Anushree Gupta ’18 Explores Ancestry Through Indian Classical Dance

Donning a purple patterned chunni, a long traditional Indian scarf, with bells attached around her feet, Anushree Gupta ’18 danced with rhythmic footwork and graceful spins to traditional Indian music in the style of kathak, a form of Indian classical dance that tells a story. In an interview with The Phillipian, Gupta described her duet performance in her first professional Indian classical dance show, “Shakti,” that was held this fall at Roxbury Community College in Boston. Prior to the show, she and her dance company, Chhandika, worked for a year on the pieces that they performed at the show.

“The show was called ‘Shakti,’ which means strength, especially the power of women… so dance is not just a graceful sport, or something that doesn’t involve strength or energy, but also a sport that requires rigorous practice and devotion. The duet I had was with my closest friend. I’ve danced with her my entire dance career for 11 years. We’ve been dancing together, so we know how each other dances, and we can sync up really well,” said Gupta.

Although Gupta initially began dancing ballet and tap dancing when she was three years old, she switched to Indian classical dance at the age of five after seeing her first Indian classical dance performance. Gupta’s 11 years of Indian classical dance experience has enabled her to connect to her Indian ancestry, as a lot of Indian classical dance is based on the Hindu gods and goddesses and focuses on embodying Hindu deities through dance.

“In terms of my identity, it’s been a lot about being able to not show off, but being able to present what I’m good at in front of other people and a lot about learning because the dance involves so much about religion and culture. I’ve learned a lot about the Hindu culture, which I wouldn’t have learned without doing dance, so it connects me a lot to my ancestors,” said Gupta.

Indian classical dance features a diverse range of rhythms, footwork, and movements derived from Hindu traditions. Through these essential parts of Indian classical dance, Gupta has learned to express herself more easily and openly in front of an audience.

“When I was younger, I used to be afraid of doing things in front of other people. [Through Indian classical dance] I have been able to show expression really well for dance such as facial expression using neck, eyes, eyebrows, and smiles, [which] allowed me to become better at interacting with other people or even showing life and expression when talking in front of a group of people,” said Gupta.

Gupta derives the most inspiration from her dance teacher, the founder of her dance company.

“She used to get discriminated against a lot because she was a white woman doing Indian classical dance, and that was a new concept. People were like ‘Oh, she’s white. She’s not going to be that great at it,’ but she then became so interested in it that she started her own company. Now her entire life’s based around it, and she treats all her kids with the same respect no matter what race they are, and she always pushes us to practice,” said Gupta.