NPR: How Hema Ramaswamy Found Healing Through Traditional Indian Dance

Jewish girls go through the bat mitzvah, 15-year-old Latinas celebrate the quinceanera. And for generations of Indian-American girls, the culmination of years of studying classical Indian dance is a lavish solo performance before a crowd of hundreds. Reporter Arun Venugopal of member station WNYC attended what may have been the first such performance by a woman with Down syndrome.

An arangetram, which literally means “ascending the stage,” is a major accomplishment that takes years of preparation. This moment, when a student of dance or music asserts her artistic independence, usually happens in the teen years. Ramaswamy is 23.

Ramaswamy, who has Down syndrome, originally began dancing for health reasons. “But then it became part of her, and she really loves and enjoys it, and it took her 13 years with a lot of challenges, midway, to complete this,” explained her father, Ram. “And now today is a perfect day for her — her graduating in this art.”

She was able to achieve this despite her diagnosis and despite two major surgeries for a dangerous leak of cerebrospinal fluid. Her father said dance has strengthened Ramaswamy’s muscles and given her fine motor skills she simply didn’t have before.

“I feel so happy in dancing,” she beams, surrounded by a flurry of doting aunties while preparing for her performance.

read the article