Coming Back to Bharatnatyam in my 50s
At 54, I am the oldest student in my dance class. Fifteen years older than the next oldest student, a good five or six years older than the teacher. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and see my hair (now a great deal more grey than black), or momentarily forget the bursitis in my left hip and squat deeper than I should, I tell myself that I’m too old to be (re)learning Bharatnatyam, the centuries-old, classical South Indian dance form that combines complex footwork with evocative hand and eye gestures.
But do I care? No.
I love this dance. So much so that I am now taking two hour-long classes a week. I practice every day, more than once. I watch YouTube videos of great dancers, marveling at their technical virtuosity, their expressiveness. Increasingly, the rhythm of the Adavus (steps) and the cadence of the ancient verses that accompany the Hastas (hand and eye gestures) seem to set the pace of my days.
I was 10 years old when I first began learning Bharatnatyam. We were living in New Delhi at the time, in the same neighborhood as Yamini Krishnamurthy, one of India’s most accomplished dancers. I was older than most girls in my class but I was a fast learner. I continued to learn when my family moved to Geneva, studying on and off through my teens and into my early 20s with the wives of Indian diplomats and the daughters-in-law of Indian families settled nearby. My excuse for not continuing is the same as everyone else’s: Life got in the way. I’ve dallied with other dance forms through adulthood, such as ballet and African dance. But Bharatnatyam has always called my name.
Sometimes, I entertain the notion of becoming the oldest dancer to have her Arangetram, the solo debut performance that is the rite of passage for every Bharatnatyam dancer. But most days, I’m happy just dancing, enjoying the feel and the timbre of my feet on the wooden floor.