During the summer, Harini Jeyaraman would wake up a few minutes before 6:30, brush her teeth, join a Zoom teleconference, and dance until 8. Afterward, she would eat breakfast. Most nights, at 9:30, she would go on Zoom again and dance until 11. She repeated this routine the entire summer.
Jeyaraman is a sixth-grader at Hopkinton Middle School and a bharatanatyam dancer. Bharatanatyam is a classical form of Indian dance.
This August, Jeyaraman and 697 others set a mark recognized by Guinness World Records for the most people performing a choreographed dance online simultaneously. Jeyaraman worked over the summer to learn this dance with more than 800 other bharatanatyam dancers worldwide. They learned from the famous Indian composer and choreographer Madurai R. Muralidharan. He choreographed the dance and created the song, “Tamizh Annai,” that went with it. This performance marked Muralidharan’s third world record.
Participating in this and other bharatanatyam performances requires physical strength and endurance. For Jeyaraman, the most challenging part of bharatanatyam is the pain she gets in her legs.
“You have to be in aramandi [where] you have to get down to half of your height, and that actually hurts,” she said.
For the world record attempt, Jeyaraman spent almost the entire 30-minute dance in aramandi, a position similar to a deep squat. Jeyaraman incorporates stretches and core exercises to strengthen her body. Even with these exercises, the position still causes her leg pain.
“At night, her legs hurt, so I massage her. The next day she forgets the pain and starts all over again,” said her mother, Priya.
Attention to detail is a large part of bharatanatyam as well. Jeyaraman’s mother described bharatanatyam as storytelling with full expressions and full-body movement. Every part of the body, from eyes to one’s toes, is part of the dance.
“The small little things make the dance look better,” Harini said.
Learning the intricacies of bharatanatyam takes years of practice. Jeyaraman started when she was in kindergarten. She now practices every day for at least 30 minutes and some days up to an hour. She is a student at the Kolam Academy of Dance, and her teacher is the founder of the school, Suja Meyyappan. Jeyaraman was able to participate in the world record attempt because of Meyyappan’s support. Meyyappan pushes Jeyaraman to become better, which has allowed Jeyaraman to earn success in dance.
“I want to continue learning bharatanatyam, practice hard, and enjoy my dancing, so Suja auntie will be happy and proud of me,” Jeyaraman said.
The hard work is paying off. In April, Jeyaraman won first place in her age group in a dance competition run by the New England Malayalee Association.
Jeyaraman also is motivated by Harinie Jeevitha, a famous bharatanatyam dancer. Jeyaraman had the opportunity to watch her practice and perform two years ago during a trip to India.
“She was amazed and inspired by Harinie, so that was a turning moment in her dancing journey,” Jeyaraman’s mother said.
After seeing Jeevitha perform, Jeyaraman wanted to practice even harder. To help her improve, Jeyaraman’s mother would sit in a chair, watch her practice, and then review her steps.
Jeyaraman currently is working toward completing her arangetram, a ceremony for dancers that comes after years of training. She also hopes to compete in and win the prestigious bharathanatyam competition at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival.
For Jeyaraman, dancing is more than just about the awards. She does bharatanatyam because she enjoys how her dancing makes others feel.
Her mother said, “When I’m sad, she dances, and when I see her, it makes me very happy. I forget all my worries. It’s like a goddess dancing.”
Between dancing and school, Jeyaraman also plays violin and bakes. In her neighborhood, she is the local baker. Her favorite food to make is cupcakes.
“I have this recipe for making these strawberry cupcakes that taste really good,” she said.
For her birthday, Jeyaraman made a four-layered cake.
“We don’t buy any bakery items. We live with a baker,” joked her mother.