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Indian Dance Is Therapeutic For Local Girl

Audio

Aired 5/17/11

The oldest form of Indian classical dance, Bharatnatyam, is said to have divine origins. And for one San Diego girl, the dance has literally changed her life.

— In a small studio in Mira Mesa, a new generation is learning a dance form that goes back thousands of years.

It’s called Bharatnatyam. It originated in Southern India. It’s the oldest of all Indian classical dance styles.

The students in Mira Mesa are all young girls. They’re wearing colorful wraps, tunics, loose pants, and brass bell anklets on their feet.

Bharatanatyam involves a complex combination of precise foot movements, head and eye movements, and hand movements.

It can take seven years to learn all the moves, and a lifetime to master them.

Twleve-year-old Maria Persaud is from Murrieta in southern Riverside County. She’s hooked on it.

“It’s very fast, it hurts, it’s tiring, but it’s still fun," Maria said. "I like it because it’s fun and it’s something I’m really good at.”

Maria’s father, Michael, said it all started when the family went on a trip to India.

“We went on a tour of the Taj Mahal, stuff like that," Persaud explained. "And she came back very, very excited, and very intrigued by the whole thing, the whole Indian thing. And we were lucky enough to be where, in San Diego, where there’s a strong Indian community.”

After the trip, Maria jumped into Bharatanatyam. She’s been studying it for about a year and a half.

The fact that Maria is alive and well is something of a miracle.

One morning, when Maria was about a month-and-a-half old, she just wouldn’t wake up, and she was hot to the touch. Her parents rushed her to the emergency room.

Her mother, Adriana, still shudders when she thinks of it.

“The doctors told us at that time, that we were very lucky," she said. "Because had we waited even 15 minutes longer, we would have lost her.”

Maria was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. That’s an infection of the spinal fluid and the fluid that surrounds the brain.

Maria recovered from it with apparently no ill effects. Until she hit the first grade.

“And we noticed that she was having trouble reading," her mom recalled. "And from there on, it just, it went into other areas of her learning, where she was having difficulty, particularly with math and reading. She was just not doing well at all.”

Maria was also having problems with balance and coordination.

A pediatric neurologist discovered Maria had suffered some brain damage from her early bout with meningitis.

That’s how things stood, until Maria discovered Bharatanatyam. Since then, her mom’s noticed a big difference.

“I think she’s more outgoing, she’s more self-confident," Adriana Persaud said. "She’s doing a lot better in her studies. Her math grade has improved tremendously.”

Neha Patel is Maria’s teacher, and the founder of the Antarnaad School of Dance. Patel's not surprised by Maria’s transformation.

“To do this dance style, particularly this dance style," she said, "you have to have a solid concentration, solid body control, and solid mind control.”

Patel said Bharatanatyam is a form of rhythmic yoga, filled with moves that are hard to execute. She said just learning the standard dancing position is a challenge.

“That is very tough," she said, shaking her head and laughing at the same time. "That takes one year to get trained, like sitting in a diamond shape. And that kills you.”

But it won’t stop Maria.

"It’s what I love doing," Maria said. "And it’s like a therapy. If I’m sad, I do Bharatanatyam. It’s like a therapy, and then it makes me feel better."

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