BHS student prepares for debut performance of Indian classical dance

Sai Prakash has been practicing the art form for nearly 8 years

Bainbridge High School junior Sai Prakash has been practicing Indian classical dance for nearly eight years and is prepared to make her debut in Seattle Aug. 1.

Prakash is of Indian descent. She was born in New Zealand, and her family moved to the United States when she was six-months-old. Prakash moved to BI two years ago from Mercer Island.

The style of dance Prakash has been practicing over the years is called Bharatanatyam, which originated in southern India. In ancient India, this form of dance was the basic mode of entertainment. People would go dancing from city to city praising the king that they were living with, and they would tell their stories through dance and music, Prakash said.

“It’s like a play almost; you kind of act out different scenes,” Prakash said. “The dances are all kind of based on stories of Hindu gods. You just act out important scenes that have happened in Indian history and ancient mythology. This dance is very important to Indians. There’s just so much history behind it.”

Bharatanatyam requires a specific costume and historically dancers need eight to 10 years of practicing before they are ready to perform. Today, the art form has become more popular, and dancers choreograph performances that reflect the relevant issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“A lot of the dances are from the point of view of a female god,” Prakash said. “Specifically, one of my dances is about how one of the goddesses was overlooked, and the male gods didn’t think she could handle one of the major demons of ancient Indian mythology. One of the dances depicts that she actually has the strength, and she’s the one who defeats (it). She was the only one who was able to do it, not the three male gods who undermined her. There’s a lot of stories similar to that in this form of dance.”

Prakash was introduced to the art form at a young age as her mother has done it all her life. She credits her mom for pushing her to overcome early obstacles. “She was definitely the one who got me into it,” Prakash said. “The beginning of dance, you just learn basic steps. It’s not super-interesting but she had me stick with it. I started learning more complicated (techniques) and now I’m super interested myself.”

Once her mother provided her with the basics, she began attending From Within Academy, a classical Indian dance institution that has locations in Issaquah, Bellevue and Redmond. The academy has up to 500 students. Prakash credits her teacher, Subashini Vijayasanthanam, the founder of the academy, for refining her dance techniques.

“I would say it’s pretty difficult; holding different positions, having that level of perfection needed to make the dance look elegant,” she said about the demands of Bharatanatyam. “There’s also that aspect of making it look easy to the eye but in reality, it’s very difficult.”

Upon completing eight years of training, her teacher told her she was ready so she started reaching out to venues to book her performance. The Broadway Performance Hall in Seattle ended up being her landing spot.

Prakash’s first performance is called Arangetram. In the Indian language, aran means entry and getram means the stage. The performance will be three hours consisting of eight dances, beginning at 4 p.m. Each dance ranges from seven to 25 minutes. She said she’s been preparing for her first performance for about two years. As her performance date got closer, she began ramping up her preparation by practicing four hours a day for the last month-and-a-half.

“I am a little nervous for sure,” Prakash said. “I’ve danced in front of my peers…and different teachers. This is next level.

“I want people to appreciate the art form,” she continued. “It’s not super common in this area. I want people to know it exists and learn from it. There are definitely some lessons you can learn from the dancing. I want to bring out the feeling of divinity, just making it look very beautiful. I want people to feel happy that they got to see that dance.”