Indian dance gains a foothold; Westboro school started in '94.
WESTBORO - Since the age of 5, Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai has loved to dance.
"I am lucky and blessed to love my career, and that I could continue it when I came to the United States," said Mrs. Thirumalai who is classically trained in Bharathanatyam, the national dance of India, where she grew up.
"I've been dancing since I was 5 and was ranked the top dancer in India when I left," she said. "When I moved here with my husband in 1994, I started a school of dance to teach the traditional dance of Bharathanatyam, and it has grown to include over 100 students."
As a master artist, Mrs. Thirumalai was recently awarded a grant from the Southern New England Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program and now mentors a high-level student from Connecticut who is hoping to take her studies to the next level.
"It is a program that crosses state borders and brings students and teachers together through an apprentice program," she said. "It's been a wonderful opportunity to share my experience and love of dance with an apprentice. And it was an honor to be selected."
Mrs. Thirumalai is no stranger to lending her talents to nonprofit organizations.
"I was asked to dance in India for an organization that serves meals to millions of schoolchildren on a regular basis," she said. "I danced to prose written by John Lispki of Boston University, which was an honor, to be able to tell his story through dance."
The trip to India was very close to her heart.
"India is a very poor society, and it important for these children to be fed so they can know someone cares," she said. "But also, it shows them where I came from and how an apprentice program and education helped me in my career."
Mrs. Thirumalai says she remembers children she grew up with who came from families with very little and were able to get food through the program and get apprentice programs; now they are engineers in the United States.
"I was so fortunate to be asked to be involved in this program," Mrs. Thirumalai said. "It is such an honor, and I am so glad I was able to give back; it made me feel so good."
Bharathanatyam, which involves many intricate steps of dance, has been featured in the NBC show "Superstars of Dance."
"They didn't win, but there were some younger dancers on the show," she said.
Mrs. Thirumalai's Natyamani School of Dance is
in Westboro and has students ranging from age 5 to adults.
"I love what I do," she said. "And I love seeing some woman come back to the dance after they have had children or want to learn new with their daughters; that is such a great sight to see. I feel so humbled that I am able to do what I love and be able to give back to the community."
The Natyamani School of Dance enrolls students from beginner to advanced levels. It has presented more than 20 solo dance debuts, participated in national and international programs, and held dance productions to raise money for various charities in the New England area and India.
PHOTOG: SUBMITTED PHOTO
CUTLINE: (1) Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai and some of her senior students perform Bharathanatyam, the national dance of India. (2) Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai is shown demonstrating Bharathanatyam dance steps.