Sishya: Kuchipudi & Bharatnatyam Dancer Sumi Rao {Spotlight}

Sumi (Kusum) is a student of Kuchipudi and a dancer at Kalamandapam, Fairfax, VA. She learns from Guru Mrinalini Sadananda and guru Kavitha Cheedalla. She also learns Bharatnatyam under Guru Shanthi Ashok at Nrityanjali. She is a freshman at Chantilly High School, VA.IMG_3691When did you start dancing and who are your gurus?

I started dancing at the age of 3, learning western styles of dance like ballet, tap, and jazz. My kuchipudi training started at the age of 5 under smt. Mrinalini Sadananda at Kalamandapam. At the age of 7, I started my training in Bharatanatyam under smt. Shanthi Ashok at Nrityanjali. Throughout the years I’ve had the privilege of learning under renowned gurus from India.

How do you prep for a dance performance?

Before I leave the house, I thank god for giving me the opportunity to perform at the place I am performing. Then as I’m in the car, driving towards the venue, I play the song as many times as I can while closing my eyes and visualizing myself doing the dance. Right before I go on stage, I do small stretches and distract myself from my surroundings because at that moment, it’s important to completely focus before you start dancing.

What’s your favorite dance item or music piece you listen to when you want to connect to dance?In general, the music I listen to regularly is mainly pop or hip hop and as I’m listening to those kinds of songs I end up choreographing small pieces in my head. But, in respect to classical music, I tend to lean towards thillanas and padams because the songs are beautiful and those songs make learning and performing enjoyable.

How would you describe an amazing dancer and do you have any inspiring role models?

In my eyes, an amazing dancer is someone who devotes their entire self in class and on stage. They always pay attention to every aspect of the body whether it be footwork or head and eye movements. It’s also important to understand to take criticism and when a dancer can do that and take it as an opportunity for growth, it shows passion for the art. Some role models would be my teachers and peers but one dancer I look up to is Harinie Jeevitha from Sridevi Nrithyalaya in India. She is an amazing bharatanatyam dancer and I aspire to be like her as I grow!  

How has dancing helped you in other areas? School, friendships and other?

Classical Indian Dance has helped me stay in touch with indian culture which is important since I was born and raised in America. Through dance, I’ve made tons of long lasting friendships that I cherish very much and with respect to school, my memory has gotten increasingly better. I think since I’ve been learning dance for so long, I’ve been able to pick up steps a lot faster than before and I’m able to remember all that I’m doing. Dance has also helped me become a more grounded and focused individual because when you’re learning, you don’t really have time to waste.

In your eyes, what’s your biggest achievement or moment of satisfaction (in dance)?

My biggest achievement, in my eyes, would be completing my Nrithya Sambhavana in Kuchipudi. This was similar to a test of my dancing capabilities and how I could end up performing 6 dances back to back, while maintaining my stamina and posture. It was one of the most satisfying feelings to finish it because I worked so hard to memorize and perform all those dances at just 13!

It’s the year 2024 – where do you see yourself in the dance field?

Since I would be in college, I hope to join a dance team and ultimately continue my Indian classical dance education. Beyond that, I would love to open up a dance school and teach all types of dance that I’ve learned throughout my life like Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, Jazz, Tap, Ballet, Contemporary, and Bollywood.

You can follow Sumi on her Instagram account dedicated to dance.

SSP_7640 Liked reading? Then check out the other senior and more accomplished dancers and their gurus of the DMV area here  

Author: tandavam

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