Turkish rhythms flow through the limbs of Oben Cinar with the same intensity of the 100 tiny bells ringing around Supriya Jaganathan’s feet as she performs Bharatnatyam, a ancient Indian dance.
Through traditional motions of ethnic dance, performers speak the body language of their cultures – and different styles can speak to one another in a dialogue of dance.
“People are so different,” says sophomore Heidi Wicker, a seasoned tap dancer recently drawn to Spanish dancing. “But every culture seems to have a dance.”
All people carry an innate desire to “say something,” says Lin Wenning, who teaches ballet and dance history.
“I think we have a need to have a voice, to hear our voice, to admit what we are feeling,” she reflects.
Dance allows an escape from “this talking thing” and communicates emotion within people, Wenning says.
Through intricate foot work, exact hand movements and expressive facial gestures, Jaganathan, a senior, reincarnates Hindu stories passed through generations.
Jaganathan says she tries to enamor the audience with powerful pieces focusing on Nataraja, the Hindu lord of dance. She says she hopes her on-stage efforts captivate her audience.
“(Dance) is a direct way of giving joy to the audience,” she explains. “If I can make just one person smile, if they are immersed in my dance, I will have made a difference.”
Along with viewers’ satisfaction, performers also reap benefits from this art form.
Sophomore Kim Castro, who traces her roots to the Philippines, says dancing provides a link to her culture.
Raised in Pittsburgh, she saw little of her ancestors’ culture. A local Filipino folk dance troop gave her the outlet she needed to explore her heritage.
“The main purpose was to get together and learn about the history of the dance and explain the meaning,” she says.
Wicker says she has learned about various cultures by participating in cultural dances such as Scottish clogging. “(Dance) is really a window into each culture.”
Long hours spent coordinating their movements fosters a sense of camaraderie, says Ece Sanal, who recently founded a Turkish folk dance group.
Sanal’s co-ed group sweats through the rigorous, free-flowing movements of ciftetelli , a western Turkish dance usually presented by women. Donning shalwar pants and sheer veils, the dancers move through the shoulder-shaking, bouncing, stomping, clapping rhythmic movements of the dance.
And in enduring difficult practices and mastering intricate steps, friendships are forged, Sanal says.
“(The group) has such a dynamic,” she says. “We have such a good time . we are so happy when we are dancing.”
Cinar, a graduate student from Izmir, a western city in Turkey, has spent only six months in the United States. He has finally found his niche – in the dance group.
But along with cultural and social benefits, dance helps define one’s identity, Wenning says. A certified movement analyst, Wenning says she found her personal values through examining motion and dance.
Wicker and Jaganathan say they found discipline and an understanding of respect through their determination to pursue dance.
Respect – for the teachers who share the craft with their pupils, as well as for those who share passion for the art.
This article appeared in the April 23, 1998 issue of the Hatchet.