Students attend East Indian dance class


Photo by Kaitlin Rodriguez- Reporter

Kaitlin Rodriguez, Reporter

As part of the California Lutheran University Fall Cultural Dance Festival, an East Indian dance class was held on Oct. 1 for members of the campus community. The ongoing festival is hosted by the Department of Theatre and Dance. The class featured Padmini Vassan, the founder of Padmalaya School of Dance in Thousand Oaks, as well as some of her students.

According to the Cal Lutheran website, Vassan is “an accomplished dancer in three art forms- Bharat Natyam, Mohini Attam and Kathakali.” 

During the class, Vassan’s students performed Bharat Natyam. According to informational packets passed out at the class, Bharat Natyam is considered to be one of the oldest dance forms in the world. The name is a combination of words like “expression, melody, rhythm and dance.” It originated in South India and was used to “educate the public about the Hindu Scriptures.” 

For many students present, attending this class was a requirement for the class TA-102 Introduction to Dance History, taught by Barbara Wegher-Thompson.

“Part of what this masterclass really enriches during this segment of this class is we are learning the history of sacred dance and what it has to do with modern dance,” Wegher-Thompson said. “The class has been in existence five years and after the first year I thought I had to get some guest teachers in here, so I asked for grants to do it.” 

Previously, guest instructors have taught workshops on hula dancing. Wegher-Thompson said she hopes to eventually get a traditional Japanese Kabuki dancer. 

The Writing Center staff member Tammy Whitlow was present at the class, and said she attended in hopes of connecting with her students. 

“I support international students academically and thought maybe I could connect with some of my students and have some fun getting to know them in a place that is not academic,” Whitlow said. 

Vassan and her students performed multiple types of dances, answered questions and taught the class some of their signature moves such as the “head slide” popular in many Indian dances. 

Vassan explained to the class how dance moves were chosen to go with each song. 

“All of our songs have lyrics and lyrics have meaning. We dance to the words,” Vassan said. 

Vassan and her students demonstrated dances showing different emotions and stories. These included dances of gratefulness as well as greed, sadness and happiness. 

Vassan also made it clear that the dances were not just about the hand and feet movements, but also about something from within: expression. 

“One thing about expression is that it is something that you cannot teach, you have to feel it,” Vassan said. “Our dance is a body, mind and soul expression. It is not just physical.”

This was the first year this class was featured in the Cal Lutheran Fall Cultural Dance Festival, but Wegher-Thompson hopes it will not be the last. 

“These are people that I have been able to locate and ask to share their sacred dance from their own history. It’s not like me giving a second-hand version,” Wegher-Thompson said. “I would like to build this until there are 10 to 15 classes available for people to take.” 

The Cal Lutheran Fall Dance Festival will continue throughout this month with other class opportunities. The next opportunity to participate is a class on Folklórico, a traditional Mexican dance, on Oct. 15. The class is open to both students and members of the community.