Sisters Strive to Educate Mainstream Art about Indian Dance


By TJ Gioconda

The Natyabhoomi School of Indian Dance, run by Deepti and Shruthi Mukund, teaches classical Indian styles of dance in the hopes their work will gain traction in the mainstream D.C. art community.

The school was founded by Deepti Mukund in 1994 when she immigrated to Washington, D.C. Her sister, Shruthi, joined her in 2001. Since then the sisters have fought to gain ground with new audiences by increasing their understanding of the art form.

The Washington Metropolitan Area’s Indian community is one of the largest in America. But there is a limited stage for exotic artistic groups to reach a mainstream audience, and a lot of competition for those few spots. The most successful groups don’t wait for audiences to find them. They reach out to show the public who they are.

“There are five classical dance types,” says Shruthi, “but for a non-Indian audience they are like, ‘What is that?’”

“If someone tells you, ‘I did violin for 12 years,’ you would understand. Where as you don’t know the dance forms these students are doing,” says Deepti.

Educating people about Indian dance is just as complex as other more contemporary dance forms such as ballet and tap, but it also requires explaining the origins and history surrounding it.

In addition to the sisters’ efforts to educate others about Indian dance forms, they also labor to integrate with others in the performance community.

“The thing is, we didn’t know anything about the arts world. So if somebody here went to school they would automatically know there is funding and the county gives you money and there are different ways you can apply for grants,” says Shruthi.

To assist the community in networking their abilities the sisters are part of the Indian Dance Educators Association. This group brings together experts in the various classical styles of Indian dance to serve the greater good of the community.

The association hosts artist and community outreach events such as their recent artist meet-and-greet at the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C. on April 12th.

With events like these the sisters hope to start a dialogue about Indian dance by presenting the various classical Indian dances.

Caption

Praveen Kumar demonstrates Bharathanatyam, an ancient Indian dance style, at the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C. , on April 12, 2013. The event was held by the Indian Dance Educators Association in hopes to educate and expand the dancing community. (American Observer/TJ Gioconda)

These educational efforts by both the studio and the association are seen as a stepping stone for the association. The Mukund sisters want to not only educate others, but gain the vital networking opportunities they need to reach newer audiences across the D.C. area.

“Most of our audiences are the students’ parents. We do two shows a year and we are expecting them to pay for the auditorium, pay for the tickets and for the audience,” says Shruthi, “So there’s something wrong there.”

In spite of these challenges, it does seem that their dancing is gaining popularity. Students from the Natyabhoomi Dance Studio have performed at such highly-attended events as the National Cherry Blossom Festival and Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which attract millions of people each year.

“Even for an Indian who knows nothing about Indian classical dance,” says Deepti, “I don’t want them to just sit there and say, ‘Oh, pretty.’”

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