Meera Kumanan—Using Dance to Empower Women

Meera Kumanan gets the same sundae from Scoop N’ Scootery every single time. She pays homage to her New York City roots with a NY Cheesecake ice cream.

“Because it’s the best,” she explains, as she grabs a spoon from a cup sitting by the register.

Given her schedule, Kumanan has not had the chance to grab ice cream for a while now. As an e-board member for BU Dheem, she has been working to organize the classical Indian dance group’s tenth annual showcase.  Dheem is Boston University’s Indian Classical Arts Association. They are able to promote the preservation of art through both dance and music.

I was unfamiliar with classical Indian dance up until viewing Kumanan’s performance in the showcase. The Facebook page for the event had introduced me to brightly colored costumes topped off with bangles meticulously stacked up forearms and bells wrapped around ankles. It seemed like it could be something beautiful. I found that actually watching the dancers added a whole new element to this beauty.

While dancers move with grace and fluidity, you cannot look away from their faces. Whether a dance’s message was about motherhood or the power of using one’s own voice, you could read the story off of a dancer’s face as clearly as you could read words out of a book. Kumanan’s skill is evident and justified since she has been dancing since she was in the third grade.

“I’m trained in is Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance originating in Tamil Nadu (which is in South India),” she says. “My parents initially put me in dance classes to stay connected with my culture. Soon, I grew to love this art form as a way for me to express myself and my stories.”

There are seven different forms of classical dance in India, based on region. Bharatanatyam is known for its deliberate expression, music, and rhythm. BU Dheem utilizes this form of dance among several others.

“Dheem became my first family away from home during my freshman year,” Kumanan says of the group.

For this reason, Kumanan worked tirelessly as the organization’s treasurer to ensure that its showcase went smoothly. This year’s showcase was centered around the theme of Shakti or the personification of female strength and divinity. Dheem wanted to use their art form to look at current events through a cultural lens. They used a combination of the events surrounding the #MeToo movement and retelling of Hindu mythology to choreograph a dance.

The performance told the story of a medical student, who was sexually assaulted by her husband's family members. After she is ridiculed and not believed, the young woman tells her mother what has happened. Her mother responds by telling her a Hindu story that parallels her own experiences, giving her the support and encouragement she needs to reach her goal of becoming a doctor. Kumanan hopes that the stories she helps tell onstage can empower fellow team members and audience members.

“Female strength is in our blood - our roots share stories of empowerment and we simply express them through dance.”

 

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