Founder, Co-Creative Director, and Physician-in-Training
It happened when she was dancing: the lights blared, the audience vanished, and the mridangam drummed up the story of the King acquiescing his head to God. At some point in the two hour solo dance show, she felt it—completely wordless joy intertwined with the freedom of dancing. She was hooked.
Shilpa began training in Kuchipudi at the age of 8 with Ms. Sasikala Penumarthy at the Academy of Kuchipudi Dance and performed her solo debut recital—her Rangapravesham—in 2011 with Ms. Anuradha Nehru and Mr. Kishore Mosalikanti at the Kalanidhi Dance school. She remembers long summer camps in Atlanta and Bethesda, watching older girls dancing with a powerful grace the younger girls admired. She also remembers classes (which were better when she practiced) the storytelling, and the annual performances.
Captivated by the power of dance, Shilpa began to use it as a tool for community development. She spent her summers in college teaching dance to inner-city youth in Schenectady; she had an internship in Dance Movement Therapy at Ellis Hospital under Pamela Faith Lerman; and she taught refugee women to share their traditional dances in a weekly women’s group in Albany called RISSE. In her senior year at Union College, she directed and choreographed Anamika, a mixed-media piece that combined ballet, praise dancing, and Kuchipudi, to serve as a call to action against the harms of human trafficking. Anamika’s value extended beyond its role as a work of art—it served to demonstrate how various social justice activists and kind souls could use their bodies and dances to tell one single human story.
In 2013, Shilpa was the recipient of a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to study the connection between traditional dance cultures of the world, their healing systems, and their current states of healthcare delivery. She has performed at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (2014) and at the International Dance Festival in Fes, Morocco (2015). She is also the 2015-2016 Artist-in-Residence for the American Medical Women’s Association.
Currently, she attends Albany Medical College and continues to merge medicine and dance by working with artists and administration on using arts to increase social and self-awareness in communities, both inside and outside the medical school.
Co-Creative Director and Physician-in-Training
Rohini Bhatia and Shilpa met at a Physicians for Human Rights Conference. Both of them were new to the scene of student doctor activists, and immediately started laughing at how her friend was my friend’s friend and the world was really small. A few months later, the world proved even smaller when Rohini revealed her love for classical dance and how she wanted to create stories of women in medicine through dance to Shilpa in a note she sent. As crazy as the idea sounded, Shilpa and Rohini teamed up to create the Mahavidyas in Medicine dance project during their third year of school, meeting every other week in Rochester or Schenectady to practice.
Rohini Bhatia is a third year student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. Rohini graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in Epidemiology. She has studied Bharatanatyam classical Indian dance at the Natya Kala Mandir School of Dance in Baltimore, Maryland under the guidance of Smt. Vatsala Srinivas. In college, she participated in the Rochester Bhangra Competitive Dance team, further expanding her interest in dance. After college, she pursued a Fulbright Research Project to understand perceptions towards tobacco use among females in Delhi. Here, she continued to take classes to further her training at the Abhinaya Centre for Dance. She is passionate about exploring the expression of dance as a form of narrative medicine.
Kuchipudi Dancer and Future Physician-in-Training
Supraja began training in Kuchipudi from age nine with Ms. Mallika Ramprasad at Bharata Mallika School of Kuchipudi Dance. She received more advanced training with Ms. Anuradha Nehru at Kalanidhi Dance for the past seven years and performed her solo debut recital, or Rangapravesam, in July 2014. Supraja was also fortunate to receive further training with Mr. Kishore Mosalikanti during summer intensives.
Supraja considers dance as an exploration of the human experience without the filter of language. Movement and artistry makes invisible any social, racial, or geographic boundaries. Just as a physician strives to understand humanity in a holistic sense, Supraja believes that dance has similar goals. Spurred by the richness of the classical dance idiom, as well as the obligation that dancers share as social activists, she founded and captained the first competitive classical dance team, Aradhya, at the University of Virginia. For this team, Supraja created two solo dance items – Smaranam: Remembering the Fallen (2015), a response to worldwide terrorism, and Ekam: Beyond Divisions (2016), celebrating human vivacity and diversity beyond political boundaries. An interdisciplinary thinker at heart, and trained in Indian classical music from early childhood, she loves to explore the intersection of Indian classical dance with other dance and music forms. Participating in the Mahavidyas project with Shilpa, a close friend of Supraja’s from Kalanidhi Dance, amalgamates so many of her diverse interests.
Currently, Supraja attends UVA and majors in chemistry and continues to purse dance and medical science on a daily basis. She hopes to attend graduate school to become a physician scientist – and continue dancing till the end of her days. The Aseemkala Initiative is so excited to have her on board!