Small business: Indian classical dance company contributes to Diwali festival

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Scene from the production of Anuradha the Maha Yugas (Epoch of Time). According to Hindu mythology, there are four yugas or also known as the epoch of time. Satya Yuga, Tretha Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. The scene on the video reflects the time and life of the people during Satya Yuga. Video / Supplied

Anuradha Ramkumar talks to Rahul Bhattarai about her Indian classical dance business and the importance of gender for Indian culture in Aotearoa.

Ramkumar is one of the founders and creative director of the Anuradha Indian Dance School. She started her school in Auckland after moving to New Zealand in 1995. In addition to running her own business, Ramkumar is also a full-time middle school teacher at Panmure District School.

What is your business doing?

My school teaches Indian classical dance called Bharathabatyam and Kuchipudi. I have the expertise in teaching these ancient forms of dance which have been passed down to me by my gurus.

Anuradha Ramkumar after one of her events in 2015. Photo / Supplied
Anuradha Ramkumar after one of her events in 2015. Photo / Supplied

These traditional dances originated in southern India and had been recorded on the Natya Sastra – an ancient treatise written by sage Bharata thousands of years ago.

These musicals are used to express emotions, and the story is told through dance – which includes hand gestures, facial expressions, and intricate footwork.

This tradition has been kept alive all over the world and is especially observed during festivals in South Asia, especially Diwali.

Uttara Ramkumar Rajan (daughter of Anuradhas) in 1999, she was then 9 years old.  The New Zealand Herald covered this story on March 22, 1999 during what was known as the “Festival of India” in Aotea Square, Auckland.  Photo / Brett Phibbs
Uttara Ramkumar Rajan (daughter of Anuradhas) in 1999, she was then 9 years old. The New Zealand Herald covered this story on March 22, 1999 during what was known as the “Festival of India” in Aotea Square, Auckland. Photo / Brett Phibbs

What was your motivation to start it?

I started learning Bharathabatyam in 1965 in South India at the age of four and had been teaching since the age of 21. But even after moving to New Zealand in the mid-90s, I wanted to continue my passion and keep my traditions alive. .

I wanted to keep my cultural identity and pass it on to the community and now even my six year old granddaughter has started learning it.

In the 90s, we were the first to present classical Indian dance in Auckland, then it was called the “Festival of India” which has now become what we call the Diwali festival.

What is the significance of the Diwali festival?

Diwali is one of the most important holidays in Hinduism. It symbolizes the spirituality of honoring Lord Rama when he returned to his kingdom after spending 14 years in exile.

It is a celebration of his return as it symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Therefore, many diyas (oil lamp) are used to decorate the house, which symbolizes light on dark.

Uttara Ramkumar in 2019 offering prayers to Lord Nataraja also known as the god of dance.  Photo / Supplied
Uttara Ramkumar in 2019 offering prayers to Lord Nataraja also known as the god of dance. Photo / Supplied

Our dance school provides a way to communicate this concept to the community at large through solo, group dances, dance dramas depicting the mythology of Lord Rama during this festival.

How big is the team today?

It’s just me who teaches and I teach almost 100 different students from different communities.

And not all students pay for classes. We have different forms of scholarships and I give a lot of free classes for students who need it.

How has your business been affected by Covid-19?

With the Covid-19 and the lockdowns, it has become extremely difficult to teach and we have had to temporarily close.

We have also lost our income due to the uncertainty posed by these bottlenecks as we cannot teach online.

How long has your business been in existence?

I started my business in Auckland in 1995 and my daughter was my first student in New Zealand who was then five years old.

Students preforming a Bharathabatyam dance in 2021. Photo / Supplied
Students preforming a Bharathabatyam dance in 2021. Photo / Supplied

What is your goal for the coming years?

I want to continue teaching and educating people about Indian (Hindu) culture and our values. Dancing is a fun way to do it and keep our traditions alive for future generations of migrants.

Also, we have prepared a lot for this year’s Diwali festival but due to the lockdown the event had to be canceled. So we look forward to the celebration of Diwali next year.

What future does Indian classical dance have in New Zealand?

Classical dance in New Zealand has a very bright future as the growing number of the South Asian diaspora, especially the second generations, increasingly wish to explore their identity and roots.

Students preforming a Bharathabatyam dance in 2019. Photo / Supplied
Students preforming a Bharathabatyam dance in 2019. Photo / Supplied

These Indian classical dances and music are not only for their entertainment value, they have spiritual significance for them. These art forms are purely based on Hindu mythology, which will give students a clear understanding of Hindu culture and tradition, religion, spirituality, and for the most part, the Hindu way of life.

Even costumes and jewelry have cultural significance in Indian tradition.

How does your business stand out from other businesses in the market?

Most dance schools in New Zealand have been heavily influenced by Bollywood.

But our dance is very traditional and explores the root of authentic Indian culture and we try to impart physical and spiritual discipline to our students.

How do you market it?

It’s just word of mouth, I don’t use any other form of advertising. But we have a Facebook page where we upload the latest photos of our performance. And we get visibility through our shows at events.

What does the competition look like in this market?

Since the 1990s, there has been a significant increase in the South Asian diaspora which has increased awareness of Indian culture. Because of this, we get a number of business groups who want us to play for them at their events.

In addition, we operate in a niche market. I believe my dance school maintains its competitive edge thanks to the legacy I have built to be one of the first dance schools in Auckland dedicated to teaching this traditional dance form.

What advice would you give to people looking to start a new business?

You must be passionate about your work and devote your life fully to it.


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