Conversation Between the Body and the Soul

My Journey Through Indian Classical Dance


Photo courtesy of Nicholas Brooks

Above is one of my performances in Hutto High School during a dance recital in 2019, in which I tell a story from Indian mythology. Dance has always been a part of my life, and helped me gain self confidence as well as being able to learn more about my culture. By learning about it, other people could be more aware about the different traditions of Indian culture.

Rachana Kommineni, Reporter

I run the dance steps in my head over and over again, waiting for my dance item to be called. The cheering of the audience entices me to perform to the best of my ability. I make sure my ghungroo (bells strung together on the ankle) is tight and everything looks neat. I can hear my heart beating as I nervously breathe in and out. As I step on stage, I feel a burst of emotions. Nervousness. Excitement. Fear. Anxiety. I put on a brave face and adjust my position accordingly, and with a radiant smile I get ready to perform. As I am performing, I feel this sensation of pride that everyone can see me dancing to something that is close to my heart. I feel satisfaction that every time people see me perform, they can get to know more and more about my culture. 

I have practiced Bharatanatyam since the age of four, and it is the oldest classical dance tradition in India. The “Bha” in Bharatanatyam means emotion (Bhava), the “Ra” means music (Raaga), the “Ta” means rhythm (Taal) and “Natyam” means dance. Originated in the 17th century, Bharatanatyam is from Tamil Nadu, in southern India. Bharatanatyam was originally used to worship gods and goddesses but now is used to tell stories of mythology and to show devotion. The hands are mainly used in a series of mudras, or hand gestures, to tell a story and the feet are used for rhythm. Additionally, most Bharatanatyam dancers look forward to an arangetram. An arangetram is where dancers display their growth throughout the years and exhibit their mastery in the art they perform. 

As a kid, I wasn’t very good at communicating or making friends, so my mom thought that learning dance would be an easier way for me to open up and make friends. Dance let me express myself in ways that I couldn’t by just talking to people. It allowed me to actively learn more about my culture in an intriguing and interactive way, allowing me to be in a community with those who shared my culture. Dance brought grace in body and personality, inner awareness and a great deal of balance in me. It also broadened my horizons on the history of India, and how much of an impact certain artists or their songs had. Additionally, it helped me grow as a happier person and boosted my self esteem and confidence. 

Though I enjoyed the technical skills gained from dance, I greatly appreciated the outlet of self-expression I accessed through connecting with my culture at dance. As a kid, I was often shunned from connecting with my culture, with my peers teasing me for the smell and looks of my food. However, in dance, surrounded in a supported environment in which I was able to completely express myself, I thrived, which made me love Bharatanatyam all the more. 

Getting to know someone else’s culture in a fun way like with Bharatanatyam is what I feel everyone should do more of. People can get more exposed to my culture through learning about Bharatanatyam, and might even want to try learning it. However, Bharatanatyam is not widely known and is underappreciated because it is not mainstream in American culture. I recommend more people take on the opportunity to watch Bharatanatyam because it is a dance with deep history that more people should appreciate.