Joon (they/them) is a cultural strategist at sparks & honey, where they consult tech, beauty, and F&B clients on how to future-proof their business.

Bharatanatyam; A Dance Form with Lessons to Share

On a regular day, we often hear the sounds of cars rushing by at the crack of dawn, birds whistling in the morning breeze and people talking to each other with ease, just as we would on any other day. With our routine set in stone while missing the people or places we call home, we live our lives blindsided by the tasks on our to-do-list and never take a second to just breathe and listen; listen to the lessons of the universe. Whether that be through whispers in the wind or the ghunghroo on our feet, dance forms like Bharatanatyam have stories and lessons to share, for which without them we would be incomplete.

Bharatanatyam is a classical Indian dance that originated in the Tanjore district in Tamil Nadu, South India. It was originally taught by Nattuvanars, who were dance gurus, and practiced by Devdasis, a group of temple dancers who would perform at ceremonies and festivals. The beauty of this dance form is one that cannot be seen, but rather must be experienced as it merges rigorous dance steps with unique hand gestures and soft facial expressions to tell incredible stories about Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

After learning Bharatanatyam for more than seven years, I believe that this dance form has far more to offer than just beauty, it provides lessons to those who are willing to listen, to learn, and to grow. 

So listen to the lessons that:

History is powerful. Knowing where certain values and ideas originated from and how they have been transformed to adapt to today’s climate shows that we are not forgetting our roots, but rather forging them. When we compare this idea to issues of social justice, we understand that Satya – which is truth – and Ahimsa – which is non-violence – are not only Indian values and beliefs that have been integrated into Bharatanatyam, but are also points we fight for in areas including feminism, racism and police brutality. By transferring such values, we create a stronger understanding of where we were in the past and where we want to be in the future.

Being gentle does not equal being weak. Bharatanatyam is the perfect example that vulnerability and strength can coexist – society’s rules of masculine or feminine were meant to be broken. Whether it is a man who wants to dress in skirts and wear makeup, or a woman who wants to lead meetings and lift weights, one is not stronger or weaker than the other, and being gentle certainly is not a dictating factor for either. When one is true to themself – that is where real courage and strength lies.

Beauty is present everywhere. From social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, we are force-fed unrealistic body standards and told that if we do not hate ourselves on a daily basis, we are doing something wrong. Yet what Bharatanatyam teaches us is that beauty is not a physical characteristic that can be bought, it originates from within ourselves and the way we treat others. Whether you are large or small, tall or short, everyone has the ability to harness their own beauty and create their own story.

Never give up. When dancers enter Bharatanatyam classes, we do not know every single step or routine, but we are taught it and told to practice and practice and practice again. And although sometimes we may forget the order of the steps or the facial expressions, we remember that no one would improve if they just gave up. So we take a break and try again until we finally make it to the end.

Be unstoppable. In a world that is always telling you that you cannot do this or that because you are too demanding or quiet or different, remember to always break the glass ceiling and conquer your battles. Know your worth, work hard, and value what you bring to the table – your success will follow.

So after listening to the lessons that Bharatantyam has to share, for just a moment, release the pressures of your daily life; your family, your friends, your future, and be present in the air. We all have incredible stories and passions to share with the world, but sometimes, remember to just pause and take a moment to be whole.

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Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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