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Core strength and flawless posture mark the ladies stepping out of Arathi School of Dance in Dallas, Texas. The students, some who have been at the school for most of its thirty-nine years, carry the poise and gentleness of its founder Smt. Revathi Satyu. Revathi who as a young girl has performed before the Maharaja of Mysore, Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi and President Shri V.V.Giri among other dignitaries, has in her lifetime gently floated from one accolade to another for her service to the art of dance.
It was in 1980, when there was no other dance academy in the state, art connoisseurs came together to enjoy and encourage the art form under her leadership. Herself a young lady with small children Revathi nevertheles forged forward with her dream to pass on the art to the next generation of children to grow up in the US. “When our children were young,” said Dr. Neil Satyu, “she would teach only on weekends, but increased the lessons to three to four days a week when the children were older. She would drive an hour each way from our home to teach dance in Dallas, and fly to San Antonio once a month to teach there.”
When the school started, the classes were held in a recreation center, then they were moved to a church community hall, soon they were subleasing ballet studios. “When the Hindu Temple build classrooms, she began to teach at the temple,” said her husband, Dr. Neil Satyu.
“She was the first to start a Bharatanatyam dance school here in Dallas forty years ago. It took guts, grit, and a strong resolve to do this at a time when there were not very many Indians in the area and she had to travel hours to get to the students. Dance school became a place where friendships developed, a place where the children of those who left India could be exposed to the rich culture of their heritage; a community grew. The school not only helped the students attending it but it helped the parents of the students make connections and relationships that are ongoing even today,” said Anu Sury, who has been her student since the age of twelve and now teaches in the school.
Arpana Satyu Burge, her daughter, remembers that there was always someone coming over to practice for a show or arangetram. They always had one or two dance sisters attached to the family. “Raising the two of us in the sticks of East Texas, in a town where she knew nobody could not have been easy, but she did it. She met people, she made friends, she found students, she handled the household. She raised two kids (who turned out pretty okay) but created many more dancers.”
Revathi and her team later took on the task of taking the dance to non-Indian audiences and to educate the people at large. Suma Kulkarni joined forces to take Smt. Revathi Satyu’s vision for the Arathi School of Dance forward. They created the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation, non-profit organization whose vision is to promote intercultural awareness by providng a platform for the interaction between Indian and American cultures through workshops, presentations and performances. ” Prabha (Suma) Aunty and Revathi Aunty have conceptualized, started, and managed ICHF for the past 25 years. Through this organization, Dallas has benefited immensely with outstanding artists being presented here,” said Anu Sury.
Modest about her achievements Smt. Revathi Satyu is not one to boast. She often refers to dance as a good hobby. But the depth of her commitment is evident when her students talk about her in reverential tones
Alpana Kagal Jacob, her student of 38 years remembers being mesmerized by her performance at just ten years of age and demanding her parents enroll her in her school of dance.“ I was 10 years old and our family had recently moved to Denton, Texas. I remember watching aunty perform a few Bharatanatyam items and specifically a Mohiniyattam item. I was instantly mesmerized by her grace and connected with her through her striking glances that seemed to not allow the audience to look away. It was magical. I remember telling my mother that I would like to start dance classes with Revathi aunty. We really didn’t understand what a treasure we had right in front of our eyes. Aunty sacrificed so much for us and for this amazing art form. I remember days when she would have one of her young daughters holding on to her feet as she patiently continued to teach us. When I think back to those simple days I can’t help to feel such gratitude for growing up in a world that was so simple and having the opportunity to learn from this simple yet complex woman.”
“I am always thankful for ALL that she does, and especially, for all that she is,” said Shalini Varghese Chandragiri who has been her student since the age of five and now teaches at Arathi School of Dance. “She teaches by example how to submit to the higher power without ever letting ego get in the way.”
“It is believed that in life, every person’s destiny is bound to another person. Revathi aunty came into my life twenty-one years ago when I moved from India to Dallas, to pursue my doctoral program. Dance was always my first love. My dear Revathi aunty, and the Arathi School family that she built further enhanced this love. I still vividly remember that Saturday afternoon at the Irving temple when I laid my eyes on this exquisite and gorgeous aunty. She and her senior students were getting ready for a performance. When I approached her, she welcomed me with open arms in her quiet and sweet manner. This journey of dance has been more than just dance to me. This has been a journey of love, patience, compassion, and self-discovery, all thanks to Revathi aunty. She is my Guru, when I need direction, my dance mom when I need advice and a friend when I need to share my smiles and tears, and even when I need to share a cup of hot tea with a good book to read,” says Sarita Venkatraman her student, now herself a teacher at Arathi School of Dance.
“When I was older, I moved away and realized that not all dance teachers are like Revathi Aunty. She is a rarity in that she is open to collaboration, with never an unkind word about anyone. I love being a teacher for Arathi School of Dance. It is because of Revathi Aunty’s unwavering dedication to teaching Bharatanatyam that our school has such a strong foundation and remains the most established school of Bharatanatyam in the entire state of Texas”, said Shilpi S. Mehta her student and a teacher herself.
” I too have had the opportunity to see other dance schools run by other teachers in America. I haven’t found one that has created the kind of dance culture Revathi aunty has. She builds relationships with other dancers and teachers rather than seeing them as competition. She nurtures relationships with many different musicians through mutual respect,” said Latha Shrivatsa. “She had the strength in character to invite other prominent dancers to conduct workshops at a time when other dancer teachers were not doing this, so that we might be exposed to other styles rather than claim her students as her own territory. She encourages her own dancers to keep striving, to explore directions beyond where she has,” said Latha
As the President of the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Revathi Satyu continues to promote and encourage other dance, music and art connoisseurs around the world. She is a true athlete of the art. The dance studio spends a great deal of time and energy in connecting the ancient traditions with the ideas and stories of the present and the future. “She’d dance in the kitchen while we were at school, choreograph in her head while listening to music in the carpool line, and drag us to hours upon hours of dance lessons on weekends, because that was her happy place,” her daughter Arpana said.
Revathi has been the choreographer and artistic director for a number of dance dramas, raising funds for deserving causes. Every performance by the school encapsulates in the performance a message or story the students can relate to. Powerful stories for instance of different aspects of the mother; Jiva or the art of protecting the environment or our roots are conveyed using abhinaya and nritta or rhythmic footwork, geometric movement, codified hand gestures, and facial expressions. The performers with technical virtuosity express devotion to the deities and their cultural tradition. They share their knowledge of the different facets of Indian deities and mythological stories with their non-Indian audiences.
Revathi Satyu’s dance journey began in India where she reached great heights. Illustrious gurus, U.S. Krishna Rao and Chandrabhaga Devi, Pandanallur Muthiah Pillai, Tanjore K.P. Kittappa Pillai and Mysore Venkatalakshamma, shaped her into a worldclass Bharatnatyam dancer and stage actress in India where she performed for a decade 1965-1974. Revathi Satyu is a sought after Bharatanatyam dancer. Karnataka Kalashri, Bharata Kala Rathna, Sangita Sambrahma and recently winner of the Mary McLarry Lifetime Achiement Award from the Dance Council of North Texas her outstanding contribution in the field of classical dance has been awarded many times.
Earlier this year she was endowed with the prestigious title of “Nritya Darshini” by Kalaimamani Smt. Priyadarsini Govind. Additionally Revathi Satyu is being honored by Saptami Foundation, with the title of ‘Natya Chinthamani’ on November 23rd, 2019. The Nirtya Darshni award recognized her as an outstanding dancer and guru.
Dance flows through her and this teller of ancient and modern stories steals your heart with a fluidity of motion and a flash of her expressive eyes. As Arpana her daughter says, “As perennial as a rose, so is my mom–she stretches further and blooms brighter as the years go on.”