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Blending Generations and Cultures, Ragamala Dance Company Soars

by Slade Kemmet
August 26, 2019 | Work

Dance is so much more than movement. It strengthens us physically, mentally and it can be a conduit for audiences to connect with distant places and cultures.

For the Ramaswamy family, dance — specifically Bharatanatyam, a South Indian classical dance form — is both lifeblood and business.

Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest forms of classical dance in India and was originally performed during important festivals, ceremonies and times of worship. Aparna Ramaswamy learned her first Bharatanatyam movements watching her mother, Ranee Ramaswamy, teach.

"I have always loved it," Aparna said. "I have always wanted to practice it very deeply. It's also been a very strong point of connection between me and my mother. And it keeps me connected to a place I feel is home."

The business of dance

Aparna and Ranee studied Bharatanatyam together under renowned soloist Padma Bhushan Smt. Alarmel Valli. In 1992, Ranee founded Ragamala Dance Company in Minneapolis, and appointed Aparna co-artistic director in 2002. After years of side-by-side study and collaboration, the artistic partnership on this new business was elemental.

"We became students together, so it's a special relationship," Ranee said. "I'm the root, she's the trunk of this organization."

Younger sister Ashwini rounded out the family dynamic, as a company member and now as choreographic associate and director of marketing and public relations.

"The way that we create and the way that we, the model of the company, it was built on a family," Ashwini said.

"There's always been a school and it's very small and it's very deliberately small because we'd like to give a lot of attention to each student," she said. "But if you think about it, we also teach these girls confidence, the importance of women run companies, how to communicate in certain ways. So we really pride ourselves on teaching these girls, from a young age, life lessons that go beyond dance."

Built on family

Now in its 26th season, Ragamala Dance Company is a world-renowned company, described by The New York Times as "providing some of the most transcendent experiences that dance has to offer."

The Ramaswamy family members consider themselves lucky to be able to pursue what they love and to be able to teach and expose new audiences to Bharatanatyam. And lucky to be able to do it all with each other.

"I happen to have a family, where we are all deeply in love with one art form," Aparna said. "What family offers you is a very safe sounding board and that is a very rare thing. Creating art can be very isolating and so to have people who you love and trust around you while you're doing so, it can be incredibly heart-warming and frustrating and challenging in a wonderful way."

To learn more about the Ramaswamy family and Bharatanatyam dance, watch this video produced by MN Original, also a part of Twin Cities PBS

This video is part of America’s Entrepreneurs: Making it Work, a Rewire initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur and Innovation Exchange.

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