Nayanika Vyas: Against the odds

Dancer Nayanika Vyas chronicles her journey from New Delhi’s bustling gallis to the stage lights of Manhattan

Published - June 25, 2020 05:42 pm IST

“I’d like to go back one day, hopefully in a few years,” Nayanika sighs wistfully. Despite her multiple visits to India, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has made her, like many others, homesick. But ask her what keeps her going, and she gives you the same answer she gave when she was five years old: dancing.

Born and brought up in New Delhi, Nayanika’s mother’s interest in jazz and ballet led her into her first class at The Danceworx. She stayed with the company for the next 14 years. It almost became her home and fostered in her an unrelenting desire to dance.

“I was ten years old when I walked up to my parents and said, ‘This is what I want to do! I want to become a dancer,” she laughs. A role in the ‘Kingdom of Dream’s Jhumroo’ at age 15 cemented the young dancer’s future — being the youngest of the lot, she made an impact and, in turn, the production impacted her greatly.

With sights set abroad, Nayanika had her hands full, managing to clear her pre-board exams while compiling video auditions and applying for a host of performing arts academies. While her dream of attending New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts didn’t materialise, she calls what followed ‘pure destiny.’

“Just a few weeks after NYU fell through, Philadelphia’s ‘University of the Arts’ made an attractive, scholarship-inclusive offer. I was overjoyed,” she reminisces.

And so she jetted off, leaving India at 17 to pursue her dream in America, a land she had never visited. Struggles aplenty, being the only native Indian in the university, she credits her parents for getting her through the toughest of times.

“I was thrown into a batch of 75, each more talented than the other. To say I was intimidated would be a gross understatement and at the beginning, I spent more time playing catch-up than I did progressing!” she exclaims. Yet, Nayanika made her mark, finally producing a Senior Thesis that integrated Bollywood dance and Bharatanatyam with contemporary training to produce ‘A Tribute to Her Roots.’ The performance was the only one of its kind to get a standing ovation for both of its shows.

Of course, adversity wouldn't stop there: despite auditioning for months, Nayanika found no dance company to join, often overlooked due to her short stature and dark skin. So she moved to New York City on a whim, now auditioning every day before finding a home last September with Bloodline Dance Theatre.

Dream contract

And yet, there was a vacuum — Nayanika was missing home. She says: “The Universe must have known,” landing her a contract with Ajna, a dance company specialising in Indian dance, while also allowing her to become licensed as a teaching artiste in New York. That is where she sees her journey heading over the next few years.

“ I’d like to travel back to India soon, now enriched by my adventures and learnings over these past four years or so. I would like to give Delhi’s young dancers the opportunity to embrace their art as a profession without having to travel abroad,” she says. For now, Nayanika feels it’s time to payback to the community she still calls home.

“In India, dance is still an unconventional career choice. Having chosen the path less-trodden myself, I want to give back to dance and my Indian roots what it gave me.”

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