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Natyalaya 40th Anniversary Alumni Reunion: A Student Perspective

Aparna Raman

I first heard of Natyalaya and the charismatic Vinitha Subramaniam as a grad student at UT. Little did I know that Vinitha Aunty and the extended Natyalaya community would become my proxy family. I started teaching at Natyalaya after I graduated from UT in 2000. I still lived on campus, and classes were held at the Art Auditorium on UT campus. 

Performances were plenty at the time, including annual recitals, as well as Barsana Dham performances and UT’s Tamil Cultural Association events we participated in. We even performed Aadi Kondar at the Buddhist temple which boasted a very unique stone-paved outdoor space. A few years later, classes moved to the Asian American Cultural center, and we added several new batches of students now that we had more space. So lovely to spend my evenings being surrounded by dance and music and choreography!

Come summer, camps and arangetrams took over our schedule. We had various gurus from India come and teach our students—everything from dance theory, to conditioning and nattuvangam. Arangetram practices were set to live music with orchestra often coming all the way from India, with excellent support from local Austin artistes. And the food—our Natyalaya families took it upon themselves to feed campers and orchestra members, and we were treated to such delicious culinary fare over the summer! 

A favorite memory from that time is the 2 Faces of Shiva program. The first half was a reimagined version of the traditional Roopamujoochi Varnam performed to live music. The second half was our debut of Antariksha, choreographed and taught as part of the 2005 summer camp by Shri. Narendra Kumar. The production featured fast rhythmic patterns, creative jatis, and a visual treat of choreography. Needless to say, the group had worked hard to be super coordinated. During the first act, there was an issue with the AV system and we lost audio. We restarted the performance and did it all over again and the audience was so delighted. 

Hard to believe that was nearly 20 years ago and Natyalaya is turning 40. So many memories, stories and highs over 4 decades and I feel so privileged to be a part of its history. Here’s to the next 40!

Natyalaya 40th Anniversary Alumni Reunion: A Student Perspective

Vinu Ilakkuvan

I feel so fortunate to have fallen into the hands of Natyalaya and Vinitha Aunty during a truly formative time in my life and Bharatanatyam journey. My family moved from Virginia to Austin the summer after sixth grade, and – though I didn’t know it at the time – would move back to Virginia again a mere five years later. 

It is amazing to me in retrospect that I only spent 5 years at Natyalaya and in Texas – it feels a lot longer, because of how much that time shaped me, how much the people meant to me, and how much my appreciation and love for the artform grew during those years. 

When I first started, classes took place in a UT Austin classroom – I can still picture the space, with the many rising rows of desks and a small strip of floor space at the bottom where we’d dance. I remember my mom driving me all the way downtown and Vinitha Aunty coming to class straight from work, often still in business clothes, and then driving all the way home to Temple afterwards. I always marveled at Aunty’s dedication to dance and her students. I remember my mom (in typical Amma fashion) getting increasingly worried about whether and how and when Vinitha Aunty was eating dinner. So Amma began bringing a to-go box of homecooked food to class for Aunty to take home with her.  

I remember dancing with Kanaka, Pavithra, Geetha, Aparna, Seema, Shanti, and/or Vinitha Aunty (among many others), depending on the performance – and there were so many of them and in so many places. We danced outdoors at the Buddhist temple, indoors in Barasana Dham, and at so many temples and cultural festivals and cities across the state – we still have dozens of camcorder tapes in a cardboard box in my parents house from those years. Hopefully at some point we will get around to digitizing them and can share them with everyone 🙂 

I remember before my Arangetram, as I was battling my nerves, Vinitha Aunty telling me, “As long as you have fun out there, so will the audience.” It’s a piece of advice I’ve repeated to myself, and others, many times over the years, and not just for dance performances. 

The thing I remember most about Natyalaya though, and the thing that most sets it apart from my Bharatanatyam experiences both before and after, is the sheer amount of creativity and choreography and FUN that was involved. I still tell people about how I’d have classes with Vinitha Aunty where we’d learn a dance as she choreographed it on the spot – I’ve never experienced that since! 

Natyalaya has never limited itself – we danced to everything from film songs to folk songs to instrumental pieces, along with the more traditional set of classical songs. And the school has continued to tell stories that range from Hindu mythology to Disney films and everything in between. The breadth and depth of Natyalaya productions over the years is truly impressive, and a testament to the creativity of Vinitha Aunty, Kanaka, and the many others involved. It’s also something I’ve grown to appreciate even more with distance, because it is – at least in my experience – so atypical in the world of Bharatanatyam! 

I am deeply grateful to Vinitha Aunty and the Natyalaya family for fostering in me a love and appreciation for Bharatanatyam and art and performing during such a formative time in my life. Here’s to the last 40 years and many more to come!

Natyalaya 40th Anniversary Alumni Reunion: A Student Perspective

Shragvi Balaji

Natyalaya School of Dance has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From attending the many Natyalaya arangetrams that my father accompanied for on the mridangam, to beginning classes at Natyalaya at the age of 8, to performing in front of hundreds of people during my arangetram in 2017, I have had the fortune of experiencing a plethora of unforgettable experiences and milestones at Natyalaya.

The skill with which Srimathi Vinitha Subramanian — who was not only the founder of this school but also my guru — balanced encouragement of my passion with necessary critique of technical aspects in such an effortlessly impressive manner is something that has always left me in awe. Even on days that were difficult, when I would come into class tired and unsure of myself, Vinitha aunty would make sure to cheer me up so that by the end of the class, nothing could take away my smile and confidence. She skillfully navigated the complex task of teaching such an ancient temple art, maintaining tradition while encouraging innovation at the same time through the variety of Natyalaya productions I had the opportunity to be involved in throughout the years.

Today, I continue Bharatanatyam though involvement in dance camps, teaching pieces at the Natyalaya studio, and performing at competitions with my university dance team, because this art has simply become an inherent part of my identity — and I must express my immense gratitude to Natyalaya School of Dance, and especially to Smt Vinitha Subramanian, for without her, I would not be where I am today in my dance journey. With this, I am honored and proud to be a part of Natyalaya’s 40th anniversary celebrations this year.

Natyalaya 40th Anniversary Alumni Reunion: A Student Perspective

Inchara Kashyap

“Alaya” meaning abode in Sanskrit, implies “Natyalaya”, the home for dance, is such an apt name for our dynamic and vibrant dance school founded by Smt. Vinitha Subramanian. Natyalaya is not just a dance institution; it is a beacon of passion, love and empathy, deeply anchored in Indian cultural and traditional values. Guru Vinitha stands tall like a majestic tree, her vast knowledge forming a canopy that generously offers shade of wisdom to her students. Lucky and blessed are the students who have flourished under the guidance and care of such a nurturing mother.

The pillar of Natyalaya, Guru Smt. Kanaka Sathasivan, diligently stewards the dance school’s legacy and excellence with unwavering commitment. I had the distinct privilege of being Kanaka akka’s first arangetram student in 2018. My arangetram was a meticulously orchestrated celebration, manifesting the results of her relentless dedication. The choreography for each of my dances by Kanaka akka emerged as a masterpiece, earning significant applause.

One of the most heart touching moments of my arangetram was the cherished tradition of Natyalaya, where the guru bestows the nose ring upon the shishya. I was profoundly honored to receive it from Kanaka akka.

My family and I extend our heartfelt gratitude to Guru Smt. Vinitha and Guru Smt. Kanaka for imparting to me the invaluable education in bharatanatyam and bestowing upon us an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. It fills me with immense pride and profound emotions to be a part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of Natyalaya!

New Locations & New Semester at the Natyalaya School of Dance

We are happy to announce that we will soon be opening up new locations of the Natyalaya School of Dance in both the Leander and Round Rock areas!

Classes will be 8-sessions long and will start in Leander on October 8 at 12 PM and end on December 17th (excluding Thanksgiving Break) for students. We will be offering both beginner-level and intermediate-level classes for new batches of students. The address for the new location in Leander is 300 N Bagdad Rd, Leander, TX 78641, at the Dance Academy and Ballet Academy North.

Natyalaya uniforms can be purchased during the first couple of classes and once bought, students should come to every class wearing their uniform, a dupatta, and a bindi. Students should also bring a water bottle, a binder with paper or a notebook to write notes in, and a pencil. Throughout the class, students are taught dance theory, hand gestures, and new material that they can recap in their notebooks for later reference.

It is important that students arrive on time because classes will begin with 5-10 minutes of stretches. It is important to always stretch before dancing because it allows the muscles to be warmed. After we stretch, we always do the Bhumi Namaskar before and after dancing to seek blessing from our guru and to say sorry to Mother Earth for stomping on her, and then say our prayers. Once both stretches and the Namaskaram are complete, dances and steps from the last class are revised and new material is taught. During the last 10 minutes of class, students in new classes will be taught new hand gestures- asamyukta hastas (single-hand gestures) and samyukta hastas (double-hand gestures)-, will write notes and the homework from that class in their notebooks, and will do the Bhumi Namaskar again.

It is very important that students practice at home what they have learned in class because future classes will be built upon what was already taught. Beginner students should practice at home for at least 15-20 minutes per day and intermediate level students should practice for at least 30 minutes-1 hour per day.

We look forward to meeting you all and are excited to start off a new semester at the Natyalaya School of Dance! 

Natyalaya Vijayadashami Celebration

Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra or Dasara, is a major Hindu festival celebrated at the end of Navratri. It marks the triumph of Lord Rama over Ravana, the ten-headed demon who abducted Rama’s wife, Sita.

Vijayadashami is celebrated all across India in multiple different ways. 

In South India, Durga—the Hindu goddess of strength and motherhood—is worshiped, major temples and forts are lit up in Mysore (a major hub for Vijayadashami celebrations), and many households host Golus (the festive display of dolls and figurines). Additionally, it has been a common tradition in South India to also dedicate this festival to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, learning, music, and the arts. During Saraswathi Puja, which occurs the day before Vijayadashami, many households clean and worship their books, instruments, and tools and avoid doing any work to pay their respects to both Goddess Durga and Goddesses Saraswati. Then on Vijayadashami, they practice their arts and work. 

In West India, people fast, go to the temple to pray, wear new clothes, and participate in Garba and Dandiya Raas, regional dances originating from the state of Gujarat. Additionally, many farmers plant their crops on the day that Vijayadashami (also known as Dussehra in many north and west Indian states) occurs because it is believed to have an important association with agricultural activities. 

In North India, Vijayadashami is celebrated in honor of Rama, and many theatrical performances that tell the Ramayana and Ramlila are hosted in the historically important Hindu cities of Ayodhya, Varanasi, Vrindavan, Almora, Satna, and Madhubani. Additionally, large statues of Ravana are burnt on this day to honor the triumph of Lord Rama over Ravana. 

Natyalaya School of Dance is hosting a Vijayadashami celebration on October 7th from 6-8 pm at the studio where all students are welcome to join us for prayers and can bring prasad in the form of flowers and fruits! Vijayadashami is an auspicious day to practice your art or work and is also considered a good day to start new lessons or gain a new teacher.