Kulkarni and Sukumar connect with culture through Indian dance

Senior+Sonia+Sukumar+has+been+doing+Kathak+Indian+dance+since+she+was+in+fourth+grade.

Submitted by Sonia Sukumar

Senior Sonia Sukumar has been doing Kathak Indian dance since she was in fourth grade.

Stephanie Li, The Rubicon Editor

Harmonious sounds of the tabla, sarangi, and manjira echo throughout the room as girls dressed in a sari and choli spin around in circles. The golden jewelry adorning their ears, wrists, and ankles make jingling sounds that complement the musical instruments.

Senior Sonia Sukumar has been doing Kathak, a North Indian dance, since she was in fourth grade. Kathak originated from nomads in ancient North India and were known as kathakars, or storytellers.

“My mom [found a Kathak dance class] so she put me in a class and I liked it a lot,” Sukumar said.

Sukumar dances at a studio called Dance Exchange where she has been a member of the Katha Dance Theater.

It’s hard to remember everything and there’s certain skills that you have to develop with time.”

— Senior Sonia Sukumar

“Mostly I like to perform and learn new things each year. I’m at a pretty advanced level. They have youth beginner to intern level, and beginning and advanced levels for adults. So my level is intermediate which is below the interning level and you get to be an intern if you’re asked to,” Sukumar said.

Like any other form of dance, it takes dedication and persistence to learn Kathak because of all the complex movements such as the footwork.

“It’s hard to remember everything and there’s certain skills that you have to develop with time. It’s barefoot so tapping loudly, being able to consistently keep dancing and get your feet strong enough to keep going [is a challenge],” Sukumar said.

Senior Neeti Kulkarni has been doing Bharatanatyam, another form of Indian dance but from the South, since she was five years old. Although Kulkarni stopped dancing last year, she still treasures the memories she has made and the skills and experience she has gained.

“I learned from a family friend who was trained very highly in the dance,” Kulkarni said. “To be honest, I didn’t start because I was interested when I was five, it was mostly my mom’s doing because she wanted me to stay connected to my culture. However, as I went on, the dance became a big part of me, and I became super interested in the stories it told of the Gods and the movements that represented those stories.”

Bharatanatyam dance originated in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu. Its purpose is to interpret mythical legends and portray spiritual ideas from Hindu texts.

“They are stories of Indian mythology and how everything came to be in the world, so the dancer has a really important role in telling it,” Kulkarni said.

However, as I went on, the dance became a big part of me, and I became super interested in the stories it told of the Gods and the movements that represented those stories.”

— Senior Neeti Kulkarni

Some of the technique and movements dancers must learn are mudras (symbolic hand gestures) which tell a story, facial expressions that reflect the mood, and footwork that follow the beats of the mridangam, nagaswaram, and veena with complicated counter rhythms.

“My favorite aspect is how structured the dance is within its flowing movements,” Kulkarni said.

A highlight of Kulkarni’s dancing career was the Bharatanatyam Arangetram.

“When I was in tenth grade, I completed my Bharatanatyam Arangetram, which is essentially a 2.5 hour solo dance performance that literally means to “ascend the stage”. It made me appreciate my culture and be proud of my heritage,” Kulkarni said.

There are two main dances that distinguish Kathak and Bharatanatyam: Nritta (pure) and Nritya (expressive). In a modern performance, there consists of one pure recital, and lastly one expressive recital. The speed and energy of the dancers increases as the tempo of the song doubles or quadruples. While Kathak and Bharatanatyam are similar in many ways, there are noticeable differences such as the body positions and costumes.

Kulkarni and Sukumar are glad they have been able to connect with their Indian heritage by participating in Kathak or Bharatanatyam because it has given them an opportunity to learn about Indian history. They have both taken on an integral role in the Indian community by telling the stories of their origins.