Jaisankar earns YoungArts award for accomplishment in classical Indian dance


by Olivia Bayer with permission

Senior Swathi Jaisankar demonstrating stunning Indian dance moves.

by Devi Jaishankar with permission

Caitlin Decker, Staff Writer

For many students, it is important to find some way in which they can connect with their culture and heritage. Senior Swathi Jaisankar discovered this connection when she started to practice Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian form of dance, at the age of seven.

Jaisankar had been dancing since age four when she started out in ballet, tap and jazz classes, but transitioned to focusing on Bharatanatyam at age nine when she had to choose between these dance styles.

“I chose Bharatanatyam because to a little girl obviously the makeup, jewelry, and costumes stood out,” Jaisankar said. “But more importantly, I realized that I did not have many connections to my Indian culture and heritage, and that doing Bharatanatyam would be a way for me to connect back to my Indian roots.”

As Jaisankar explained, Bharatanatyam is not like other types of dance because it requires acting while dancing. Frequently, Bharatanatyam is used to convey Indian epics. It combines nritta, the rhythmic footwork and hand gestures with nritya, the depiction of the story through facial expressions. Natya, or dance, itself is what occurs through a combination of both nritta and nritya.

“This part [of the dance] is difficult,” Jaisankar said. “For instance, when conveying a conversation between two characters I have to switch in and out of both characters  and may have to change my expression instantly from sorrow to anger.”

This very meticulous dance style may be challenging, but that has not stopped Jaisankar from rising above her competition. Last year she was awarded first place for Classical Indian Dance at the Baltimore Competition. This year, Jaisankar received the title of “New Jersey Naatya Shiromani” after placing first in the Krishna Vrundavana Temple Competition, and was one of the top five finalists in the international Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival.

For Jaisankar, the best part about dancing is performing on stage.

“Every time I perform, I forget about everything else and I just get to express myself,” Jaishankar said. “Whether it be aches I have from practice or a huge test I have in school the next day, all my problems vanish when I’m on stage because of how thrilling it is to perform and make the audience happy.”

As for her most recent accomplishment, Jaisankar was chosen as one of eight Young Arts winners in the Classical Indian Dance category among some 12,000 applicants. 

“It was a difficult process,” Jaisankar said. “I had to practice a lot and make sure my form, steps, and expressions were more than perfect which was difficult since I did not have too much time before the deadline.”

However, being chosen made it all worth it for Jaisankar. Her title gives her the opportunity to apply to participate in Young Arts’s regional programs which would allow her to further tune her skills and network with other dancers and professionals.

I am grateful to my dance teacher, Guru Smt. Suba Parmar, and to my dance school, Shubanjali School of Performing Arts, for always supporting and encouraging me,” Jaisankar said.

As a dancer, she plans to continue her career both on stage and in the classroom teaching younger students, and experimenting with new styles of dance such as Bollywood.

“In the future, I will definitely continue to pursue Bharatanatyam wherever I go,” Jaisankar said.