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Sky(pe) Is The Limit!

Shalini Vemuri

My journey as a dancer began with my long afternoon walks to my dance classes after school. I was always enthusiastic about art and culture, dance being the prime of all. As common in any Indian household, as soon as I came to my 10th standard I had to focus on my academics....and like-wise everything else in my life went on as per my parents’ wishes. And like any other girl from a conservative Indian family I was married in my early twenties. Soon after I came here to the US; this is when I was followed by the long vain afternoons. Every road, every door told me to pursue my prime passion again, but how – with a husband in an IT position shifting around wherever his projects take us? And it was during that time, while on a family visit to Virginia, on a fine afternoon that I met my Guru Smt. Jeyanthi Ghatraju. I always wanted to pursue Bharatnatyam again and finish my arangetram and who thought I would be blessed this way! The following afternoon, we went to the Shri Siva Vishnu Temple along with family to watch my guru perform on Sri Anjaneya. After her performance, I went for darshan at the temple ; while doing my pradakshinam around Lord Shiva and Lord Padmanabha, I wished I too could perform my arangetram at the very same temple. And there must have been an invisible “tathastu” to it!!  It was then that I had decided on my guru, no matter what it would entail, with me then sitting in Delaware and my guru in Boston. With my bundle of strength and motivation from my husband I began my learning with my guru that same night. But this journey had numerous ifs and buts. To begin with, I had several relocations within the US, across the various time zones in the US; however, this is what made everything even more special! I was the first Skype student for my guru and what it proved was it is not important how we learn, it is important how focused we are in what we aim at doing and to make full use of the available resources.

Hence in spite of traveling so much I kept tab with my dance through Skype, and used to send my recorded practice videos to my guru. And she used to write back with corrections for me. The challenge here was to learn to get my timing correct (talam/rhythm), as on Skype, there is a slight mismatch between the audio and video. But, as the old saying goes, “No pain, no gain!”  I will always cherish my sessions with my guru - her unconditional support and the efforts she put in patiently to make my dance perfect, every jathi and abhinaya perfect!

I commenced my arangetram with an invocation piece called natyarangam and a Ganesha slokam. I followed it up with an alarippu in thisra nadai – interestingly, we had a bunch of young children counting 123, 123,… religiously, as my guru explained the concept behind it! My jathiswaram was set in ragam Vasantha and Rupaka talam with intricate and extensive foot work. I performed my favorite piece, Krishna shabdam next. One could appreciate the careful selection of my items from this point on!

The highlight of any bharatnatyam arangetram recital is varnam, and the composition was Samiyei azaithodi vaa, where the principal deity is Lord Shiva. One of the charnams of the varnam described Shiva as the one adored by Lord Vishnu (Saranganathan potrum mannavanadi); as I performed that part, it reminded me of this profound scene in the temple sanctum - enchanting Padmanabha in his blissful sleep and Lord Shiva in the form of Lingam waiting for Padmanabhaswamy to wake up and watch His cosmic dance!  I felt truly blessed to perform this special piece in honor of Lord Vishnu and Shiva at the Shri Shiva Vishnu temple!

After a brief interval we proceeded with two padams - thumak chalathu, Saint Tusidas’ composition on Lord Rama as a charming baby; itu sahasamulu,  Maharaja Swati Thirunal’s composition describing a young bride who tries to figure out why her sweet heart is indifferent with her, while the husband enjoys all the attention she gives him in that process. I concluded my performance with the thillana in ragam Dhanashree, another composition of Maharaja Swati Thirunal.  What is said of the thillana is that the dancer dances in joy in rhythm with the temple bells and pleads to the dusk-colored Padmanabha to come and rescue her from her sorrows.  All I could think at that point was gratitude to the Lord who made my dream come true after twenty-some months of my plea to Him! As the mangalam was played, a composition of Sri Badrachala Ramadasu, I paid my obeisance and gratitude to Lord Nataraja, musicians who helped in the audio recording of my performance and to my beloved Guru, who conducted my arangetram gracefully! And, it was an arangetram in the truest sense;  I “ascended” on stage as an adult for the first time, without a rehearsal on stage!

Today as I write my experience in this little piece of article, words fall short, pages fall short!  In spite of numerous obstacles, I could pursue what I wished for because my passion for my dance was sincere and mattered more than anything else. The one message I would like to share here - I’m convinced that it is never late to pursue your ambitions as long as it is your own conviction! A very special thank you to Jeyanthi ma’m, as I fondly call her - she was the guiding light and gave unconditional support and motivation through this roller coaster of a ride!  “You are the reason for what I have achieved today!!”

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1. September 16, 2013 

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