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New Jersey's Arya Dance Academy completes a decade

Last updated on: July 8, 2011 23:01 IST

New Jersey's Arya Dance Academy completes a decade

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Arthur J Pais

When about 900 students of Arya Dance Academy from age 4 to 20 danced in a number of four-minute segments June 12, arguably a record was set for a desi show in America, says Arthur J Pais.

The students, mostly from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, were dancing at the prestigious New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the dance school.

Some items had 10 students, some nearly 20. Some of Arya's teachers also performed, but it was a mostly students-driven show.

"I wish I could say that I am going to take a few days off," said Rupal K Patel, founder and director of the Parsippany, New Jersey-based Arya Dance Academy. "But I am preparing for a Kathak tour with some of our students in a handful of European countries. And since I am also going to dance, I would be spending a lot of time on this tour."

She is also working on expanding the school into Canada. Arya has over 4,000 students, in about 36 American states and in a couple of Indian cities.

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Image: Students performing at the concert
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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"Our students participate in many mainstream events and I understand our schools in India are planning to perform in many Indian cities and also in China and a few other Asian countries," said Patel, who is in her 30s. "We had a similar dance event five years ago at the NJPAC but it was much smaller than this." 

At Arya's 10th anniversary, she took to the stage in the reenactment of the Macy's Parade item. Her group made history last year when it became the first South Asian troupe to dance at the 80-year-old annual Thanksgiving Parade.

The nearly 72 artists were interviewed by NBC and also featured in big mainstream publications. Though each item at Arya's anniversary event could be seen as a standalone piece, those who watched the show from the beginning to end were able to follow a musical play that told a flimsy but typical Bollywood love story.

"The audience saw performances by students in dance styles such as Kathak, Bharata Natyam, Garba, Bhangra, Hip Hop, and Bollywood," Patel said.

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Image: Teachers performing at the concert
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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"We also used Kathak as the main cl-assical form, incorporating subtle facial ex-pressions, graceful chakkars (twirls), and dynamic footwork. People think that we are only Bollywood, but we teach quite a bit of cl-assical and semi-classical dance. And don't forget, even in Bollywood there is occasionally room for the semi-cl-assical (dances). We even won a prize for our Kathak dances at a competition at Princeton recently."

The performances varied widely, and some very young kids were too dazzled by the ticketed event, having to perform for a filled theater that included parents, family friends, peers and others. But the audiences were not complaining. For every act of missed step, there were several fairly seasoned performances.

"We come to cheer not only our children," said a father whose 7-year-old daughter was dancing in a Kathak group, "but other children too. They may not be world class dancers but surely they are learning some discipline and having fun too."

Most of the students came from New York tristate area and Pennsylvania.

A 10-year-old boy said before his performance: "Don't ask my name right now, don't ask me anything; I am too nervous. But wish me luck!"

On the Arya Dance Academy's Web site are testimonials from students.

"I performed a solo classical dance in my school's talent show,' Anisha Patel, 9, of Edison, New Jersey, wrote. "My friends were amazed at my dance. Arya has built my confidence dancing in front of others and I made new friends at the school. I want to keep dancing!"

Image: Students performing at the concert
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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