What dance has taught me

Dance debutante Yasheeka Patel on her Bharatanatyam takeaways

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The essence of Bharathanatyam is its inherent spirituality and though on the surface level, most people are taken in by the sheer beauty and glamour of the artform, it takes a deep sense of commitment to understand its core values. In her journey towards understanding this, Yasheeka Patel took her first few steps as ascended the stage in March this year, performing her arangetram (debut performance) at UNSW’s Science Theatre.

Yasheeka’s tryst with dance started at the age of five. She recounts, “My parents enrolled me in folk dancing and a year later, under the guidance of Aunty Savithri, I became a student of Bharatanatyam at the Vadhini Indian Arts Academy in Cape Town, South Africa.”

Her first guru Savithri Naidoo also addressed the gathering as guest of honour that evening.

An aspiring allied health professional, Yasheeka is currently in her second year, studying a Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Occupational Therapy at the University of Sydney. As an energetic nineteen-year-old, she’s not only a full-time student, but works part time while nurturing her passion for dance.

“Dance has played a huge role in my day-to-day life,” she asserts. “The rigours of training have taught me respect, discipline and perseverance, and have helped enhance my self-esteem and build confidence.”

Through dance, she has also formed very close friendships with other talented individuals who share her passion, she reveals. Yasheeka thanks her guru Padma Balakumar for nurturing, inspiring and moulding her into a dancer.

Evidence of her passion and hard work characterised Yasheeka’s repertoire for the evening as she started with a vibrant opening piece on the dancing Ganesha. Her jathiswaram in ragam Saraswathi was characterised by crisp jathis punctuated with a diverse range of chalam (walking back) which brought out guru Padma Balakumar’s variations in choreography. “The varnam (central piece) has to be my favourite,” claims Yasheeka as this was one of the first few pieces that she started learning for the arangetram and has seen it come a long way since then. That is one of the most satisfying aspects of any learning process. The satisfaction gained from the lift of the upward curve of learning cannot be measured in any manner. The procession of the lord, with the musicians and dancers accompanying as the nayika (heroine) waits in passing, was effectively presented; and the game of dice and the disrobing of Draupadi in the Kaurava court was beautifully brought to life both through dance and music.

The way in which one can explore beauty and express one’s creativity and imagination through movement, is what attracts Yasheeka to dance. This was portrayed in her graceful presentation of Shri Ramachandra, a Tulsidas bhajan, where the alternating reciting and singing of the verses by vocalists Prema and Sanjay added various layers of depth to the music and the dancing. Yasheeka’s vibrant energy was a highlight in the keerthanam ‘Aadum Deivam’ on the Lord of Dance, and her nimble abhinaya (interpretative dance) came to the forefront in the song ‘Jaya kamala’ presenting the beauty of the goddess through the lotus motif.

Reminiscing about a highlight that marked her arangetram, Yasheeka speaks of the power of music and the new understanding she gained about the interdependence of the two artforms. She eagerly watched both dance and music come together to bring stories to life during the lead up and final rehearsals with musicians. “Working with them and performing all of my dances that night, has to be the best part of this entire experience!” Yasheeka says, acknowledging the support of the admirable orchestra.

Yasheeka was supported by Prema Anadakrishnan and Sanjay Ramaswamy on vocals, Balaji Jagannadhan on the violin, Sivakumar Sethupathi on the mridangam and Venkhatesh Sritharan on the flute.

Bharathanatyam is not the only dance form that keeps Yasheeka on her toes. She has performed in numerous cultural, community, fundraising events and productions both in Cape Town and Sydney across a dance spectrum of folk, Bollywood and classical forms. Yasheeka has also choreographed Bollywood-style pieces for local community events, allowing her to explore her creativity more widely.

Dance is not merely a hobby that Yasheeka pursues or an artform that she learns. “Though it is centuries old, it never ceases to remain relevant,” she feels.

It is what keeps her rooted to her culture and traditions in a fast-paced world of change.