Monthly Moves with Masha: A Sit Down with Ritika Lal

 

Masha Bandouil, 12th Grade

 

What kinds of dance styles have you heard of? Breakdancing? Ballroom? Ballet? What about ​Bharatanatyam ​? No? Well me neither, until I talked to Senior, Ritika Lal.

Q – What styles of dance do you practice?

A – I practice two very different styles of Indian Classical Dance. The first is called Bharatanatyam ​, which is from South India and the second is called Kathah and is from North India.

Q – Where are they from? Are there any religious roots?

A – Both dances have roots in and express themes from Indian mythology, so there are many influences from Hinduism. But there have been other influences as well, especially to Kathah.

Q – What does the dance consist of?

A – The dance consists of movements which are just dance, expressions and storytelling. ​Bharatanatyam​ is usually done in a deep sitting posture. Kathah is done standing and has a lot of turns and complicated footwork — but really both have pretty complicated footwork.

Q – What is your favorite aspect of dance?

A – My favorite part of dance is being able to relax and express myself. I love being able to just let go and have fun with a dance. I also get a great idea of how people and society used to be, and just how creatively people would communicate themes through dance.

Q – Why did you decide to start dancing?

A – I don’t think I ever consciously decided to dance. It was always something I found myself doing for fun. When I was about five, I started taking formal Bharatanatyam ​classes and have stuck with it ever since. In later years, I decided that I wanted to do Kathah too because of how beautiful the dance looked and also because I naturally felt a little bit of a connection to it because both Kathah and I are from North India, so I recognize many themes and stories more easily.

Q – Are there different levels of mastery you can achieve?

A – There are many different levels of mastery of Indian Classical Dance. They basically lead up to a debut, after which formal training is considered to be finished, making the person a real member of the dance community and having the credentials to teach.

Q – What is the typical dress for the dances?

A – For ​Bharatanatyam​, we usually wear a costume that looks like a Sari but is more specialized for dance. There are many different styles and colors in which costumes exist. Kathah has a very different kind of costume. Since we do a lot of spinning, we usually wear long, colorful skirts that flare out, and otherwise dress very much in traditional Indian dress (which is so traditional that it is very rare otherwise). In both, we wear bells on our ankles which have always been an important part of classical dance throughout India. The sounds, along with the music, bring out the rhythmic patterns. Kathah requires a lot more bells than ​Bharatanatyam​ does.

Q – What is one thing you would like people to know about your dance style?

A – One thing I would like people to know is that no matter who you are, and what kind of dance you do, dance is something beautiful and amazing which never leaves you and can be your best friend for life. It is a commitment worth keeping. Specific to my dance, I am currently working towards my Diploma in Kathah and have actually reached a stage in ​Bharatanatyam​ where I have trained enough to complete my dance debut. She completed her dance debut on August 21 and for anyone who went, you know it was amazing.

 

I decided to follow up with Ritika after her performance to see what it meant to her and what her future goals entail.

Q – What was your favorite part of the performance?

A – ​My entry. So the cool thing about the Irving Arts Center is that they have this really cool hydraulic pit, and I was able to work with the amazing Irving Arts crew to use that, and give the sense that I was literally coming out of the stage in a lotus. It was kind of a breathtaking moment for everyone, because the concept was so new and people weren’t expecting this at all. That was a lot of fun to do!​ (Bet you wish you could do something cool like that)

Q – ​Would you say your passion for dance has grown after the intense training you put into this performance?

A – So, I’ve always loved dance with a passionate and burning intensity, and I think this last intensive year has fueled that love for dance in some ways because it’s definitely brought me closer to the dance, but I think at heart I still love it as much as I always have.

Q – What kinds of new opportunities has this performance opened for you?

A – As a graduated student I’m a part of my teacher’s dance troupe. We really get to perform A LOT more, experiment with the dance and also travel a bit from time to time.

Q – What are your future goals with dance?

A – I definitely want to continue with the Srutilaya Dance Troupe. I also train in a second style of Indian Classical Dance called Kathak, in which I’m currently at the diploma level. So one of my goals is definitely to get my diploma. However at the same time I want to raise awareness about and continue to perform in Indian Classical Dance styles and continue to bring together the community like I was able to do at my arangetram, so that people from all walks of life can share in this beautiful and uniquely cultural experience.

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