In the Spark episode “Legacies,” dancer and teacher Vishal Ramani talks about how she came to the United States from India 30 years ago and has since fostered a creative environment in which Indian traditions have taken root in the Silicon Valley. Ramani is the founder of Shri Krupa Dance Foundation, a center where students go to learn the traditional art form of Bharata Natyam seven days a week, year-round.
Born in India, Vishal Ramani was a child prodigy. At 7 years of age, she made her dance debut, or “arangetram,” in Bombay, performing the dance art of Bharata Natyam. However, her dream of becoming a professional dancer in India ended when she came to the United States with her husband in 1974, at that time finding only a small Indian community in the Bay Area. Ramani soon found a new passion — being a teacher. Today, after teaching for more than 30 years, Ramani runs Shri Krupa, an important cultural center for Indian Americans — the fastest-growing community in the country.
Dating back for centuries, Bharata Natyam is the oldest classical dance form in India. The dance is a storytelling art form based on Hindu mythology and executed through a complex series of body gestures, facial expressions, music and rhythmic movement. Students learn how to contact the earth with their bare feet and use 28 single-handed gestures, 24 double-handed gestures, and many more body and facial expressions to portray dramatic events and emotions.
Of Ramani’s guiding principles as a teacher, the two most important are to instill dedication and devotion in her students. These two elements, she says, are the most significant in order to master any great art form. However, she emphasizes, Indian dance teaches much more than just dance. Movement, confidence, charisma and poise as well as an entire value system are embedded within the process of learning Bharata Natyam, and students carry these skills with them for a lifetime, regardless of what career they pursue.
In additional, Ramani has been co-hosting a weekly show on local television that presents a wide range of subjects of interest to the local Indian community, including music and dance. It is one more indication of how much the community has grown and how culturally vibrant it is. And as the community grows, her students are being called upon to perform for weekly events, and religious holidays and at the Hindu temples.