Natyalaya 40th Anniversary Alumni Reunion: A Student Perspective – Vinu Ilakkuvan

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!