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Kar shares Indian culture through dance, music

Vibrant colors, graceful movements and rich diversity are all parts of the culture that Indian people bring to mid-Michigan from their homeland.

For Sangeeta Kar, who runs her own Institute of Dance and Music of India in Midland, the performing arts are a way to share her culture with others and preserve the feeling of home.

“You can go inside the culture through the dance and music,” she said.

Kar moved to Midland about 40 years ago from the eastern Indian state of Odisha, because her husband was working for Dow Chemical. In India, Kar performed on TV and was a famous dancer.

Since moving to Midland, she has opened her school and has taught nearly 900 students. Kar currently has about 40 students from 10 different states, who take music and dance lessons in person and online.

To showcase her students’ talents, Kar is holding an annual program with dance performances at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at Grace A. Dow Library Auditorium, Midland. It is free and open to the public.

Kar said the first half of the program will feature classic dances, and the second half will include light classic and Bollywood.

“You will see that even in a small town like Midland, how much talent there is,” she said. “And we have beautiful costumes. So, I hope everybody comes and has a good time.”

President of Indian Association of East Central Michigan Amrit Kochar said Kar is a beloved member of the Indian community.

Kochar said the Indian community in mid-Michigan is full of professionals, especially in the field of medicine, who are also involved in community activities. Both Kar and Kochar said there are at least 300 Indian families in the region.

“When you share your culture, your background, people get a sense of connection,” Kochar said. “Insight into a way of life, I think establishes stronger connections with those who might not be familiar with people who are from a certain region.”

The Indian Association of East Central Michigan was established in the 1980s by a group of immigrants from India who wanted to create a welcoming community and to promote their culture. Now, the association holds different events and cultural celebrations such as Holi and Diwali.

“Indian culture is very vibrant and there is just so much that we have, so many celebrations,” Kochar said. “Music, dance and food are key for a lot of our celebrations. And we are a very close-knit community.”

Culture of India

Kochar said some misconceptions about Indian people are that they keep to themselves and that there is a lot of poverty in India. She said neither of those things is true. India has many rich places, and the people are friendly and welcoming, she said.

Kar added that Indian culture is very complex: there are around 30 states with different languages, religions and traditions. India is also one of the oldest civilizations in the world, she said.

Another interesting thing about the culture is the way that people are taught respect. Kar said there are three levels of respect: the highest is to the god, then to guru (teachers) or elders, and then to parents. For example, if a younger person comes home to an elder, they greet them with "Namaste" and touch their feet.

Similarly, during the dance, Kar said, they pay respect to Mother Earth. Students have to ask Mother Earth for forgiveness for dancing on it. Next, they show respect to a teacher, she said.

The dances themselves are culturally diverse as well. Kar said there are eight classical Indian dance forms. The one she is dancing is Odissi, which dates to the 2nd century B.C.E.

“We know that Odissi dates back to that time, (because) in the temple walls they had all these cool drawings and carvings,” Kar said. “It's known for its fluidity. It's very graceful and very rounded. All the movements are very rounded.”

Some of the dances retell ancient Indian stories, she said.

“In Indian dance, every single part, starting from tips of the fingers, is getting the exercise,” Kar said. “Your body feels good, your mind feels good. ... The dance, for me, is for the body. And music is for the brain.”

There are also two main classical forms of music. Kar teaches the northern one, called Hindustani.

“I went through a period of nostalgia and looking forward to going back home,” Kar said. “But then, my dance and my music and my students kept me rooted to this place. I love dancing or being with people who are into dance or music.”

Masha Smahliuk is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Midland Daily News.
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