In small studio off the Carlisle Pike, Rachita Menon, owner of the Rasika School of Dance, paced back and forth, watching five of her intermediate students weave in and out of formation performing a tribute to Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-headed god of fortune and success.
Noting the key elements of the traditional south Indian dance style “Bharatanatyam,”
Menon followed the rhythmic movement of their limbs, necks and eyes. She paid close attention to their facial expressions. Looking down, she nodded at their strong stomping footwork, an important detail as the dancers wear bells around their ankles when performing.
Menon has about 75 students, dancers anywhere from age 5 to adult. Right now, she and her dancers are busy gearing up for one of their biggest performances yet, which takes place this month. “Dakshina—A Token” will mark the school’s 10th anniversary with 10 Bharatanatyam dance numbers to 10 gods.
Bharatanatyam dances revolve around the descriptions or stories of deities in Hindu mythology. Menon said she would compare the style, in terms of influence and reputation, to the west’s ballet.
“This is a very prominent style in India and just like any 5-year-old here would love to be a ballerina, you would find young girls starting training in Bharatanatyam,” Menon said.
Menon immigrated to the United States from southern India in 2002 and opened Rasika in 2008 after deciding, despite holding a master’s degree in biochemistry and nutrition, that dance was her passion. She credits the school with giving her dancers confidence, focus and a healthy athletic outlet.
Because she believes dancers make the most improvement when they have an appreciative audience, she named her school “Rasika,” a Sanskrit name that means to “appreciate” or “enjoy.” At “Dakshina,” she most wants the audience to see the dance of Lord Shiva, the god of dance. It is one of her favorite dances, she said, because of Shiva’s costuming — he wears a crescent moon on his head and a tiger’s skin.
Menon also said that she is excited for the dancers to perform because the costumes and makeup used in the performances are very dramatic, as is tradition for this dance style in India. She added that her students will get to show how much brainpower the art involves.
“Some of the dances they learn could be 30 minutes long—involving technique, expression, memorization of the song and memorization of the choreography,” Menon said.
Her students are equally as excited.
“I started dancing because it runs in my family—my mom did it,” said Anoushka Nambiar, Rachita’s 15-year-old daughter and student. “After I started learning, it became one of my passions quickly.”
Nambiar also said that Bharatanatyam is an art she and her friends wish more people would appreciate, explaining that, while it’s gained more traction over the past few years, it is still a style of dance many in central PA are are unfamiliar with.
“We’ve all worked really hard,” another student, 16-year-old Savita Madhankumar, said. “We’re just excited to have an audience experience what we’ve been experiencing for the past few months.”
“Dakshina—A Token” will be held Aug. 11 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Grace Milliman Pollock Performing Arts Center in Camp Hill. For tickets, call 717-418-5212. For more information about the Rasika School of Dance, visit www.rasikadance.com.