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Mesmerizing and fascinating are words that quickly come to mind when watching rarely seen South Indian classical dance as performed by Fairfax County resident Janaki Rangarajan.

At her performance, Rangarajan’s dance work is intricate with precise movements, including hand gestures and facial expressions. Her costuming and makeup only add to the overall hypnotic affect.

Watching her perform left this writer with an instant interest in learning more of what was such a rich, animated, and quite bold dance style. Apparently, your writer is not the only one.

“Rangarajan’s capacity for precision performance merges cultural identity, historical significance and contemporary storytelling through a unique exploration of traditional dance forms.” said Stephen Clapp, director of Dance Metro D.C., an area-wide organization dance and cultural advocacy organization. “Rangarajan’s dynamic performance quality immediately engages her audiences with intimate gestures as simple as movement of her eyes.”

Rangarajan has taken her dance interests a long way; from a part-time avocation while working full-time at NIH, to opening a dance studio in the Annandale area to performances at the Workhouse at Lorton and all across the D.C. Metro area, including last fall’s VelocityDC at the Harmon Center in downtown DC and just a few weeks ago at the area-wide Intersections cross-cultural event at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in D.C.

What seems most incredible, is that it was not that long ago that Rangarajan made her decision to take her “deep passion about dance, and desire to dance professionally” as her full-time work.

In a recent series of phone and email interviews, much was learned about the South Indian classical dance form that Rangarajan performs, known as Bharatanatyam.

“ I always try to reach out to every single person in the audience. My goal in performing Bharatanatyam is to communicate its beauty to audiences that may not be familiar with it. I firmly believe that audiences can look past the costume and jewelry as well as the novelty of watching something different.” said Rangarajan.

“I might be using a very unique technique, different stories and bringing complex characters to life but all of these are based on human emotions which are universal in nature. Bharatanatyam at its core is an exciting visual medium – the lines and angles created by the dancer’s body are supposed to be symmetrical and precise.” added Rangarajan.

Rangarajan described Bharatanatyam as a classical dance form that is almost 2000 years old. It is now “one of the more popular classical dance styles of India.” While traditionally a solo art form, group presentations have become popular.

When asked about the music, Rangarajan explained that there can be someone keeping rhythm with cymbals, as others play a percussion instrument and a violin. “The tempo depends on the item that is performed. Expressive pieces are usually in a slower tempo than pure dance pieces.”

“Facial expressions are used to convey characters and stories. Story-telling is an important part of Bharatanatyam. The stories are usually taken from Indian epics and mythology. Hand gestures are extensively used for both pure and expressive dance movements,” noted Rangarajan.

“The eye is elaborately drawn to make sure that the subtle expressions through the eyes are clearly communicated and visible to the audience,” she added.

To further showcase Indian classical dance, Rangarajan is developing a dance festival to be held at the Kreeger Auditorium in Rockville, Md. It will be an opportunity “to get a taste of the best of different kinds of Indian classical dance styles, all on the same platform.”

Her hard work has reaped benefits in other ways as well. She was selected as a 2010 Strauss Fellow by the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

“The Arts Council proudly supports artists of diverse backgrounds, and Janaki Rangarajan contributes to the cultural richness of our community through both her teaching, choreography, and performance of bharatanatyam. “ said Linda Sullivan, CEO and President of the Arts Council.

For Rangarajan a great gift is to those watching her dance; “when I can make the audience feel a connection with what I am doing on stage.” There are several opportunities to see for yourself coming right up.