Bharatanatyam for creative aging: what led me to this path?
While the arts have been shown to be helpful for people regardless of age, immersion in artistic endeavors has been found to be especially helpful for older adults. My passion for Bharatanatyam for creative aging comes from women in my life and the experiences they have had.
I am a practitioner of Bharatanatyam – a dance form that originated in the temples of South India more than 2,000 years ago, and I have been working on using Bharatanatyam to create spaces for creative aging in New York City.
In addition to being a practitioner and performer of Bharatanatyam, I am also a neuroscientist. For my graduate and postdoctoral work, I examined neuronal circuits that lead to the generation and propagation of epileptic seizures. Currently, I collaborate with organizations in India and the U.S in the areas of mental health and substance abuse, aging and palliative care, and neurological disorders.
As a dancer, I am also interested in the use of dance as a way of self-expression to promote positive mental health. I find both science and dance to be extraordinarily creative pursuits, and I find many points of convergence between the disciplines. To this end, I curate a production called “Vichaar” (the Sanskrit word means “thought” or “perception”) where I take aspects of Bharatanatyam, such as emotions and movement, and explore their neuroscientific basis.
In a sad turn of events a few years ago, I lost my mother and mother-in-law over six months. Losing them in so drastic a manner made me realize the ways seniors are treated in our society. My mother who was a Carnatic vocalist passed away from lung cancer gasping for breath. What was so tragic was that while she was getting excellent medical care, not one person cared to know about her music and her voice which could move people's souls.
To ensure that other seniors don't feel unheard and unseen, I have devoted my career so that my science and dance training needs to be geared towards benefitting senior citizens. Performing and practicing in my neighborhood of uptown Manhattan, and my work with organizations such as Center for Adults Living Well @ the Y, Sirovich center for balanced living, DOROT, Su-Casa, and The Creative Center have made it clear to me that Bharatanatyam has an intense power to reach diverse audiences. My role is as a vehicle in making the joy of expression, movement, and music in the form of Bharatanatyam available and accessible to all.
In this series of articles, you will find information about my experiences in incorporating Bharatanatyam for contemporary audiences for individuals with and without disabilities. My goal is to curate my learnings as I work with older adults so that dancers, non-dancers, senior citizens, and their caregivers can use this information and apply it in their settings.
In the video above, you can see part of a Bharatanatyam piece called the "Ganapati kautvam" to invite Lord Ganesha into the performance and the space. This demonstration was done at The Frederic Fleming House at W22nd Street in NYC for its residents.