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“What dance means to me” by Sanya Surya

My story started at the tender age of four, ten years ago, when I realized I had a connection to dance. Somehow I was always drawn towards watching performances, noticing the way music and dance worked with one another, and moving my feet along with dancers on stage, even when I was just sitting in the audience. I truly believe that while my mom may have introduced me to my first ballet dance class, it was my heart’s desire to keep going with dance that has taken me on the journey I have had over the past decade.

After my introduction to ballet, at which point I immediately realized I was born to be a dancer, I decided to transition into a dance that connected more with my Indian culture, which is when I was introduced to the huge and exciting world of Bollywood. Bollywood is definitely a very fun style of dance, with so much freedom, and endless choices of songs and remixes to dance to. It’s also an attractive style of dance because it’s very relatable, with modern tunes and effects in the music, and connections to movies we all watch. But I think somehow I was never meant to perform such a freestyle form of dance.

Which leads me to the next little chapter in my artistic journey—classical. At the age of 5, I started learning Hindustani classical vocal music, one of the two classical music systems in India. My guru, Dr. Nisha Joshi, sparked my interest in this ancient art form by always being encouraging even at my young age and by teaching me how to learn this style of music in a good, structured way. I realized that somehow I was attracted to the fact that this art form dated back thousands of years, and that there was so much history and culture buried in every song I sang, and the way the entire music system was shaped. And that’s why I realized that Bollywood, as fun of a dance style as it is, was just not for me. I needed something classical.

So I thought of many options for classical Indian dance, excited to see where my journey would take me. My mom and I watched performances and talked about it, until, with her help, I settled on Kathak, a North Indian classical dance. I decided to learn Kathak because of its deep roots and connection to Hindustani classical music, which I was already enjoying and learning, and was excited to see how my dance and music would now go hand in hand.

Kathak was my obsession for a huge chunk of my dance journey. I loved the costumes, fast footwork and spins, and how it related to Hindustani music. I clearly remember the first day I learned how to tie my “ghungurus” (bells for my ankles). I was so excited and would walk around in them just to hear the beautiful sounds that would emerge. But, just like all good things, soon my Kathak journey approached its end for that part of my life.

Towards the end of elementary school, after over 5 years of Kathak training from my Kathak guru, Samiksha Lamba, I went the Russian Ballet route, which includes very rigorous training and dedication, which I gladly put in. I was so excited when we went to the store to buy the perfect ballet shoes for me, my leotard, tights, and everything else I needed to start my ballet journey.

Throughout my time learning ballet, I also tried out other styles branching off of the classical base, such as jazz and contemporary, and learned that I absolutely loved contemporary. I played around with that for a while, still learning Russian Ballet, until middle school started and I realized that I missed Indian dance. While I loved any dance in general, I missed that connection to my roots and culture for sure. I realized, and expressed this to my mom as well, that I needed to find an Indian classical dance I will stick with and learn to love.

We looked at many different options, and decided on Bharatanatyam. While this dance form was still Indian classical, it was not North Indian like my previous style, Kathak, but rather South Indian (originating in Tamilnadu). I started my training with my Bharatanatyam guru, Smt. Anita Menon (Anjali School of Dance), with whom I had worked with in 2012 when I played the “Changeling Boy” in her “Midsummer Night’s Dream” production. Over the past three years, Anita aunty has pushed me to my limits and beyond in my dance aspirations and achievements and I really have grown as a dancer tremendously.

After I made sure to put in endless hours of efforts the summer after 6th grade and throughout both 6th and 7th grade, Anita aunty decided I was ready for my arangetram (Indian solo dance debut/graduation). This is the biggest milestone a Bharatanatyam dancer can hit, and it was an honor for me to get the opportunity to perform my arangetram.

I had my arangetram on Feb 12th, 2017 with the support of my current gurus and teachers, my previous gurus and teachers, and the community my family is a part of as well. After my arangetram, I joined the Anjali Dance Company, and have had a blast ever since then working with past arangetram students, forging new friendships, and digging deeper and deeper into the ancient art form along the way.

While classical dance will always be my passion, Bollywood will always have its charm. So I also started a group called “Dance for a Cause” in my 7th grade year and invited three of my friends to work with me, where I choreograph Bollywood dances for us to perform at various fundraisers. DFAC has been really fun and a great experience for me!

I am excited to continue working with Anita aunty in her production with NWCT this winter, “Chitra: The Girl Prince”, and I thank all my gurus for making the past decade inspirational and enjoyable, and for never allowing my love for both dance and music to die out. I am proud to be a dancer and a singer, and proud to enjoy my Indian heritage at the same time. I always view my opportunities as gifts that I have humbly accepted, and I hope that in a few years’ time, I’ll be able to give back to my community just as much as they have given to me, helping me fulfill all my dreams.

by Sanya Surya, age 14
artist, high school student

National Arts in Education Week 2017 - Blog Salon #1


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