Anuradha Krishnan, center of second row, performs at a dance festival at California State University, Sacramento in 2017. According to Krishnan, the noncompetitive festival featured many dance schools from Sacramento and the Bay Area. (Photo courtesy of Krishnan)

Senior’s involvement in classical Indian dance provides friends, insights into dialects, heritage

The wavering tones of the music permeate the closed door, below which various pairs of shoes arch around.

The dance room is almost barren with a typical open floor, a ceiling-length mirror on one wall, a heater against another wall and a shelf covering the back wall.  

The 11 members present range from high school juniors to middle-aged mothers, all dressed in traditional practice attire — a sari (long fabric wrap worn by Indian women), an undershirt and pants. 

An older member sets up the dance music on her phone before placing it next to a Bluetooth speaker and resuming her position.  

The dancers spring to life with the first note, slapping and pounding their feet while their hands create representational forms. The dancers aren’t in sync, however. Occasionally, a member will stop and stare at the mirror in confusion before jumping back into action. 

Every Saturday, senior Anuradha Krishnan spends her afternoons at Sierra 2 Center (2791 24th St.) practicing classical Indian dance, or more specifically, Bharatanatyam.

Bharatanatyam originated in the temples in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, where Krishnan’s family is from. Dancers tell religious stories from Hindu texts through hand gestures, facial expressions and poses. 

“There’s two major parts to it,” Krishnan said. “One is the geometric movements of your body and the rhythmic sequences that you stamp your feet in or the angles that you move your body. There’s also the creative part. You have to be in touch with your expressions and your emotions to tell the story, to convey the meaning behind the story. It’s like acting.”

On this Saturday, Krishnan practices a dance called Dashavataram, which represents the story of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu, a Hindu god. Using the beat of the music, she and other members transition through 10 poses representing Lord Vishnu’s evolutions.

Through dance, Krishnan said she has learned bits of other Indian dialects and connected with her culture via the stories she tells. 

“I already speak Tamil, and dance has allowed me to learn parts of Sanskrit and other Indian languages,” said Krishnan. “I like that I am able to connect with my culture, religion and ancestry through dance, something that is very important to me.”

“I like that I am able to connect with my culture, religion and ancestry through dance, something that is very important to me.”

—Anuradha Krishnan

Krishnan conveys both religious and fictional stories through dance.

“I can tell whatever story I want,” said Krishnan. “The stories that we tell, a lot of them come from the stories that have been passed down and (are about) a specific god or event. My teacher even choreographed a dance that tells the story of Ra, an Egyptian sun god.

“The stories that I tell or the stories that my dance teacher tells me, they are all really inspiring. And a lot of it connects me to my music lessons or my Sunday school.”

Krishnan’s passion stemmed from watching professional dancers and from her mother, Priya Krishnan, teaching her the basics. Priya started dancing as a toddler and continues to practice to this day in the same class as her daughter.

“Dance has always been fun for me, and I wanted Anu to experience that as well,” Priya Krishnan said.

According to Priya, Anuradha showed an early interest in dancing. Anuradha’s informal lessons began with her mother, who taught her “mudras” (hand gestures) as well as other basic moves. 

In Priya’s eyes, this passion for dance has only grown with Anuradha’s skill. 

“She and her friends have a lot of fun dancing together,” said Priya. “(Anuradha really) takes every opportunity she can to dance and is a quick learner.”

Anuradha’s teacher, Katherine Kunhiraman, was in the hospital and unavailable for comment.

Anuradha began classes about a decade ago in Southern California and found her teacher after moving to Sacramento.

“Each teacher runs their own school,” explained Krishnan. “I do Bharatanatyam, but within that dance there are different styles, like in ballet.”

The style that Krishnan and her mother do is Kalakshetra. According to Wikipedia, “The Kalakshetra style is noted for its angular, straight, ballet-like kinesthetics” and removal of “emotional elements evocative of the erotic, such as hip, neck, lip and chest movements.”

They also know Kathakali, another one of the eight forms of classical Indian dance.

Since joining, Krishnan has progressed to the senior advanced class and occasionally helps teach the classes below her. She also sings classical Indian music, although she prefers to dance.

Traditionally, the dances are choreographed for soloists, so Krishnan’s group rearranges them.

“Sometimes we’ll split up the choreography so there’ll be two groups on stage; one group will do this, one group will do that,” Krishnan said. “Sometimes we’ll all do it together. Sometimes it’ll be four of us on stage doing the whole dance as if it were a solo. Or sometimes I’ll even just do a solo dance.”

Although she doesn’t compete, she performs often at fundraisers, her group’s annual shows, local dance festivals and California State University, Sacramento. She also performed in her junior year in the high school Rockvember talent show, winning first place with her performance of Ganesha Vandana.

But performing for other people is just one of the things that Krishnan appreciates about dancing.

“There are so many good things about it, whether it’s having the opportunity to dance with my friends, to make new friends, to (tell stories) or to connect to my culture,” Krishnan said.

She has also learned practical life skills through dance, namely time management and responsibility. Balancing dance with Krishnan’s academic classes and after-school activities, such as Mock Trial, is no easy task, and some days she has to make some sacrifices.

“There have been times where I’ve been like, ‘Oh, my God, I have so much to do’ on this one day,” Krishnan said. “Sure, those kinds of things come into my head sometimes. But overall, I wouldn’t want to stop.”

In fact, Krishnan plans to join an Indian dance team in college.

“I made so many of my good friends through dance here, and I hope to do the same there,” said Krishnan. “I want to do it for the rest of my life.”

—By Emma Boersma

Originally published in the Dec. 17 edition of the Octagon.

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