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Anuradha Naimpally On Finding Creativity, Balance, and Collaboration as Dance Performer and Educator

When I have to discover an emotional reservoir to tap into while playing a role in a dance, I often find that place within my role as mom.

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Anuradha has been performing worldwide for over 25 years. In 1989 she was awarded the prestigious Jacqueline LeMieux Prize by the Canada Council, making her the only Indian classical dancer to receive this high honor. She was bestowed the title of Sringar Mani, “Artistic Jewel”, in Bombay after her performance at the Kal-Ke-Kalakaar Festival in 1990. Anuradha is also an active performer and collaborator in Austin today and also continues to renew her ties with the Canadian dance scene.
Both a popular performer and teacher, Anuradha teaches classes and directs diverse cultural projects through her organization, Austin Dance India, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011. Along with performing and teaching, Anuradha is passionate about arts in education. She conducts assembly performances on Indian dance and culture in Central Texas schools and libraries. She is a selected artist with the Texas Commission on the Arts and Mid-America Arts Alliance. With a B.A.


Can you tell us a little bit about the style of dance you do? How does it differ from western dance?

The style of dance I do is Bharata Natyam. It is an ancient form that comes from the southern part of India. It is different from western dance forms in many ways. Its origins are found within the Hindu temples where it was performed as a part of the daily ceremonies by a group of artists who were dedicated to dance and music. It was an idyllic social system that was supported by the patron kings. This system deteriorated over time and the art has evolved in function and venue. Today, as a theater art, it is performed on the stage for ticketed patrons but in many ways still maintains its spiritual roots. Many themes and conventions that we perform often pay homage to Hindu mythology and to this ancient lineage.

Technically, it is grounded and geometric in lines—an aesthetic that reflects traditional ideas of beauty. It involves stamping of the feet rhythmically on the floor and is performed in traditional costume. Western dance approaches space quite differently than we do in Bharata Natyam. Rather than using locomotion to move the body through space, as done in Ballet or Modern dance, we sculpt the space around the body so that it does not require large performance area. After all, the ancient temple sanctums are pretty small spaces!

I do have to say that the technique, themes, and even costumes have been ever evolving as the art form has been thrown across borders into a variety of different cultural and temporal backdrops. Although I maintain integrity in my technique, it is a living tradition that I have used to express contemporary themes and aesthetics. That is how a tradition survives this long for thousands of years—practitioners adapt!

How did you get into dance? What was your childhood like?

My childhood was filled with music and dance because my parents both loved classical Indian music and dance to the point where there was always music playing in our home. We also hosted numerous world class musicians in our home when they came into town to perform for events organized by my parents. My mom sings and composes poetry and songs and my dad played a bit of the Indian drum, tabla. They often sat down together informally to try out my mom’s songs or just enjoy playing music together. So the environment I grew up in was very creative and encouraging.

My parents supported my interest in dance. I studied some Ballet, Jazz, and Tap when I was young and then got into Indian styles later as I entered my teens. When we moved to India a couple of times, they sought out teachers for me and made sure I was able to continue learning some kind of dance. I have two brothers who were also very much into music and today my younger brother, Ravi, is a full time musician. He is a tabla player and composer working on his PhD in Music Composition. My older brother, Shiv, has a day job career but is a semi-professional tabla player.

What do you love most about dancing?

What I love most about dancing is that it connects me with spirit. Dance, for me, expresses beauty and joy so it becomes a moving meditation. As I’ve become a mature dancer, I always feel a strong sense that I am doing what I was meant to do with my life. This has led to a profound sense of peace deep within myself. I feel utterly blessed to be able to do what I do. I could not do it without the support of my wonderful family, and in particular, my husband, Sadu.

What do you like least?

I think the thing I like least is getting into the elaborate costume each time I go out on stage. It takes some time to put it on and sometimes jewelry or pins will fall off during a performance! I often modify it to suit the performance situation so that I don’t have to wear all the parts!

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Can you tell us more about Austin Dance India? How did it start? How did it grow?

Austin Dance India started in my garage back in 1989. As a dancer, I had decided early on that I wanted to maintain a balance between everything: my family, my teaching commitments and my own creative work and performing. Today, I teach at two studios and still have a vibrant performing career. Along the way I made a conscious decision to grow Austin Dance India into a program that would nurture the passion of dance in young students and teach life skills through this process. It has grown only because we have a reputation for high quality teaching. We have also gained the respect of the critics and public for our productions, some of which have won “Best of” awards.

I never really wanted a huge academy so I don’t advertise my classes. I teach all my classes when I am in town. I have a wonderful group of students who are sincere and passionate. Word of mouth brings new students when there are slots available. It’s just enough.

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What have been the challenges of running Austin Dance India. Do any valuable lessons to share?

Some of the challenges of running Austin Dance India have been finding time for all the administrative tasks, publicity, and trying to delegate some tasks to volunteers. As an artist, I have had to learn some of these jobs along the way, how to manage ADI as an organization and wear all the hats. Sometimes I feel like it takes time away from my creative work but it all ends up working out!

How has being a mom influenced your work (what you created)? How did it change your work process (the way you created it)?

Being a mom has definitely influenced my work. Both my son and daughter have been inspirations for pieces of work that I have created. When I have to discover an emotional reservoir to tap into while playing a role in a dance, I often find that place within my role as mom.

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I have always sought a balance between family life and my creative work so I did less weekday evening events that would take me away from them as they were growing up.. In fact, I took up a position teaching movement in the public schools so I would be busy during their school days and have the same days off. I also stopped touring too much unless they could go with me. I would often take them with me to local rehearsals and meetings so they hung out and did homework in the studio. Now that they are adults, things have changed. I have taken on more creative work without time constraints. And I have started touring again quite a bit.

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You often collaborate with your daughter. What is her role in your work and how is working with her?

My daughter, Purna, is one of favorite collaborators because she is totally honest with me, always has my back, and really just gets it. She plays many roles! She teaches classes, runs rehearsals, choreographs dances, performs professionally with me, announces during our student showcase, and even fills in for me in other professional ensembles in which I perform.

Both my son, Rishi, who is an accomplished drummer and has formed a band, and Purna, have grown up in and around the dance studio and behind the scenes at performances so they have imbibed much of what it means to be a performing artist.

When Purna and I dance together, there is an ease and comfort level that is hard to match. We move very similarly to the point where people often say we look identical on stage. We have also toured a mother-daughter production that has brought it all to another level.

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Do you have any advice for those who want to start an organization in
the arts?

Work hard with discipline, be passionate, keep your own standards high, and put your creative work out there with good intent. Success will definitely follow. I am a strong believer that the universe listens when you are doing work you are passionate about with integrity.

Fill in the blank
If I had a super power it would be to create peace in the world.
If I weren’t a dancer, I’d be a healer.
My biggest source of inspiration is the beauty around me.
If I had an extra 2 hours in the day I would cook an amazing meal!

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