Memories of Bharata Kalanjali, Anna & Akka

Sheila Christian Rubin

I was very fortunate to be one of the first students taught by Anna and Akka when they founded Bharata Kalanjali. My lessons began in January of 1970, on the thatched rooftop of their old Shastrinagar house. I had Shanta Akka to myself most of every morning, and her impeccable teaching has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. Now, after 24 years of teaching myself, I still appreciate more every day the patient perfectionist, consummate artist, and warm, loving person that she is. At that time, Anna was still going off with his briefcase to work at a regular job every morning, and Sanjay was just a very little boy. I was thrilled to be able to study with the Dhananjayans because I had begun my training in Rishi Valley School with Kumari Meenakshi and continued in Varanasi with Dr CV Chandrashekar, and I knew the value of a truly dedicated artist and teacher.

I will always thank my lucky star that led me to ask Kunhiraman Sir if he knew of any teacher from Kalakshetra who might be able to teach me outside my classtime at the Central College of Carnatic Music. He said, "There are two friends of mine who have just begun their own school, and I think they may take you as their student." The next day, I was at their house, and for me it was love at first sight. I knew that I had truly found the teachers for whom I had been searching: totally dedicated to beauty and perfection in art, yet unpretentious and unassuming; full of joy in life and in their budding careers.

There were hours and hours of rehearsals every day for "variety" programs, which were the rage in Madras at the time. Folk and classical dances from all over India, with dozens of different costumes, changed so quickly I'm sure it made even the audiences heads spin. I know our heads were spinning backstage! We had great times, joking and laughing and working together.

Then it was time for my arangetram, at Rasika Ranjani Sabha in Mylapore. Of course I didn't feel really ready, but somehow the performance--to a packed theater--got great reviews. As I danced more and more, both in solo and group programs, my confidence developed under Akka and Anna's careful guidance and I actually began to enjoy being on stage as much as I loved their wonderful classes and rehearsals.

Years went by, and the time came for me to return to the United States. I tried again and again to arrange programs for Anna and Akka in Alabama, but the Southern culture took many years--and many performances by myself and my students here--to warm up to South Indian classical arts. Now, I can proudly say that this goal is fianally being realized: the Silver Jubilee of my dance school and company, Natyananda will be celebrated next June with a gala performance of the Dhananjayans, myself, and all my students. And this performance is supported not only by the Indian community, but by the Alabama State Council on the Arts, and our local companies of Classical Ballet, and Spanish, Middle Eastern, and African dancers and musicians. The whole festival is called "Celebrate Unity, Honor Diversity", and will bring my beloved teachers and their incredible musicians together with wonderful artists of different genres in the American Deep South.