Of English Majors and Bharatanatyam Dancers
The Power of Storytelling Shines Bright in Both Disciplines
by Ashwini Sivaganesh
uring the majority of my tenure at the University of Pittsburgh, I spent sleepless nights at my college newspaper, surrounded by storytellers while trying to make an impact as one myself. After four years, I left Pittsburgh, paper in hand, proving that I had some credibility regarding storytelling – specifically nonfiction writing. I didn’t start college anticipating to deep dive into the world of English, but after thinking about it, it seems only natural that I gravitated back to what I’d already been doing for several years. As a Bharatanatyam dancer, the core of our performances is storytelling, just not in the traditional sense. Rather than taking pen to paper, it’s about depicting narratives through facial expressions (bhava), hand gestures (mudra) and body movement (natya) – a unique combination of mime and movement.
As a Bharatanatyam dancer, the core of our performances is story telling, just not in the traditional sense.
I remember during my Arangetram practices, I was challenged by my Guru to interweave personal experiences and imagination to figure out how I would take the tale told in the lyrics and translate that into dance. This brought in my own interpretation to the dance, which is important to the evolution of a dancer in his or her professional career. The personal frames of reference I used in understanding the narrative and thereafter dancing for my arangetram, helped make my margam unique. This process can be similar to cooking – even when two people follow the same recipe, the results can vary depending on the cook’s touch. This experimenting is definitely easier said than done, but quite fulfilling when you connect with even one audience member, who is moved by your performance.
Storytelling has existed from the beginning of mankind, even before words, through art and movement. And an art form such as Bharatnatyam helps bring out what we are already naturally inclined to do.
(Ashwini Sivaganesh is a graduate of Tala Shruti. She finished her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh and is currently working in New York City. She mentors students at Tala Shruti.)