Indian Classical Dance Conference in Maryland - March 25, 2007 
- Rani David, Maryland 
Photos: Shonali Roy Photography
June 21, 2007 

When Indian classical dance is recognized as the most ancient dance style, when Bharatanatyam is gaining a global platform with more than 250 dance institutions in USA alone, when dance exponents are concentrating in displaying their own productions, when dance gurus are rampaging over differences in Bharatanatyam styles, Maryland was privileged to have its first Dance Conference organized by Shobha Subramaniam and the elite Jayamangala, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, propagating and preserving traditional Indian arts.  
No visa hassle, no travel agent, no missing suitcases, no accommodation hassles, no heat waves, and above all absolutely free.  It was offered on a golden plate true to the saying 'if Mohamed cannot come to the mountains, the mountains will go to Mohamed.'  With six of my best students, I just returned from a very successful trip to South India, giving performances, taking lessons, and more importantly attending the first dance festival organized by Music Academy.  Even though the enormous amount spent on the India trip is justifiable, it was an unbelievable enchanting feast to have a dance conference in USA utilizing the best of the local talents, the content and knowledge enormity far surpassing even the Chennai festival. 

In the vividly colored brochure, Shobha's opening line stated that this conference was organized as a 'humble' attempt to bring together experts in the field of Indian classical dance from across the DC metropolitan area.  It was indeed an amazing participation of well-chosen topics and respective gurus. In sync with the humility of rendition, one could feel the vibration of hard work that each and everyone one in the Jayamangala family had put together.  While Shobha and her son Ashwin, niece Divya, and sister-in-law Sandhya shared the stage with others, other family members were on their toes attending to every little detail, even providing free lunch at this day-long conference. 

Being an avid reader and observer in the dance media both in India and USA, most often lecture-demos are only a dignified coffee break, like the songs and fights of the silver screen.  But this dance conference was different.  It focused not only on unusual topics in Bharatanatyam but also included aspects of Manipuri, Odissi, and Kathak.  Importance was not given to the presenter's credentials, but to the presentation itself.    

The very first item 'Natya Parampara' was a bold attempt to show the differences in six different styles of Bharatanatyam, that I have to now go and change my theory of four styles (Thanjavur, Kalakshetra, Vazhuvoor, and Pandanalur) to six, adding Mysore and Kanchipuram as well.  For gurus like me who have been exposed to more than two styles, this was more than an eye-opener and a delight to watch the differences in adavus and even the boomi-namaskarams. Dance gurus Lakshmi Swaminathan, Radha Ganeshan, Daya Ravi, Deepti Mukund, I was told, had more fun choreographing this piece during their practice sessions. 

Karanas and Gharana, Christian and Gender, fusion and teaching, ancestor and healing – where can you see all of this on one stage.  Janaki Rangarajan gave life to the findings of her guru Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam.  In the Kathak style, Purvi Bhatt and group showed Gharanas and Asha Vattikutti explained the Mughal influence in Kathak showing a variety of Kathak styles that is mostly mistaken as exclusive to Bollywood.  Rani David laid down facts and demonstrated that Christianity existed along with Bharatanatyam and Sanga Thamizh, but history lost in time has given Christianity a western outlook.  Proving the origination of this dance form, Daniel Singh, Puneet Panda, Ashwin Subramaniam, Jon Whittle presented admirable dance items, and in between read humorous anecdotes, and answered questions pertaining to male dancers.  Just this segment alone could have easily attracted many boys to join Indian dance if only they were present.    

Shruthi Mukund displayed the merge of classical into fusion; Jayantee Paine-Ganguly brought an Odissi class environment, while Christel Stevens and group showed the ancestor spirits in Manipuri, and Dr. Anandi Ramachandran illustrated acupressure and the medical healing science in dance.  

While all of the above was more than like reading a voluminous book in one shot, then came the remarkable highlight of the day –compositions on Krishna performed in Kuchipudi style by Lakshmi Babu and Anuradha Nehru, and in Bharatanatyam by Meena Telikicherla and Shoba Subramaniam.  Little did we know we were in for a double dosage; while we sat spellbound at this conference concept by Shobha Subramaniam, her rendition of Oothakadu Venkata Kavi's composition in a garland of bits effortlessly sung one after another in different ragams by Divya merited a standing ovation. 

Amidst politics and power, Bollywood and fusion, hats off to a unique educational conference, and may many more follow, and by reading this if you reside in Maryland and attended the show, raise your collar. If you hadn't, make sure you don't miss the next one; and for conference organizers and participants and rasikas in general, thanks for your contribution to this great field; every boomi namaskaram includes you for keeping the art alive.  

Rani David is the director of Kalairani Natya Saalai at Adelphi, Maryland