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July 8, 1999
The Golden Girls of San Antonio
Radhika R Shankar in San Antonio
San Antonio's Indian audience, which is familiar with the popular television sitcom about four female senior citizens, often chuckle at the announcement, "Now, here come the Golden Girls of San Antonio."
But when the six 40 something women begin weaving their fancy footwork and graceful movements the audience is spellbound.
Eighteen years ago, five women who had become friends through the local India Asia Association discovered that they shared an unfulfilled passion.
Dr Rajam Ramamurthy, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, motel manager Anusuya Bhagat, Malathi Koli, a practising psychiatrist, Lalithamma Kumara, anaesthesiologist and chief of anesthesia at Santa Rosa Children's Hospital, and Madhu Mehta, medical technologist and computer programmer, had dreamt of becoming proficient dancers during their teen years. In San Antonio, they were able to make this a reality.
"We all had daughters who were about seven years old at that time and we wanted them to learn Bharata Natyam," says Dr Ramamurthy. When Revathi Satyu, their prospective dance instructor, suggested that the mothers learn dancing along with their daughters, the women took up the challenge.
"I was anxious for my daughter to study this beautiful art," Dr Kumara recalled recently.
The Arathi School of Indian Dance was created in 1981 with the five women and their five daughters. "We made a promise to dedicate Friday evenings and weekends practising," said Dr Ramamurthy. By the mothers and daughters graduated with their arangetram performance, and contrary to the hopes of their spouses that the women would hang up their anklets, they began setting new goals.
They continued to teach dancing and hold workshops with visiting well-known dancers from India. They also began choreographing dance dramas such as Shakunthala in 1990 and Athmalinga -- the story of Ravana which had never been presented as a dance drama before -- in 1994.
The Golden Girls have performed classical, folk dances and ballets in most Texas cities and in neighboring states.
"But what about dancing? What about learning an ancient Indian dance or two and performing it in public? We had to be adventurous to do ... Yes, we are an adventurous lot."
The donations from the performances go towards funding the India Asia Association's improved cultural center which will inspire the youngsters to learn this ancient art form and will foster a multiethnic cultural environment in San Antonio.
"It was hard with all of us pursuing demanding careers, but we wanted so much to provide a quality dance education," explained Dr Ramamurthy whose daughter has just started her medical education.
"I find teaching young children a most rewarding activity. To be able to create an opportunity for a child to move in harmony with music, to develop co-ordination, concentration and unity of purpose, as a pediatrician is very fulfilling."
The founders of the Arathi School believe the encouragement of the Indian community of San Antonio and the co-operation of many families went into the school's success. With over 40 students currently enrolled, the founders have been encouraging the young graduates of the school like Kausalya Subramaniam to take over in training new students.
If the spouses of the San Antonio Golden Girls have their hopes up about the women retiring from dancing, they might have to wait a bit longer. The Golden Girls have already set their goal to create a school similar to Kalakshetra in Madras in a few years. In addition, they are finishing up on a book which details the methodology of dance training at the Arathi school.
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