Oregon Folklife Network

Jayanthi Raman

Traditional Skill/Art Craft: Bharatha Natyam Indian Dance

Ethnic Background: Indian

Apprentice: Bakul Godbole

Describe your traditional skill/craft/art, when and why it is done, and your history with it.

I am a practitioner, teacher and choreographer of the classical Indian dance Bharatha Natyam for past four decades. I started performing since my childhood years and teaching since my teenage years. My move to the US, Portland brought me into a new realm twenty years ago. I worked hard to establish as a serious traditional artist never compromising my art form and maintaining its purity and authenticity yet I was creative enough within the boundaries to be dubbed as a contemporary performer and choreographer by the national press. Teaching is my passion and I firmly believe that the generosity of a teacher is the only way an oral art form like classical dance can survive and prosper, preserved for future generations. I was the first artist in my genre to receive awards for my work over the years. Although accolades such as ‘cultural treasure’, ‘gold standard of Indian dance in the Northwest’ and ‘scholar’ etc., are rewarding; my true passion still is teaching the next generation of young dancers locally and continuing this tradition for future generations.

How and from whom was the tradition learned?

I had the good fortune and honor of learning from renowned Guru of Indian classical dance in India, since I was four years old from Guru J. Venkatachalapathy of Kalakshetra and continued later under Guru Adayar Lakshman who is considered synonymous with the art form. He not only is a scholar of dance but also a renowned musician, who has students all over the world. In addition to dance, he is well versed in the theory, percussion, and history of dances, which he generously shares with his students. He has received the highest titles and awards for his contribution to the field of classical dance in India. I studied dance and music for 14 years under his guidance and then started teaching at his institution. I had the fortune of staying in Gurukulam for a year to study the art form in depth from him. The traditional method of teaching in India is the Gurukula system (Guru – Teacher, Kula – Family). The Gurukula system involved living with the teacher, as if the student was part of the family. Studying this art is part of an oral tradition. Education is a dynamic process, imbibed through living, traveling with the Guru (teacher).

Why is this cultural tradition important to your community?

Requiring many years of training before a dancer is ready to perform; Bharatha Natyam is an art form that relies heavily on the teacher-student bond in preserving and perpetuating the accumulated knowledge of the part. The dance is passed down through generations from teacher to student, without a formal notation, as the nuances are only appreciable and learnt be seeing the master artist perform. For Indians, this dance and music is part of our everyday lives, as it is intertwined with the social customs and festivals celebrated. I have been practicing the art form in lifelong pursuit, and the apprentice not only learns the art form, but also its history and value in its cultural aspect and significance in the overall tradition in India. The tradition of this art can then be passed on to younger generation in the East Indian community and to the general public through performances.

Artist Biography

Jayanthi Raman is a practitioner, teacher, and choreographer of Bharatha Natyam, a style of classical Indian Dance. She began performing in her childhood, learning from several renowned Gurus of Indian classical dance and began teaching others as a teenager. She continued to perform and teach after she left her native India to move to Portland twenty years ago, and founded the Natya Dance Academy to offer opportunities for others to learn the tradition. She has given lectures and master classes around the country, and has received many accolades and awards for her performances, as well as grants from the National Dance Project NDP-NEFA, the Oregon Arts Council, and the Oregon Council for Humanities. In her own words, "For Indians, this dance and music is part of our everyday lives, as it is intertwined with the social customs and festivals celebrated."

Experience/Honors

Creative Heights Grant award—2016-17
Oregon Community Foundation
First Indian choreographer to receive this award.

Grant juror/panelists, Master/Apprentice Advisory Panel—May 2016
Illinois Arts Council Agency

Assistant Professor, Department of Dance—2015-16
Portland State University, College of Theater and Arts

Individual Artist Fellowship Award—2015
Oregon Arts Commission
First Indian performing artist in Oregon to receive this award.

University of Oregon Folklife Program—2015
Folk Arts Apprenticeship—TAAP Master Artist Award

Collins Foundation Grant—2015, 2010
Choreography and presentation
First dancer of her genre to receive this award.

Individual Artist Project Grant—2015, 2013, 2009-2011, 2005-2007, 2003-1996
Regional Arts & Culture Council, Portland, OR
First dancer of her genre to receive this award.

Community Program Grant—2015, 2013
Beaverton Arts and Culture Foundation
Commissioned: Beaverton Arts Commission
First dancer of her genre to receive this award.

Community Program Grant—2014
Forest Grove Public Arts Commission
Supported: Theater & Dance Department, Pacific University
First dancer of her genre to receive this award.

Career Opportunity Grant—2014, 2009
Oregon Arts Commission
First dancer of her genre to receive this award.

Arts Leadership Award—2013
Recognition of 20 years of promoting Indian music and dance
Beaverton Arts Commission, presented by the Mayor of Beaverton
First artist of her genre to receive this award.

Professional Development Grant—2010, 2002, 2000
Regional Arts and Culture Council, Portland
First dancer of her genre to receive this award.

Washington State Arts Commission—2003, 2005, 2009 & 2010
Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program- Master artist award
Honor for an out of state master artist
First dancer of her genre to receive this award.

Project Grant – Cultural Coalition of Washington County—2009

Beaverton City Library for lecture-demonstrations
First artist of her genre to receive this award.

Oregon Council for Humanities—2004
Public Program grant, administered through Rasika
First artist of her genre to receive this award.

National Dance Project-NDP & New England Foundation for the Arts NEFA-NDP—2003-2004
Production and touring grant from the Doris Duke Fund for Dance of the National Dance Project, (NDP) administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) with funding from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Altria Group, Inc. Raman was the first artist in her genre to receive this award. Her dance company toured the US as one of the most successful NDP supported tours with rave reviews across the nation.

Performance & Choreography award—2004
Gandhi Foundation & Rialto Atlanta
First artist of her genre to receive this award.

Challenge America Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts—2002
Lecture-Demonstration on Indian music & dance
Supported by Cedar Mill & Hillsboro Public Library.

Grant from American Library Association—2002
Lecture-Demonstration on Indian music & dance
Supported by Beaverton City Library & Beaverton Arts Commission

Performing Artist Award at Madras Music Academy—1999
Presented by legendary vocalist: Dr. M Balamuralikrishna

Vipanchee Festival, India

Oregon History Center/ Folklife Program—1996
Folk Arts Apprenticeship—Master Artist
First dancer of her genre to receive this award
Presented by Governor Kitzhaber of Oregon

Award for Dance Choreography—1987
Mahakavi Bharathiyar’s poetry at Chennai, India