When Asha Bala was born, her mother looked at her and declared that she would be a dancer. Her country, India, was a newborn as well, recently independent from British rule. So many parents were keen to revitalize ancient cultural and spiritual practices like Bharata Natyam dance, once practiced in the temples and based on epic tales and mythology.
Bala studied the dance form through college but was also fascinated by the reach and presence of modern dance and decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in the U.S. to study it. Here, she made it her life’s work to diversify American dance curricula and bring the classical dances of her home country to diaspora students.
She founded the Leela School of Dance in Cary, where she continues to train young women in dances that are new to them and yet centuries old. Guest host Anita Rao talks with Bala about her life as a Bharata Natyam dancer and educator, and how the traditional art form manages to maintain its roots as it continues to evolve.
In this video, one of Asha Bala's students performs her Arangetram, the culiminating performance of her initial dance education: