Her hair is weaved with tassels, flowers and gold ornaments as she moves to illustrate the stories of her ancestors.
The Bharatanatyam dancer is poised and technical. One misuse of a hand motion could change the meaning of the story she is communicating.
As a former performer of this Indian classical dance, Antara Sinha spent 12 years perfecting the centuries-old art. The 19-year-old University of Florida journalism sophomore began dancing when she was five.
After her parents left India to pursue job opportunities in the United States, they wanted their future daughter to have a way to connect with Indian culture. As a young dancer, though, Sinha said she did not always enjoy the weekly obligation.
“There were many times I wanted to quite,”Sinha said.
Because of her dad’s pursuit of research grants in various states, she and her parents moved from place to place, from dance studio to dance studio. Her family was challenged to find Bharatanatyam teachers in four states. Despite the seemingly continuous upheaval, the Texas native grew to love the dance that connected her to her Indian heritage.
“I began to appreciate it when I grew older,” Sinha said.
The dance provided her with a kind of cultural continuity, especially when she moved to rural areas, such as Franklin, Kentucky. The culture there is “homogenous,” Sinha said. She is grateful, though, for the opportunity to dance the details of Indian mythology from places as southern as her home in the Bluegrass State, where she travelled over the Kentucky-Tennessee border for lessons in Nashville.
“I’m pretty lucky that everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been able to find a teacher,” Sinha said.
In teacher’s basements, lined with mirrors, Sinha practiced. On South Florida stages covered in lights, Sinha performed. Every motion, in every practice and performance, plays a direct role in Sinha’s story.
“As an outsider, you wouldn’t be able to tell how technical it is, but there are over 200 hand movements that all mean different things,” Sinha said.
With its elaborate and intricate details, from the gold-encrusted outfits to the miniature motions, Bharatanatyam is difficult to perform.
The head pieces are heavy, Sinha said, stressing that they made her feel like she was balancing 20 pounds.
But when she talks about the beauty of her Bharatanatyam costumes, she becomes excited, pulling up pictures of women adorned in bells and gold jewelry.
It takes her a long time to get ready, Sinha said.
“For it to look legit, you have to put a fake bun in your hair,” she said.
There are many pieces of Sinha’s hair, in addition to the rest of her costume, that must be attended to before the dance begins — the moon and star symbols, the piles of fake hair, the gold headpiece that lines up with her center part.
“I still don’t know how to do my hair by myself; my mom has to do that,” Sinha said.
After her last teacher moved away when Sinha was 16, she was unable to continue dancing, but she hopes to pass the tradition down to her own future daughter.
“It’s a nice way to connect back to your roots,” Sinha said.