Gaurangi Priya Gopal
I can clearly remember the first Bharata-natyam dance performance I watched. I was sitting cross-legged in the front row in the upstairs cultural room of the Devasadhan Mandir in Detroit, Michigan. Sudha Chandrashekar was there with some of her dance students. But who I remember the most from that day was a lady named Clara, an American born with white skin like mine. She was dressed impeccably in a purple-blue dance outfit, and she danced to Jagjit’s song dedicated to Srila Prabhupada. When she began dancing, my heart stopped and I was completely mesmerized. The memory of it still brings me close to swooning, as I felt as if my heart was being squeezed. I thought of those dancers for days, the way they moved their feet to the enchanting music.
Soon after that performance, Clara started teaching at my school how to act out, with mudras (hand gestures), verses from the Bhagavad-Gita. Her patience, joy, and expression made a deep impression on me. Shortly after the performance, I began formal dance classes with the world renowned dancer, Srimati Sudha Chandrashekar.
Thus began my love affair with Bharata-natyam. I continued with Sudha for four solid years. Those years gave me a strong foundation, and instilled within me a deep dedication to the art. I have had different teachers over the years, but found Hemavathi Sharma of Nritya School of Indian Dance in Kansas City when I was 20-years-old. With her I took my dance to a professional level and completed my arangetram, solo dance debut. After moving to North Carolina, I had the gracious tutelage of Veena Argade and her school Nritya-bharati in Greensboro.
I have also had the privilege of studying under the esteemed dance masters, the Dhananjayans during their dance camp in Yogaville, Virginia. Their precise instructions and dedication to the Bharata-natyam art form, were inspiring and a huge boost in my own dance practice.
In October of 2006, after recieving the blessings of my different Gurus (teachers), my dance school Prema Natya Vidyalaya performed it’s first official dance performance for the Govardhana-puja and Diwali celebrations at the New Goloka Temple in Hillsborough, NC. Teaching dance has taken it to a much deeper level for me. I now have to imbibe the very soul of a dancer, and with the patience, joy, and dedication of my previous teachers, pass this beautiful art to the dancers of tomorrow. It is a profound honor to teach Bharata-natyam to others.