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Mythili Prakash stands as one of the world’s leading dancers of Bharata Natyam —  the classical dance of South India. Her ingenious style of classicism revives the meaningful expression of the dance and makes for an entrancing performance. Currently, she is on a tour through the United States, and stopped at the Musical Instrument Museum and March 23-24. Here she shares her beginnings and experiences as a performer.

The State Press: How did you start Bharata Natyam?

Mythili Prakash: I was born into a Bharata Natyam environment. My mom is a dancer — my first teacher, in fact — and was at her performance peak around the time I was born. She went back on tour soon after she had me! She had started a school a few years before I was born, so my home was always reverberating with music and dance. It was love at first experience for me, as far as I can remember! All of my mom's old rehearsal videos show me somewhere in the background trying to copy her as best as I could, as a tiny toddler. She has a general rule that children don't join class until they are five, so as much as I wanted to join class, she was making me wait. At the age of three I showed her a dance that I had learned by watching her teach others, so she let me join when I was four years old!

SP: What has inspired you to keep dancing?

MP: Dance itself. It's the most wonderful thing that I know. I love movement, expression, rhythm, poetry and music. All of those things continue to inspire me, and move me forward both in practice and choreography. I'm also deeply moved when I experience beauty in other artists.

SP: What has been your greatest achievement as a dancer?

MP: I don't have one. It’s difficult for me to think of dance as an achievement. For me it is a continuous process of artistic growth. Performances are experiences, each completely different. Awards and accolades are encouraging, but not something to focus on. I'd say the thing that I'm happiest about is that over the last couple of years, my dance journey has taken a turn inwards. The external stimulation is incidental. It is now a deeply internal search that drives my dance.

SP: What is your biggest challenge as a performer?

MP: To be present in each moment. This is of course an ideal that all artists aim for. This is what makes the dance a dynamic meditation. Sometimes it is easier to come close to it in solitary practice. On stage, there are so many factors, so many variables that one has to be aware of and in control of. However, that awareness has to maintain a fine balance. After all, the most deeply fulfilling moments are when the artist loses her/himself in the art. Finding and sustaining those moments in every performance is the biggest challenge.

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