Why I Dance: Aparna Ramaswamy

November 29, 2016

Dance connects me to my ancestry. Raised both in India and the U.S., I relish finding a balance between two cultures and feeling the irresistible pull of both countries. I see parallels between the evolution I have undergone as a dancer and choreographer, and the personal transitions I have experienced as a product of the diaspora.

For me, dance and family are inextricably linked. For the last three decades, I have worked in a collaborative partnership with my mother, Ranee Ramaswamy. It began in 1984, when we both started training with my guru—the legendary dancer/choreographer Alarmél Valli, in Chennai, India. When I first saw her perform, I was forever changed. I never knew that one person could embody a myriad of emotions with such grace and brilliance. I was a quiet, introspective child who felt much more at home conversing with adults than playing with children my own age. Bharatanatyam was my outlet to focus my energy and express my emotions.

Ranee and I—although from different generations—underwent intensive training side by side, living and breathing this timeless, poetic art form. We practiced together, challenging and supporting one another. Today, when we create a new work, our conversations are rapid-fire, fluid and undisguised. My younger sister, Ashwini, is a beautiful dancer in her own right and a key member of my company. I feel so proud that the three of us have recently begun to create work together.

Bharatanatyam holds a significant place in Indian culture, as it is a multi-dimensional art form, integrating elements of music, movement, theater, philosophy and psychology. I am committed to circumventing notions that culture-based forms are impenetrable. My form transcends classification to tap into an inner spirituality that is universal.

As a co-artistic director, choreographer and principal dancer with Ragamala Dance Company—and the mother of twin 7-year old boys—my life has always been rigorous. The balance of family, performing, running an organization and creating new works is joyful, exhausting and truly rewarding.

Dance has never been a job, nor a hobby, but is intrinsically linked to who I am. My guru, a voracious reader, has taught me to look for inspiration in great works of literature. One of her favorite quotes, by William Butler Yeats, perfectly expresses how I feel: “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?”