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'A force of nature': Natya at Berkeley wins 1st place, heads to Bharatanatyam nationals

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Natya competes as a Bharatanatyam team, dancing in a classical style that originates in Tamil Nadu, India.


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MARCH 08, 2023

UC Berkeley’s premier Bharatanatyam dance team placed first at the 2023 Mayuri Indian Classical Dance Competition held at the University of Maryland on Saturday, earning Natya a spot at the nationals competition.

According to the team, its members worked incredibly hard in preparation for the competition. Natya serves as an important representation of South Indian culture on campus and is a space for the team’s members to bring Bharatanatyam to their college experience.

Bharatanatyam is a form of classical Indian dance that originated in Tamil Nadu in southern India. It expresses many religious and cultural themes of South India and is an important aspect of the region’s culture.

“South Indian classical Bharatanatyam dance is … underrepresented when it comes to what people think of Indian dancing,” said campus senior and Natya team member Abinaya Srikant.

Srikant said she has practiced Bharatanatyam since about the age of 5 and is very grateful for the opportunity to bring a part of her culture to UC Berkeley.

Natya works tirelessly throughout the school year. In its noncompetitive season in the fall, its members practice as a team roughly three times a week, with each session lasting two to three hours.

In their competitive season in the spring, though, they are often practicing as a team four to five times a week, not including the time each member practices individually. Their hard work has been reflected in their competition results and invitation to nationals.

The team flew into Maryland for its tournament early Friday morning and began practicing almost immediately.

“It really shows how dedicated this team was to put on a good show from the start,” said Pavan Bhat, the director of the 2023 Mayuri Competition.

Bhat said not only did the team execute the classical dance style, but they chose a “unique theme,” focusing on climate change and deforestation.

The team receives almost no funding from the school. Almost all expenses the team incurs through travel, food and other expenses are paid out of pocket.

“We compete at two to three competitions in spring and we essentially fund most of our (competition) season out of pocket, like flights, hotels, food, costumes, comp registration fees,” said team manager Aparna Kumar. “It tends to add up to a lot and people are doing this because they are really passionate about this art form.”

Natya is getting prepared to travel to nationals and compete against seven of the best Bharatanatyam teams at colleges across the country.

The nationals competition, called Origins 2023, will take place in Houston, Texas on April 22.

“Berkeley Natya has been a force of nature this season and we look forward to seeing their performances in the seasons to come,” said Sumani Nunna, a representative from the national competition.

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MARCH 08, 2023