Student shares passion for Indian dance by teaching it

By Wesley Robinson

Aparna Roli Nigam has not had the best luck getting a crowd at her dance lessons at UK, but after eight years of her own training, she hopes her hard work will pay off with an increased student interest in Indian dance.

“(Indian dance lessons) are a unique opportunity that are not always offered in the campus environment,” said Nigam, a biosystems and agriculture engineering junior.

During the Spring 2007 semester, Nigam had limited support and attendance at the dance lessons. Only one person attended regularly, and occasionally no one would show up, she said.

However, Nigam said she saw an opportunity to teach people in the community and at UK about Indian dance culture, so she persisted with the idea and set up plans to begin the weekly lessons.

Nigam found support for her dance class from Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of student diversity engagement, and Jesline Chandrakumar, a volunteer who said the Office of Student Diversity Engagement was looking to bring different dance lessons to campus.

Their work led to the first official Indian Dance Lessons during K Week 2, the spring orientation week, earlier this month; 14 people attended the class.

Nigam, a Pittsburgh native, trained at the Nandanik Dance Academy in Pittsburgh under her guru of dance, Nandini Mandal. The majority of her background in Indian dance is in Navanritya, a contemporary form of the classical Bharatanatyam style. Nigam said she is currently practicing modern and jazz dance styles.

As a student, Nigam has danced with the UK Dance Ensemble, and last year, she won the award for the best choreographed dance presented by the ensemble. Her award-winning dance was in Rang De, a contemporary Indian style with a message about bringing color to life, having happiness and fulfilling dreams, Nigam said.

That message is something Nigam said she hopes to convey to students in her dance lessons.

The students who attended Nigam’s dance lesson during K Week 2 were taught the history and basics of Indian dance.

Deepali Jain, a health administration graduate student who attended the first class, said she appreciated the background Nigam gives on each of the steps and Nigam’s warnings on the discipline needed for mastering Indian dance.

“She made it clear that you cannot go to one class and learn everything,” Jain said. “It takes discipline to learn.”

Nigam said she continues to train with her guru to polish old skills and learn new ones during holiday breaks when she returns home to Pittsburgh.

“Dancing isn’t a finite art — there’s always something more to learn,” Nigam said. “There are so many styles and types and abilities you can learn.”

Students interested in attending the Indian dance lessons, which are held every Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center, can show up any week to participate and to sign up to receive more information about the classes.