Anusha Fernando is a Bharata Natyam dancer and long-time friend of the Ashram. She began her study of the dance form in 1990 and is the artistic director of Shakti Dance in Vancouver. Anusha has danced and offered workshops at the Ashram since 2013. Invited to dance in the Temple during this year’s Celebration Festival, Anusha reflects on the experience and her history with this dance form.
Bharata Natyam is a form of dance with ancient roots in the temples of South India. My own history with it began while I was studying at university. I saw a video of Bharata Natyam in a class called Images of the Feminine in Hinduism and Buddhism. Though I had never danced before, something resonated within me. There was a feeling of recognition of something familiar and I remember thinking, “I could do that.” Then I was extremely lucky to find premier teachers, even though I knew nothing of the form.
Last year I’d been invited to offer a performance for this summer and preparing the repertoire was a lifeline for me. I’ve had a difficult year with the tragic death of my brother. I felt very strongly about maintaining this commitment. Returning to a practice in challenging times is a valuable gift.
Just before coming to the Celebration I had a long retreat at a Zen Monastary I go to three to four times a year. Being a Zen Buddhist and a dancer, I’m interested in the connection between movement and stillness. I would sit in meditation for long periods and then go to a hut on the grounds to move through the repertoire. My main practice is exploring those opposites and the inseparable connection between the mind and body.
I feel like everyone can get something out of this form. Bharata Natyam has never been a form of entertainment. The ancient devadasis in the temples weren’t dancing for other people to watch. It was an embodied version of their relationship with the Divine. Even when it became a form that was put on stages, it’s still never simply been a form of entertainment.
Dancing at the Ashram, and especially in the Temple, is wonderful. Dance is an expression of sourcing what is around you and being in a place like this is an extremely inspiring opportunity. It felt very healing to be here on so many levels. The Celebration Festival lifted me. There were so many moments I thought, “I’ll never forget this.” I was very moved and uplifted. I think everybody felt that.