations, reminiscent of “Stampede”… Actually this is one of my favorites… So I checked out another one by them called Elixir

Sweet little solo by Nikolina Nikoleski

Example of a dance I don’t understand:

In Between Skin by Kalpana Raghuraman

Cool contemporary videos or that came up:

Constellation by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Larbi talking about his thoughts behind the piece.

Akram Khan: Zero Degrees, Sacred Monsters, Khatak

Khatak by Akash Odedra

Seeing Akram Khan, and Akash Odedra dance, I see myself in their dance, their way of moving, and I’m reminded how I can’t purely be a Bharata Natyam dancer. Simply because my body likes to move in other ways as well.

Here is a “Border-line Piece.” It’s Bharata Natyam, but also not. Although I think Rukmini Vijaykumar is a beautiful dancer, this solo feels too full. I’m reminded of how striking sparseness, minimalistic grace and elegance is. Watching someone like Priyadarshini Govind for example, the pauses, the deliberate movements, and maintaining convey so much. Constant movement is sometimes counter-productive.

Stunning Solo by Vraja Sundari Keilman

Can’t explore BN beyond boundaries without looking at Shobana Jeysingh, of course. But I could mostly find interviews and trailers/promo-clips, not a solid few minutes of a work.  And I know for a fact that there are many other dance companies out there that are exploring Bharata Natyam in interesting ways. One example is Parijat Desai and her dance company

But that will have to be another key-word search 🙂

Dancing with Mayapuris – Unity on the Bay, Miami FL

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You know, these days when I dance with The Mayapuris, there is less drama going on in my mind. Yes, I am a very hard critic on myself, and I have my usual ups and downs. But you know what, I’ve become so used to myself that it doesn’t throw me off balance like it used to. Sign of maturity? Spiritual development? :p

Today we danced at a Unity church in Miami. Here are two clips:

Not All Smiles – The Gravity of Rukmini Devi

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I recently met Caroline Kay, a Bharata Natyam dancer from the Bala Saraswathi lineage but who also met Rukmini Devi, the founder of Kalakshetra and a dance-pioneer. We had a lovely exchange about Bharata Natyam and its spiritual depth. As part of our exchange she lent me a book about Rukmini Devi. In looking through the book and its photos, I was struck by Rukmini Devi’s serenity and gravity. In most photos she is serious, her smiles are rare and withheld. This was a nice discovery for me, who has often heard the admonishment to “smile!”

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(all photos by
Conrad Woldring
C. Nachiappan)

Bharatanatyam : Art or Commodity ?

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Bharatanatyam : Art or Commodity ? by Ayesha Minhaz

Personally I don’t think it’s an either/or scenario; Bharata Natyam continues to be an Art while also bearing the weight of its commercial growth. Still, Minhaz touching on something important worth pondering, how a once sacred exclusive art-form has transformed into something else, a stamp of Authentic India or Spirituality perhaps?

A Moment of Transformation

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Before:
Heavy-hearted. Mental. Absorbed in my thoughts. The sun is shining but not on me. I walk under a tree. I wish I could stay here. I can’t be flaky, bail out, just because of my mood, my mind. But what do I have right now to give? My sadness, these questions, a heaviness?
It’s not about me.

Dancing:
This moment in time is bigger than me and my personal woes. I feel hopeful. I trust this. My darkness is far away. The poetry flows through me. My energy is united with all of you. Together we are relishing the depth of something I myself don’t yet understand. But I feel it. I think you do too.

After:
Free. Light-hearted. Thought-less. A new me. What was that thing that disturbed me so? Well, don’t knock on that door. It’s closed now. I don’t even know where the path to that pain is right now. Touched by the sweet poetry of Govinda Das. Kamala dala jala – jivana tala mala. Life is like a restless drop of water on the leaf of lotus. Vish’s voice and words. The uplifting mood of the drum, flute, kartals, voices, dance. And best of all, it’s not about me. I’m free. The sun is shining. On me. On everybody.

Omega Institute, Upstate New York
Ecstatic Chant Weekend