It looks like an unlikely setting for a Bharatanatyam class. The stamping of feet on the floor in tune with the jathis of Bharatanatyam fills the small hall with a tin roof of the Thai Tamil Palli at Tindivanam.
Bharatanatyam dancer and Fulbright Scholar in Residence Kausalya Srinivasan beats the thattu palakai and a group of seven girls belonging to the Irular community are learning their first lessons in dancing.
“It is the traditional dance of Tamil Nadu and take pride in learning it,” Ms. Srinivasan tells the students as she constantly corrects their posture.
“The way you stand, the way to speak, and the way you make gestures matter a lot. It will improve your body language, confidence and personality,” reiterates Ms. Srinivasan, who seeks to break the barrier by teaching classical dance to the girls on the margins of society.
The girls are attentive though it takes some time for them to adjust themselves to the discomforts of the new attire of the dancers brought to them by Ms. Srinivasan.
“I never thought I would learn Bharatanatyam in my life. Who would have taught us? I wanted to dance when other students in my college participated in cultural programmes. One day, I will also dance on the dais,” said I. Sakthi, who studies B.Sc physics at the A. Govindsamy Government Arts College, Tindivanam.
“I wonder how she [Ms. Srinivasan] always has a cheerful demeanour and sounds confident. I feel I can also be [always cheerful] like her if I dance,” she said.
For K. Bhuvana and M. Gunasundarai, the Class 9 students, the dream has come true. “I liked to dance at school functions. But never had the opportunity or confidence. I will learn it well,” Bhuvana said on Sunday.
Ms. Srinivasan decided to teach Bharatanatyam to underprivileged children after participating in the Millennium Stage created with the objective of making performing arts accessible to everyone in fulfillment of the U.S.-based Kennedy Centre’s mission to its community and the nation.
When she approached retired Madras High Court judge K. Chandru, he advised her to meet Professor Kalyani, founder of Thai Tamil Palli, who works among the Irulas and fights for their rights. After a couple of meetings with Mr. Kalyani, she decided to go ahead.
“I liked the idea because I feel a person’s personality will not be complete without learning an art. Art will give confidence to students,” said Mr. Kalyani, who also wanted Ms. Srinvasan to include some students from his school [in her classes].
Asked whether these students could get a space on stage, especially when classical dances remain an exclusive domain of a privileged section, Ms. Srinivasan said she would create a space for them. “We have to begin somewhere. I will organise their arangetram one day. Since they are students, I will recommend their name for the Fulbright scholarship so that they could study in the U.S.,” she added.