Bay Area Steminism: The Balance of Indian Classical Dance and Tech

Left to right : Bidisha Mohanty (Odissi Dancer and Instructor), Dipanwita Sengupta (Kathak dancer and instructor), and Shreya Iyer (Bharatnatyam dancer and instructor)

Alongside their careers in the technology space, there is evidence that generations of Bay Area Indians have benefited from upbringings in a culture that has deep roots in dance, arts, and music. There are many women who have great careers in science and technology and continue to devote time to the Classical Arts. In fact, the roles that Indian women in the Bay Area take on to maintain a balance between their STEM careers and preserving the traditions of Indian Classical dance are remarkable. This is what I’d like to call STEMinism.

Dipanwita Sengupta says one of the reasons why she began pursuing Kathak was because it has a lot of mathematical calculations ingrained within the dance — in Kathak, she finds the union of STEM and the Classical Arts.

Bidisha Mohanty alludes to Odissi dance as her passion. She describes Odissi as a major part of her mental/physical growth and development. “Odissi dance gives me peace of mind, happiness, and acts as a distraction from daily life. If I’m busy and want to take my mind off something, I dance,” she explains.

Chandna Veturi explained how Kuchipudi was a form of meditation for her. She describes the work-life balance as taking a break from each other. “After working on one side for a while, you go back to the other side with a different approach and energy than before,” she says.

Selvi Pragasam pointed out that on a personal level, Bharatnatyam dance has enabled her to manage a lot of hardships.

All four dancers instruct their students bearing in mind the transferable, everyday skills that can be learned from Indian Classical Dance.

STEMinistas and Their Support Network

It’s notable to point out that one main commonality between these women who pursue dual careers in the Arts and STEM is that they all rely on a strong support system. These support systems are extremely individualized, and without them, many feel overwhelmed and quite fearful. Interviews with Bharatnatyam professionals relayed stories of how it took the support of all those involved in their lives to pursue a career in the Arts.

Naina Shastri recalls how her whole family was part of her Bharatanatyam endeavors from the start. Her mom envisioned her learning, her father would drive her to practice, and both were always in the first row for every show. There was this perception that women from respectable families shouldn’t dance, but when she got married, her husband encouraged her to continue dancing.

Rasika Kumar describes the support that she received from her family through her teen years as extremely motivational. Her mom’s dance school was something she could lean on to pull her career forward and it gave her a clear focus. To this day, she feels a sense of belonging when she practices with other students and loves that she is part of something bigger than herself.

Similarly, Shreya Iyer always knew she had the support of her parents from the start. They encouraged her to continue dancing through the toughest times of her career.

Kuchipudi dancer and instructor Rajesh Chavali.

A Different Point of View

While many women have maintained an incredible work-life balance, it’s important to also consider their male counterparts (who also concurrently pursue Classical dance training and a career in STEM).

Rajesh Chavali revealed that at first many people discouraged him from learning Kuchipudi. This prompted him to work extra hard to keep up with his Kuchipudi dance training. His STEM career has allowed him to take a very scientific approach in his dance.

Bharatnatyam dancer Ryan Nathan states how his love for the art form stemmed from the fact that it teaches self-discipline and history. “Indian classical dance is tied to spirituality, Hindu religion, art, and culture,” he says. The support which he’s received from his teacher and a few other notable temples, the priests, and board members have encouraged him to keep on going, in addition to fostering his passion for spreading Indian classical dance throughout the community.

Odissi dancer and high school student Shreyaa Karan.

Advice for the Next Generation

The inspiration we can obtain from Indian classical dancers is not something we can take for granted. The time, dedication, and love that they’ve put into their respective art forms, while also pursuing a career in the STEM industry, is incredible. Gayatri Joshi, an Odissi dancer and instructor, says that whether you are studying, working, cleaning or, cooking, it doesn’t matter — dance always compliments whatever you do.

Chinmayi Arakula, an Andhranatyam dancer and instructor, finds that dance gives you relief from your STEM-based career. Furthermore, she believes that everyone should get an opportunity to learn Indian Classical Dance forms because the many years of extensive training add to the love of Indian culture as a whole.

This is the kind of dual-ambition that the next generation should live by, and it’s something I am concurrently pursuing in my day-to-day life. In addition to being an Odissi Classical Dancer, I am interested in CS and STEM — just like my mother. I believe that both of these aspects of my life come together to make me whole — a psychological mechanism to help me cope with the challenges of a complicated society.


Shreyaa Karan is a rising senior at Evergreen Valley High School in San Jose, California. She is an Odissi Classical Dancer and a 2nd-degree Taekwondo Black Belt.


 

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