STM's Got Talent Akshita Suresh: Classical Indian Dancer Extraordinaire
By: Collin Do
Bells that chime and sing with every step, every stamp. Fabrics in colourful glossy hues, accented with gold designs and patterns that glimmer. Jewellery and adornments which hang from the wrists and head, jingling and jangling as their lustre shines under the spotlight. Limbs and fingers poised with precision, ready to shift and change in both grand and minute ways with the rhythm of music that you aren't likely to hear on North American radios. The dancing is not your typical hip hop, break dancing, popping, or even ballet. It is Classical Indian Dance, and while its origins are from the far South East, you’ll find that it’s much closer to STM than you’d think.
“Dance just suited me best,” says grade 11 STM student Akshita Suresh. Smiling, Akshita happily tells of her life and journey with Classical Indian Dance, which she has been practising from a young age, a common thing for girls in India. Getting involved in Classical Indian Dance is often done at the urging of parents and family and, in Akshita’s case, it was her parents who introduced her to dance, along with piano, violin, and singing.
Out of all those wonderful options, Akshita chose dance. In dance, there is no truer statement than “The show must go on.” No matter how Akshita is feeling offstage, when she is on stage she becomes the dancer, the character, and she embodies the emotion she is portraying. Dancing, she finds, propels her to have a better attitude towards life and to be more accepting. Not only that, but to Akshita, dance is “like a family thing... the teachers are very involved...” and the students are “...on very good terms with the teachers.”
Akshita has been practicing Classical Indian Dance, specifically Bharatanatyam Kalakshetra, for almost nine years now, during which, she laughingly admits, she’s endured “a lot of pain.” If a student broke her hand, she would still come to dance class and even if she twisted her ankle, Akshita would still dance.
It is no surprise that Classical Indian Dance does not look at all like ballet. The feet are heavily involved – quite literally – perhaps even being the most important component of the dance. There is a lot of heavy, hard, and intense footwork involved when it comes to the the steps and the stamps. Hands are the second most important element, as hand gestures – called mudras – are crucial in conveying a specific message to the audience. Of course, that message may be altered by the dancer’s facial expression, which is the last, but not least, important part of Classical Dance. A dancer must always wear the appropriate emotion on her face. The body may be saying something, but if the face is not saying the same thing or wearing the right expression, then the dancer’s message will not be clearly communicated.
“You have to know what you are doing...You have to be in control,” Akshita advises, otherwise “...you might just look like a flailing octopus, and that’s not good!”
Making sure not to look like a flailing octopus will be especially important for Akshita, now that she's about to undertake a new challenge. After nine years, Akshita has graduated and will soon begin teaching Classical Indian Dance to children. She is a bit nervous, admitting she doesn't have a lot of experience working with children and teaching is very different from learning, but Akshita hopes she will do well. As an instructor, it will no longer take her an hour to put on her costume –even more when you add make up and hair— as it did in her first year of dancing.
“When learning, you follow everything... when teaching, you have to have more of a creative element”, she explains. It will be another goal for Akshita to work towards, for though she possesses the creative element, she realizes that to be a good instructor, she'll have to learn how to channel her energy, which she'll surely learn to do in time. After all, Akshita has successfully completed Classical Indian Dance training, wondering at times in her graduating year if she was truly deserving. (Thankfully, Akshita's teacher eliminated such doubts and told her to stop thinking like that!) To graduate from Classic Indian Dance is prestigious; not everybody achieves this level of skill. Some students may dance for twenty years or more and still not graduate. It is a very impressive accomplishment for Akshita to have graduated at such a young age.
Akshita Suresh is a talented dancer and STM student and, no doubt, she will become an excellent instructor as well. Though dance “...didn’t come easily [to her]… it was worth the hard work” and, hopefully, the bells on Akshita's ankles will be ringing for years to come!