(November 24, 2022) When Bharatanatyam dancer Aishwarya Balasubramanian was a school student, she was very good at academics. The talented artist multitasked her way through school, excelling in her studies and also in dance. As she neared the end of high school, the time came to pick one, a tough choice for Aishwarya. On the one hand, she wanted to be a doctor and on the other, she felt a deep passion for dance. Finally, she chose the dance over the medical profession.
“I just couldn’t give it up,” says the passionate dancer. She knew that since both the professions have their own demands, she would not be able to do both full-time. “So, I went on to pursue my bachelors in mathematics from Stella Maris College, Chennai while continuing with my passion in dance.” Life took her from Chennai to New Hampshire, where Aishwarya runs her own dance school, Arpanam, teaching students from different parts of the country as the Indian diaspora try to stay connected to their roots.
“I am extremely fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to go the path I wanted to,” says Aishwarya, who has performed across India and abroad both as part of a troupe as well as a soloist. “My arangetram took place in 1998 when I was a student of grade six and since then I have done numerous solo performances,” she tells Global Indian.
Starting at five
The disciple of renowned Guru Acharya Choodamani Anitha Guha, Aishwarya began her Bharatanatyam journey at the age of five. As it happened, she lived in the same apartment complex as Anitha, so her parents enrolled their five-year-old to learn Bharatanatyam.
Aishwarya was joined by many other kids in the neighbourhood, all of whom learned from Anitha Guha. Still, it was clear that she had a special streak in her. As a child, she mesmerised her audience during a performance at her guru’s concert, Bharathanjali. Even so young, she stood out for the beauty of her facial expressions, clarity of footwork and her grace.
Aishwarya has developed a reputation as one of Chennai’s most loved Bharatanatyam dancers and is a guru herself, training pupils from the Indian diaspora in the USA. She has been given titles like ‘Singar Mani, ‘Nalanda Nritya Nipuna, ‘Kala Ratna’ and ‘Natya Chudar’.
Shining star from Chennai
Over the years, with intense training, commitment and rigorous discipline, Aishwarya has evolved into a much sought-after performing artiste at prominent dance festivals and cultural programmes. Her meticulous technique, deftness of expressions and graceful movements have helped her earn great reviews and applauds from connoisseurs of art and culture.
Tryst continues in the USA
For nearly a decade now, Aishwarya has lived in New Hampshire, where her husband works. She has remained deeply engaged not just in performance but also choreography, music, nattuvangam (south Indian form of rhythmic recitation), theory of dance and teaching, without deviating from margam (the presentation format of Bharatanatyam dance forms).
I feel happiest when I am dancing. Each performance deserves my best and I try to give it! – Aishwarya Balasubramanian
Aishwarya runs her dance school, Arpanam in the USA, bringing the ancient wisdom of Bharatanatyam to new, young learners from among the diaspora. “Since I had very strong roots in dance back in India, it was not a challenge to continue my passion in the USA,” she says.
Over the years her dance school has become well-established. She teaches students of not only the region in which she stays but other parts of the country as well. “I had been taking online classes for students based in different parts of the USA and short-term learning sessions for pupil in India, in the pre-pandemic times as well, much before the trend of such classes started,” she says.
Love for the art form abroad
“Parents of Indian origin in the USA want their kids to be connected to their Indian roots and that’s why they are eager to send them to classes of traditional art forms,” tells Aishwarya. “The main problem is lack of time of kids of today,” she says, citing how artists like her grew up in India devoting two to three hours daily to their chosen art form.
“Now kids are doing multiple activities at the same time. Strictly an hour or two per week is what they can devote,” says the dancer.
Dedicated to her guru
Aishwarya’s association with her guru, Anitha Guha dates back to more than three decades. The devoted pupil who keeps her guru abreast with every development of her life, says:
It’s not just a student-teacher relationship. She is just like a mother to me.
“Before every step in my personal and professional life I take her blessings and guidance,” tells the shishya describing the guru-shishya relationship ‘beyond what words can describe’.
Aishwarya’s six-year-old daughter has started learning dance from her. The ace dancer’s parents live in Chennai. She continues to learn from her guru, who also lives in the South Indian city. Chennai holds a special place in her heart. It made her what she is today.
Some of the places where Aishwarya has performed:
- Ramayanam at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival, Cleveland, USA
- Tamarind Art Gallery, New York
- Indo-Indo Varein festival, Zurich, Switzerland
- Vedic heritage annual festival, New York
- Khajuraho Festival, Madhya Pradesh