Indian Dance a Rite of Passage Teens Reaffirm Culture with Bharat Natyam

Article excerpt

Like many recent high school graduates, Neha Adatia of Naperville is spending much of her time this summer preparing for college.

But the Waubonsie Valley High School graduate also is making last-minute preparations for another defining moment in her life.

On Saturday, she will take the stage in front of hundreds of fellow Hindus and perform the Bharat Natyam, an ancient Indian dance that blends elements of the sacred and the secular.

Under the tutelage of her "guru," Mrugakshi Patel, 18-year-old Neha has trained for almost 10 years to learn the precise movements and facial expressions that make up the elaborate dance.

Now, with her apprenticeship complete, she will "come out" in grand style - wearing the traditional dress of her homeland - as she performs the 10 movements of her Bharat Natyam.

"I like the energy in this part," Neha said after running through a portion of the dance in Patel's home studio. "I also like the fast footwork."

She added that the lengthy and exacting training for the dance has taught her dedication, perseverance - and brought her closer to her native culture.

At one time, the dance was only allowed in Hindu temples, Patel said.

But now that it is allowed outside the holy shrines, the Bharat Natyam performances have become religion-affirming events for Hindus all across America.

For instance, Neha will perform her dance at the Bartlett High School auditorium.

The dance itself lasts almost two hours and celebrates faith to a variety of Hindu gods, including Lord Ganesh, the destroyer of obstacles, and Lord Vinayak, who casts out evil spirits.

"It's not just a dance," Patel said. "It involves their religion and their culture."

She said the religious and cultural overtones of the dance are an important element for young Hindu women like Neha who were born and raised in the United States.

It's not that the girls are being taught to shun Western culture. Neha, for instance, said one of her favorite musical groups is the Irish rock trio U2.

But the dance, which is accompanied by traditional Indian music, exposes them to their ancestral past in an emotional and heartfelt way.

It also imparts religious rites, knowledge and skills they can later pass on to their own children to help keep the cultural rituals and traditions of India alive. …