Bharatanatyam in Ballet Shoes
Bharatanatyam in Ballet Shoes
Paro was excited to learn a new dance, but on the first day of ballet class, she was worried. Paro peeked inside. Dancers were twirling and swirling like little fairies. Her tippy-toes started tingling. Her toes weren't nervous!"
As Paro is starting her first ballet lesson, she is feeling nervous. She sees the other children and how easily they follow along, and she thinks she won't fit in. Her mother reminds her she comes from a dancing family, but Paro can't see the connection between ballet and Bharatanatyam. Bharatanatyam is an ancient classical dance style, popular all over India and originally performed in Hindu temples. It is one of the oldest dance traditions in the world, dating back 2000 years.
Paro joins in, teaches a Bharatanatyam move to the other kids, and they discuss their favourite dancer with Paro’s being Rukmini Devi, however, when the other children don't know who that is, Paro feels even more self-conscious.
As Paro diligently practices ballet, she begins to feel like her Bharatanatyam background is impeding her success in ballet. She decides to stop dancing Bharatanatyam altogether and only focus on ballet because she believes she can’t be successful at both types of dance.
Then one day, Paro's mother comes to ballet class in full Bharatanatyam dress and make-up and begins to dance. As much as Paro loves to watch her mother dance, she is embarrassed and still doesn't believe that Bharatanatyam belongs in ballet. Much to Paro’s surprise, her ballet teacher joins in the Bharatanatyam dance, and Paro is further shocked when her mother does a pirouette in her Bharatanatyam dress.
As everyone joins in to dance, Paro, in teaching her friends some Bharatanatyam moves, realizes that many of the basic steps and underlying principles of Bharatanatyam and ballet are very similar and even the same.
Paro explores her cultural identity through dance, and readers can see her struggles. The illustrations highlight her mother's worry when Paro decides she doesn't want to do any more Bharatanatyam. But her mother helps Paro see the connections and creates the opportunity for her to visualize the similarities between both styles of dance.
The illustrations by Anu Chouhan are perfect, bright and cheerful. The images highlight the key messages in the story, and the Bharatanatyam make-up and dress are as dramatic as they are in real life. Most importantly, the dance movements are vivid and accurate with the flair of floral illustrations indicating the steps and flow of the dance styles.
A note from the author tells readers that she was inspired to write Bharatanatyam in Ballet Shoes by the experiences of ballet dancer Anna Pavlova and Bharatanatyam dancer Rukmini Devi who influenced each other in real life! Mahak Jain has written a beautiful story with multicultural characters, and the themes of dance and the importance of learning about different cultures are all meaningful to young readers.
Nisha Prajapati is a librarian in Toronto, Ontario.