Dancing in Thatha’s Footsteps by Srividhya Venkat, illustrated by Kavita Ramchandran, is on sale now.
By Srividhya Venkat
Dance can be different things to different people. You may like to just shake a leg, or engage in ballet, ballroom, bhangra, Bollywood, or even bharatanatyam (an Indian classical dance, pronounced bhuh-ruh-tha-NAA-tee-uhm). Whatever form you choose, dance is an amazing way to get away from the monotony of your daily routine and destress while getting some exercise. The music and the movement can give you the relaxation you seek or be a personal challenge you take on. It can even be a means to bond with friends and family, as often happens at celebrations and reunions.
When I was eleven, my family relocated to a new town in India. I hated being ‘the new kid’ at my new school and was too shy to talk to anyone. Then one day, Mrs. D, my class teacher, recognized my reticence. She picked me, along with a group of others, to perform in a dance competition. I was petrified because I had never danced before and I disliked going up on stage. But Mrs. D would have none of my excuses.
Much to my surprise, I found myself enjoying the dance practice sessions. In just a week, I no longer felt like the new kid thanks to my new friends in the dance group!
Despite the long hours of practice, our group didn’t win the competition. Yet all those days of rehearsing remained close to my heart. Not only had I made new friends but also discovered for the first time how much I loved to dance. The rhythm, movement, and music uplifted my spirits. Dance also gave me the confidence I needed to break out of my own boundaries and do things outside my comfort zone. Mrs. D’s one decision to select me had changed my life!
I began to sign up for other school events, especially those involving dance—a folk dance for the Teacher’s Day celebrations, another for the school’s Annual Day, and so on. My interest in dance grew so much that I also took lessons in kathak (an Indian classical dance), followed by a short stint in bharatanatyam a few years later.
When I moved to the United States as an adult, I maintained my connection with dance through community events and festivals. Later, as a parent trying to keep my children close to Indian culture, I tried to teach them Indian dance and music, in conjunction with other mothers like myself. Weekends were spent at the temple for its cultural enrichment activities.
Over the years, my appreciation for the art form has not dwindled. In fact, it prompted me to create my own story to share my love of Indian classical dance.
In all my years of affiliation with dance, I have rarely come upon a boy performing bharatanatyam, a dance historically performed only by women. Though things are changing today, societal pressures often lead boys, who take up bharatanatyam, to give it up and instead pursue other activities, like sports.
It is this observation that led to bharatanatyam being the significant premise of my picture book Dancing in Thatha’s Footsteps. And that is what led me to write the story of Varun, who wants to learn to dance, but hesitates because “Dance is not for boys!” Until his thatha (grandfather) extends the support and encouragement Varun needs to follow his heart.
It is my hope that my book will encourage readers, regardless of gender, to pursue their passion and find themselves.
And while they’re at it, like I did, I hope they give dance a chance!
Having lived across three countries, she welcomes the diversity of our big, beautiful world and strives to create and share stories that celebrate how similar we are, despite our differences. Srividhya now resides in sunny Singapore with her family.