Dedicated to Indian Dance: Mihika Sridhar ’16 Creates Cultural Exchange

**Sridhar performed at last winter’s solo DanceLabs.**

Dressed in dark red, gold and orange fabrics, Mihika Sridhar ’16 nervously took center stage at IndoPak’s Diwali/Eid festival during her Junior year. With little time to second-guess herself, a familiar song began to play and Sridhar slipped into rhythm with the music, taking precise steps and creating crisp hand motions. Sridhar recalled how nervous she felt when she was about to perform her solo in the dance style called bharatanatyam.
Following in the footsteps of her mother, aunts and cousins who all dance, Sridhar started dancing bharatanatyam when she was five years old. A South Indian dance form, bharatanatyam consists of two main parts: nritta, the dance’s hand and foot motions, and abhinaya, the facial expressions, which aim to tell a story that is complementary to the dance and song. The songs for bharatanatyam dances are typically about the various Hindu gods.

“I think what’s unique about [bharatanatyam] is how technical it is. It’s more rigid and structured than other types of dance. And the reason why I’ve been learning it for so long is that I could have the basics, in terms of form, perfect. However, for me, [abhinaya] is tougher to master, because it’s really just like acting. So I’m telling a mythological story through my face and my actions so that the audience can understand. The coming together of [nritta and abhinaya] is what I think makes [bharatanatyam] really special,” said Sridhar.

For Sridhar, studying bharatanayam has allowed her to keep in touch with her Indian heritage.

“[Dancing] is great because it keeps me connected to my culture. I was born in the US, and my parents came here when they were going to college, and even though I do visit India somewhat often, it’s hard for me to keep in touch with my cultural roots. So dance is a great way for me to stay connected to a lot of things like my religion, my culture and my family,” said Sridhar.

Over time, Sridhar has grown to be more confident with this connection and takes the stage with far fewer nerves than she had Junior year.

“When I was younger, I was always really nervous to perform or show people that I [danced] because I was afraid they wouldn’t be appreciative or supportive since we come from a pretty homogenous community in terms of America,” said Sridhar. “But I think definitely a big monumental moment was when I realized that people other than me actually did appreciate my art form, and that people did appreciate watching me and loved seeing me on stage as much as I loved dancing.”

In addition to confidence, bharatanatyam has taught Sridhar skills beyond just dance moves. Sridhar’s teacher, with whom she takes two hour lessons twice a week outside of school, has been instrumental in this education.

“I’ve learned how to be disciplined, how to work for things and just a lot about myself, like how I work. And my teacher is amazing. What’s special about her is that she’s really demanding. In order to meet her expectations, I have to work hard. Her approval means a lot to me, because I’ve known her for so long, and we’re both working to make me a better dancer and student,” said Sridhar.

Sridhar is currently preparing for a summer solo performance called an Arangetram. Similar to a graduation in that it signifies a certain level of seniority in bharatanatyam, this performance is a culmination of the hard work that has characterized Sridhar’s dance career.

“[An Arangetram] is a repertoire of all sorts of different items. An item is a song that I dance to for around six to twelve minutes. Some items are longer than others with the feature piece, a Varnam, being around half an hour in length and the most demanding and comprehensive piece in the Arangetram. In total, I’m going to be dancing for three and a half hours,” said Sridhar.

“It’s intense, so it requires a lot of practice. Not only do I have to learn the items, I also have to perfect them, make sure my form is correct and make sure my expressions and storytelling ability are clear and emotional. Just like any other dance form, really, I have to feel the dance and do it justice,” continued Sridhar.

In addition to preparing for her Arangetram and other smaller, off-campus shows, Sridhar continues to seek performance opportunities on campus. As a board member of IndoPak, she always dances at the club’s annual Diwali/Eid festival in the fall and for the Asian Arts Talent Show in the spring. This past winter she also performed a number for the solo DanceLabs, and this upcoming spring she has a routine in Dance Open.

“One of the main reasons I love performing on campus is that I get to share some of my culture with the community on campus. Art and beauty exist in so many different forms, and part of the benefit of attending Andover is that I have the opportunity to introduce a few of those forms to others and be appreciated for it,” said Sridhar.