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Traditional Indian dance students prepare for solo debut performances this summer


by: TIMES PHOTO/JAIME VALDEZ - Traditional Indian dance students, from left, Snigdha Malladi, Maelle Hily, Aanya Khaira and Enora Hily rehearse a routine at the Natya Dance Academy studio near Bethany. They're preparing for their individual Arangetram performances this summer, which start on Sunday with Khaira's recital at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts.As an instructor of traditional Indian dance forms, Jayanthi Raman doesn’t apologize for her emphasis on discipline and precision with her students.

“The learning process is extremely difficult,” she says. “You have to get every movement, every posture, every rhythm, every beat, every twitch of the eye movement right. They cannot wing it in my class.”

As talented and ultimately dedicated as many of the students at her Natya Dance Academy home studio are, Raman realizes they’re not always on the same wavelength.

“Don’t trust these little divas,” she says conspiratorially. “They’re a handful.”

The four teenage dancers sitting a few feet away from her apparently don’t mind their teacher’s playful scolding. They know exactly what to focus on during rehearsal. But when downtime rolls around, it’s back to being teenage girls.

“We’re a joy,” interjects Maelle Hily, a recent Sunset High School graduate.

The other students, Snigdha Malladi, Aanya Khaira and Malelle’s younger sister Enora, are busy preparing for their individual Arangetram, or debut dance recital.

In four separate, two-hour performances, the Beaverton high school students will introduce themselves as performers to an audience of family, friends and anybody who enjoys the combination of grace, focus, spirituality and music the performances embody.

Khaira, an incoming Jesuit High School freshman, will be the first to debut, with a performance at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Winningstad Theater of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, 111 S.W. Broadway. As with the Hily sisters’ performance on Sunday, Aug. 3, at the Winningstad, and Malladi’s Saturday, Aug. 9, dance at the Portland Community College Sylvania Campus Performing Arts Center, Khaira’s show is free and open to the public. RSVPs are requested.

Raman, who has taught South Indian classical dance at her home studio near Bethany for the past 21 years, describes the performance as a rite of passage — at once culminating years of work while launching into new realm as an evolving performer.

“They’ve learned one entire set for a dance concert,” she explains of her most recent graduates. “This marks your entrance as a good, professional performer. It takes years to get to this point, with a lot of training, rehearsals and understanding the meaning and background of the story.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Natya Dance Academy instructor Jayanthi Raman, center, takes a break from rehearsals with students, from left, Enora Hily, Maelle Hily, Snigdha Malladi and Aanya Khaira outside the academy's Bethany studio.The dancers express their “stories” through rhythmic hand and foot movements, tightly choreographed positions and precise facial expressions. Music is performed by the Rasika School of Music Orchestra, which includes a violinist, two vocalists and an Indian drummer. Raman serves as conductor.

“I know the beats and the pieces,” she says.

Her dance instruction derives from the Kalakshetra, or holy temple of the arts, which she describes as “unique and extremely formal.

“It involves more intense training. You learn the theory of dance, along with the history and background and meaning of what you do,” she says. “It’s a more holistic approach to to the art form.”

Malelle, whose mother was Raman’s student, has been with Natya Dance Academy since she was a toddler. Now serving as a mentor for the younger dancers, Malelle admits performing can be an emotional roller coaster.

“If it’s a piece you know really well, it can be calming,” she said. “But if it’s a piece your just learning, it gets really stressful at times.”

For Malladi, who will be a Westview High School sophomore this fall, nailing down the proper expressions puts her to the test. “The expressions are the hardest part for me,” she says. “Doing it and actually getting it right.”

Khaira, who’s been dancing since third grade, says she’s as ready as she’ll ever be for her Sunday performance, which includes six sections or “items,” based on her Sikh family’s religious heritage and languages.

“I’m looking forward to it, but I’m really nervous. I don’t want to mess up,” she says. “There are people who would notice.”



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