As a child, I wanted nothing more than to don a black leotard, pale pink tights and slippers, wind my long hair in a bun, and plie at a barre with 15 other girls.
Instead, I spent my Saturday mornings donning a salwaar kameez, tying bells around my ankles, winding a dhupatta around my waist, and pounding a basement floor in time with my teacher hitting a wooden stick against a block.
I moved my head from side-to-side in exaggerated fashion. I twisted my hands in different positions in time with frantic footwork. I retold Hindu religious stories without saying a word, but through my hands, feet, and eyes. When performances rolled around, I fastened brightly colored pieces and heavy jewelry instead of slipping into a tutu. I lined my eyes with kohl and painted my lips red instead of sparkling my face with glitter. The bun my hair was wound up in remained the same as the ballerinas I aspired to be, but mine was encircled by paper flowers and accentuated with more sparkling jewelry. Under the bright lights of the stage, I smiled, I spun, I hit my feet in time with the drumming of the mridungam and the clang of my teacher’s small cymbals. I showed sorrow, I jumped, and from the second I stepped on stage to the final namaskar, I was in a zone where I simply danced, and nothing else.
I did this for years, the regular Saturday morning classes, the countless performances, the tears from my teacher scolding me for not practicing, the joy of learning a new item. It culminated in every dancer’s ultimate goal: the graduation performance, the arangatram.
I did mine when I was 13. And everything it took to give that 3-hour solo performance 12 years ago helped me get to where I am today, both as a dancer and a person.
I did get to wear my black leotard and pink tights. I tied the satin pointe shoes around my ankles and donned a tutu. I’ve worn sparkly costumes and soft black jazz shoes and dance in the tap, jazz and Broadway styles.
But it was the bells at my ankles, the dhupatta around my waist, and the clang of my teacher’s cymbals that first made me a dancer.