Traditional experience: Islander performs at Folklife Festival

Sarah Divya, a junior at the Mercer Island High School, has been learning the classical Indian dance Bharatnatyam since seventh grade. On May 26, she performed at the Northwest Folklife Festival at Seattle Center, displaying an ancient tradition in a flurry of color and grace.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Divya. “We haven’t performed in a while, so it was really neat.”

Bharatnatyam is the most ancient of all classical dance forms in India. It is intricate, with multiple coordinated eye, hand and leg movements and it also provides insight into the vast Indian mythology and history behind it.

Divya said there are nine different dances that encompass Bharatnatyam. She is working toward mastering all nine dances, and when she reaches that level, her training will culminate with a huge recital. She practices a few times each week with a teacher in Redmond.

At the Folklife Festival, Divya performed a dance in tribute to Ganesh, a Hindu god. This was her first time performing at the festival, though she performs at events like Diwali (the Indian New Year celebration) and religious events throughout the year.

The hardest part of Bharatnatyam, said Divya, is integrating all of the components and tradition into the dance.

“There are a lot of aspects to it,” she said. “It’s really culturally based, you really have to know about the culture and religion to do it — It’s a lot about Hinduism.”

Also difficult, is the amount of time and preparation it takes to get ready for a performance.

“It takes three or four hours,” said Divya. “I have short hair, so I have to attach fake hair, and then there’s flowers, jewelry and make up.”

But for Divya, who spent the first five years of her life in India, it’s all worth it because it provides a connection to her roots.

“It’s always been a part a part of growing up,” she said. “I wanted to do something that tied me into my culture and religion when I came to America, and I wanted to meet people my age in America that I could relate to.”

Divya said she always has a good time with the friends she has made through dancing, and hopes to pursue it for many years to come.

“I definitely want to continue it,” she said. “Everyone’s enthralled by it when they see it, and I think that’s really special.”

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