Classical Indian dancers perform in Bayonne

Traditional Hindu stories told through dance
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Bharatanatyam dancers perform at the Bayonne Public Library on Dec. 19.
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Bharatanatyam dancers perform at the Bayonne Public Library on Dec. 19.

The holiday season is a time of sharing and giving, both within families and among cultures. In ethnically diverse Hudson County, a trio of classical Indian dancers performed “Bharatanatyam” at the Bayonne Public Library on Dec. 19 to celebrate the holiday season in a performance titled “Joy of Giving.”

Krishnapriya Ramamoorthy of Bayonne, Karthi Veeramani of Jersey City, and La’Toya Latney of Philadelphia performed five dance pieces, including one set to violinist Lindsay Sterling’s rendition of “Carol of the Bells,” and an “invitation piece” that welcomes the audience to join. The dance form is a cosmic dance of the Lord Shiva, a Hindu god, and is traditionally performed by women. It uses expressive, fluid movements to convey emotion and meaning from stories. Hand gestures, postures, and facial expressions are core to the art form.

“The performance is a dialog between the performer and the audience.” — Karthi Veeramani

“We try to tell stories the community can connect with,” said Veeramani, who performed a dance that told the story of Krishna, a Hindu deity, overcoming a multi-headed snake called Kaliya. In the classic Hindu story, the snake’s heads represent human desires. As Krishna dances on the heads of the snake, some heads break off, but are replaced by new ones, symbolizing the perpetual cycle of human desire.

“The performance is a dialog between the performer and the audience,” Veeramani said. “Now [the audience] can imagine the snake and stories of moral choices.”

The three dancers, with a combined 51 years of experience, came together recently in the small, tight-knit Bharatanatyam dance community in New York City, where they study the dance form. Their performance at the Bayonne Public Library was their first together.

“The community reach of the library is more important to me than the commercial aspect,” said Ramamoorthy, who was an English teacher in India before moving to Hudson County. She is now pursuing Bharatanatyam fulltime.

Sharing their passion with the community

“I want to dance until the day I die and teach someone else to dance,” said Latney, a veterinary medicine academic at the University of Pennsylvania who commutes weekly to Manhattan to practice Bharatanatyam. Latney is not of Indian descent but was exposed to South Indian culture as a kid. “It just stuck,” she said.

“It’s important for everyone to learn dance. In terms of how you understand certain kinds of emotions, it enables you to express yourself fully,” said Ramamoorthy. “This classical dance form being so close to home, people have to see it because it’s a very beautiful way of expression. Dance is a form of expression for me.”

“Bharatanatyam” comes from several words. “Bharata” is a mnemonic word meaning emotion, feelings, melody, and rhythm. “Natyam” in Sanskrit means “dance.”

The performances are sometimes confused with Bollywood dance styles, which fuse elements of Western dances, belly-dancing, and Indian folk dance. The dancers are often confronted with the confusion.

“I get asked, ‘are you a Bollywood dancer,’ but that’s the worst comparison to what we do,” said Veeramani. “If you want to learn about a culture, go to the library. It’s right there.”

Rory Pasquariello can be reached at roryp@hudsonreporter.com

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