On junctures of dance, diaspora and critical questions
One of my very first childhood memories is that of my first dance lesson in Sri Lanka: we went to visit my mother's guru Kamala Ms in Batticaloa and she took over the class to help out. In awe with the girls and enchanted by the subtle sounds of the little silver anklets, I was thrilled when my mother asked me to join for the very first time. I remember starring down at my feet and being in wonder with what they could do. I was four years old. From then on it has been a long journey of training in the neighbourhood community halls in Berlin, where we have built a Bharatanatyam school for over 30 years. At the time of a raging war in the home country of our families, the school at the time was not only a dance school, but one of the self-organized spaces for the Tamil community, here especially for the women. That the space remains a space of dance and song, without politics, has been always of utmost importance. We performed regularly for different occasions, as well as the regular school programs and the Arangetrams of the students. I performed my around four hour long solo debut (Arangetram) with a live orchestra when I was 16 at the Museum of Ethnology Berlin and later accompanied several other students through their Arangetram process. A very important personal moment of those years has been a solo performance evening choreographed by my teacher in Batticaloa in 2008, which was reinvited at the Eastern Universty. Stories of dance, migration and home-coming intertwine in all these experiences. There were also grass-roots nationwide competitions in Germany, being an opportunity to witness and meet other Sri Lankan- /Indian-German dancers. The school conducts the theory and practice exams with the Oriental Fine Art Academy of London. Further, advanced students learn to teach and play the Nattuvangam cymbals. I continously consider it a blessing to have grown up in this dance community and assist in building and growing the school as a meeting point for dance and a space for community and friendship.
It might be useful to mention, that Sri Lanka and India share their cultural and religious practices - their histories are deeply connected. Indeed many of the Sri Lankan cultural practices are of course unique to the island, but to seperate it entirely in the name of a separate nationhood, might protect their differences, but harms what they share. Bharatanatyam is said to have originated in the South of India. The Sri Lankan Tamil people share their cultural practices with Indian Tamils (and more) and so Bharatanatyam is also part of the culture of the Sri Lankan Tamils, as well as their diasporas.
After decades of training and engaging with the beauty and richness of the form, by going on to study and understanding the history and socio-political context of Bharatanatyam, its comeplexities and also problems, with time, my relationship to the dance has transformed in an ongoing process of re-positioning, questioning, critically reflecting, dancing, pausing, being in stillness, trying out and letting go.