A dance journey with Ramaa Bharadvaj
 - Sneha Ramachandran, Dubai
e-mail: sneharamachandran@gmail.com
Photos: Kshitij Saxena

June 16, 2014

How much can one learn in one week? This was the thought that popped up in my mind when I first saw the announcement for the 7-day Summer Dance Intensive from May 31 to June 6, 2014.  It was to be under the guidance of Ramaa Bharadvaj at Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukul in Kolvan, Maharashtra. But the theme ‘Dynamics of Rhythm,’ the interesting curriculum that was detailed, the name of a renowned guru, and the venue being a real ashram were all too enticing. Therefore, I decided to travel from Dubai to be part of it.  Now, I am attempting to find  adequate words to describe my experience because it is a journey worth sharing.

My dance odyssey started the moment I met Ramaa Bharadvaj but little did I know how much of a life changing experience it would turn out to be for me. The first day, she suggested that we address her as Ramaa-amma and I wondered why. But after the week with her, I realize that she was indeed a mother to me for those 7 days!

Although this writing is about the Dance Intensive, I must begin by describing our guru who never failed to amaze us with her knowledge and the generosity with which she shared it with us.  A bundle of talent, passion, fun, ambition, faith and experience, Ramaa-amma made every class a great cultural learning ground for all of us. Usually when you meet someone with such experience and depth in the subject of dance, it is very easy to feel intimidated in their presence - but not once did she make us feel that way. There was always a positive vibe around her, always a "Hari Om", always a smile, and if you are lucky, may be even an expression with her eyes, something that makes you feel special!

As a performer herself, Ramaa-amma had impeccable insights as to what and how we should present and she did this in simple, logical and imaginative ways. She constantly encouraged us with what she pointed out was a favourite command of Swami Chinmayananda - “THINK”!  She says, “The Natya Shastra was not created by sage Bharatha giving a speech or narrating a script, but by his audience asking him questions and him answering them.” Similarly her classes stimulated us to think and to ask questions.

Sneha with Ramaa Bharadvaj - outdoor class

Students with Ramaa Bharadvaj - dance studio

In the 7 days, we not only learnt new things, we also learned a lot more about things we thought we already knew - from a dancer’s posture to the complex and interesting rhythms caused by sound, accent and silence; how to be neutral with body to allow different colors to flow through our dance; mantras that could be chanted at different times of the day and the meaning and depth of the slokas that we chant daily and so much more. She guided us into exploring the dynamic aspects of rhythm from many more different perspectives than the obvious. Starting with controlling and releasing energy, we learnt breathing exercises, yoga, surya namaskar, ways to increase stamina, music meditation, talas, ragas, postures - a lot more besides just the technique of dance movements.

Classes were full of joy and laughter for Ramaa-amma always had an appropriate funny story, phrase or anecdote that she would share to help us remember to correct ourselves when for example our hand gestures were not in the position meant to be or our footwork sounded sloppy. It was such a delight to listen to her witty insights that we began to look forward to them. Never had I paid so much attention to rhythm or understood it to this level. She even taught us how to look for and find rhythmic variations in day-to-day surroundings.  We also had two guest lecturers - tabla artist Rohit Kulkarni, who explained Hindustani rhythms and Hariom Sharma who taught Vedic chanting.  The dance classes were conducted in a spacious wooden-floored dance studio with wall-to-wall mirror and the class day was well balanced with discussion sessions, temple visits, spiritual discourses and even motivational movie screenings.

On the final day, Ramaa-amma deftly wove our learning process into a mini performance in which we danced, recited jathis and showed off the grip on rhythm that we had developed so quickly in just one week. The culmination of this experience was an observation that I had on the 6th day of the Intensive, during a break. I looked around this space consisting of 5 classrooms, which had talented singers, dancers, bansuri and tabla students who had come to CNB to learn more, and still none of them displayed any ego, or any sense that one was better than the other. They were a bunch of friendly, passionate artists with a thirst to learn what their gurus offered to them.

I feel truly fortunate to be a part of the CNB family and I look forward to going back home to Ramaa-amma for more stories, more dance and more memories. I would encourage all artists to visit Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukul at least once, for it is an experience that must be personally felt.

Sneha Ramachandran has been a Bharatanatyam student of Krishnakumari Narendran from the age of 5. After her arangetram at the age of 14 she has continued learning, teaching and performing.  She currently lives and works in Dubai.