My Guru Viji Prakash

My mother first took me to dance class when I was just five years old. We entered a huge hall in a Church which had been transformed into a dance studio, and were greeted by a beautiful lady with radiant black hair, big brown eyes, a long red bindi and a warm smile. She introduced herself as "Viji Aunty," and she was going to be my dance teacher. After my mother talked to her for few minutes, she asked me to join the other girls in the class, and I reluctantly left the comfort of my mother and entered the studio. Little did I know how much of an effect this lady would have on my life.

Viji Prakash is an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and teacher of Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian art form. Viji moved to Los Angeles in 1976, and she brought with her the intense, disciplined, meticulous training that was imparted to her from age four.

Audiences in Los Angeles and the rest of the U.S. were entranced by the beauty, strength, and relevance of traditional Bharata Natyam, a form of classical dance from Southern India. Now, in 2012, Viji Prakash is recognized as not only the founder of the renowned Shakti School of Bharata Natyam, but also as the Bharata Natyam visionary of her time. Over the past 32 years, she has nurtured, trained, and developed hundreds of young children into elegant dancers and provided them with opportunities to perform at various venues both on the national and international stages.

For Viji Aunty, dancing is her life. She inspires her students to be passionate about dance. But most importantly, she taught her students physical and mental discipline, beauty and grace of character, and the language of friendships which were formed in the classroom. I feel so fortunate to be learning from such an inspirational and passionate guru. Viji Aunty became a guru, a teacher, a mother to all her students, including myself. She has taught us much more than the rhythmic footwork, intricate hand movements, and expressive facial expressions that are prevalent in Bharata Natyam. Students walk out of Viji's class not only as well-trained Bharata Natyam dancers, but also as culturally immersed and passionate artists. l

In the past 12 years, Bharata Natyam has grown to become something I identify myself very strongly with. When I am dancing, I feel bold and confident. Dancing has tested me in every way possible, transcending time management skills and physical discomfort to encompass mental strength and the understanding of positive criticism.

Viji Aunty continually inspires me and pushes me beyond my limits as a dancer and as a person.