A smart move

Bharatanatyam has helped Ananth Raghunandan work through autism; and from United States, his family has come to India to ensure he gets the most out of the dance form

A few minutes into our conversation, Ananth Raghunandan’s right hand moves to take the form of a mudra. From his eye movement, it is clear that this comes spontaneously for this young dancer whose parents have come from Miami, United States, to fulfil his desire to have his Bharatanatyam arangetram in Chennai. Ananth and his family are now living in Kasturibai Nagar, Adyar.

What’s inspiring about this journey to Bharat through Natya, as the family calls it, is how Ananth beat the odds through dance. Twenty-two-year-old Ananth is on the autism spectrum, and his experience makes it clear that there is therapeutic value in movement.

It is eight years since Ananth started learning dance.

“I am a regular at the Music Season, not so much for the dance as for the fact that it helps Ananth. We did not chose Bharatanatyam for him; he chose it for himself,” says K. Raghunandan, Ananth’s father.

Guru Harija Sivakumar in Miami was his first guru. Later, professor K. Mohanan from Kalakshetra Foundation started offering him lessons.

“He had many sensory-motor challenges and was introduced to karate, hip-hop and tap in Miami, but nothing made as much difference as Bharatanatyam,” says Rama, Ananth’s mother.

On Ananth’s Bharatanatyam arangetram, she says, “The practice sessions were continuous and intense and we are glad Ananth completed this milestone.”

She points out that Ananth’s foot movement and rhythm are his strengths. She says due to regular dance practice his posture has improved tremendously. “I can see so many subtle changes in him — his eyesight is sharper and his hand-eye coordination has improved,” she says.

As Bharatanatyam is partly rhythmic chanting, it has helped in his speech too.

Ananth’s passion for Bharatanatyam led the family to explore more opportunities for him in India. Since the last two years, he has been pursuing a diploma programme in Hospital Record and Documentation Management at Dr. Kamakshi Memorial Hospital (KMH) thanks to encouragement from Dr. T.G. Govindarajan, chairman and managing director of the hospital.

Besides dance, Ananth is well-versed with the piano and actively codes for HashHackCode, an organisation that provides inclusive tech education and mentorship. Interestingly, Ananth’s website (ananthdance.com) was developed by Prem, a HashHackCode student with autism, in time for his arangetram.

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