|Committed to widen the horizons of international understanding through dance.|
An article was published on July 9, 2003 about Abhinaya and its founding member and President, Uma Eachempati. The article was written by Jessica Sindel, a staff writer at the time for the Chesterfield Journal. The full article is cited below exactly as it was printed in 2003:
Doctor prescribes dance to treat thirst for Indian culture
Performance employ themes and stories
When Uma Eachempati was a little girl, she told her father she wanted to learn to dance. His response?
"He said, 'No. Go study," Eachempati said with a laugh.
She decided on a compromise: first, she became a doctor and then, at age 40, she began to study Bharata Natyam and Kuchipudi, two forms of traditional Indian dance.
Eachempati, now 67, moved to St. Louis from India in 1969 and currently practices as a obstetrician-gynecologist at St. Anthony's Medical Center. After celebrating her 40th birthday, she began taking dance lessons once a week, practicing her moves in the kitchen in her spare time.
"In Indian dance, we do a lot of stomping, so I was always knocking the pans down and making all kinds of noise," said Eachempati, who lives in Chesterfield.
Regardless of the increased noise level, Eachempati's passion for dance grew as she continued her studies. But so did her frustration level when she tried to attend Indian dance performances and learn more about her hobby in the St. Louis area.
"A lot of good performances come to the United States; they just weren't coming to St. Louis," said Eachempati. "My friends and I were always having to go to Chicago, but I wanted more people in this area to be able to see Indian dance."
So, in 1993, Eachempati founded Abhinaya, which means "expression," to promote and present the seven different forms of classical Indian dance to a diverse audience through performance. The word Abhinaya refers to the nine different emotional expressions acted out by dancers during performance.
"There are three or four Indian dance studios in the area, and probably 300 children studying dance," Eachempati said. "I wanted these kids to have some lessons in cultural heritage."
The theme of these dances ranges greatly, from religious and mythological stories to adaptations of popular literature. In 2001, Abhinaya presented "The Living Tree," an adaptation of the well-known Shel Silverstein story, "The Giving Tree."
"A lot of these dances incorporate contemporary themes along with the more traditional Indian stories," she said. "Every hand gesture has a meaning, and as they put them together the dancers are really able to tell a story."
In the beginning, most of the funding for these programs came from Eachempati's own pocket and from a few generous donors. That changed when Abhinaya received official nonprofit status in 1998 and became eligible for grant money from local arts commissions.
Since then, Abhinaya has been able to bring the more accomplished and more expensive acts to the area. She also has seen her organization grow to include a number of dance enthusiasts from throughout the area who make up the executive committee and board of trustees.
"Everyone in our group takes dance lessons or their children take lessons," Eachempati said with a smile. "Everyone has jobs, and this is their hobby."
Aparna Mohan, Abhinaya's secretary, joined the group in 1999 out of a deep appreciation for the art form. She studies dance along with her son.
"Many of these performers have studied all over," Aparna said. "Lots of them have studied with the gurus and the purists."
"We hope that with more funding, we can bring in three big acts every year and then put on a local show as well," Mohan said. "We're always trying to reach out to everyone, not just the Indian community.
"Art is culture and everyone can enjoy it," she said.
Classical Dance Styles
The many classical styles of Classical Dance are Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Mohini Attam, Kathakali, Manipuri and Yakshagana.
Abhinaya Board Members
Thank you to our 2014-2016Board Members for all of their continued hard work and dedication to Abhinaya and its Mission.
Uma Eachempati - President
Mythili Bharadwaj - Vice President