Teenagers use dance to support Malala Fund

Staff Writer

 Through the power of dance, Avina Rami and Sarayu Srinivasan raised more than $1,000 in support of the Malala Fund.  JOHN MARTIN Through the power of dance, Avina Rami and Sarayu Srinivasan raised more than $1,000 in support of the Malala Fund. JOHN MARTIN The next time Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai visits the United States, there are two local residents she may want to consider meeting — Avina Rami and Sarayu Srinivasan.

Through the power of dance, the two 17- year-old Marlboro residents collected $1,544 for the Malala Fund, an organization created by Yousafzai, 17, to help young girls across the world receive an education.

Yousafzai survived a shooting by a Taliban gunman at the age of 15, according to the website bbc.com. She continues to be an advocate for female education.

Rami and Srinivasan are seniors at Marlboro High School and Biotechnology High School, Freehold Township, respectively, and both said they admire Yousafzai’s commitment to education and the empowerment of young girls.

“She is someone who fights for her cause and I respect that,” Srinivasan said. “And I think we both are people who do that.”

On Sept. 28, the girls held a four-hour performance of Indian classical dance — referred to as “bharatanatyam” — at Colts Neck High School as part of their involvement in the WISHOF Foundation, an organization that raises money for different causes.

The performance was attended by more than 300 guests and was a success. While it was held in order to support the Malala Fund, it also served as the girls’ “arangetram” — a pivotal moment for Indian classic dancers who reach a certain caliber. “It basically signifies your graduation in dance, kind of,” Rami said. “But after your arangetram, it is not the end of [your career in dance],” Srinivasan added. “We still love dance.”

“We dance all the time!” Rami laughed.

The girls’ “arangetram” consisted of 10 dances — some performed by Rami and Srinivasan together, some individually — where they acted out stories of Indian culture.

“All of the dances have a moral, like some sort of life lesson to learn from it,” Srinivasan said. “Some of the dances had jealousy, some had anger, some had sorrow. All true life … they were all emotions that people could relate to.”

Under the training of their dance teacher, Kamala Murti — who also teaches math at the Marlboro Memorial Middle School — the girls practiced for three or four hours every day from June through September.

“She taught us how to use dance as a form of escape,” Srinivasan said. “Dancing for that long of a day — she told us no matter what is in your mind, no matter what your worries are, take them out and just dance.”

Rami and Srinivasan said they were trained to work together “as one.” If either young woman made a misstep while practicing, they would both have to start from the beginning.

As a result, the girls — who have been friends since middle school — acknowledged they would sometimes fight while practicing, but that it only made their friendship stronger in the end.

“Things will happen,” Rami said. “You will get into a lot of fights, especially if you are close with that person, like, you don’t hold back what you want to say. You will get into fights … you will be stressed out.”

But the hard work paid off, with Rami and Srinivasan finding that their performance exposed many of their friends to Indian classical dance.

Two weeks after their performance, the girls found out that Yousafzai had become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

“It was such good timing,” Rami said. “Our dance teacher texted us that day and she was like, ‘Look what I found in the news!’ ”

As the girls prepare for college and their future, Yousafzai’s strength remains a constant thought in their minds.

“Personally, I have always been a, I guess you could say, feminist,” Rami said, adding that she is bothered by individuals who make sexist comments. “And even people, after seeing my performance, they still say that dance is not a sport and it gets me upset.”

“Everything [Yousafzai] has been through, she still fights for [her cause],” Srinivasan said. “Most people would succumb to the pressure of people telling them, ‘No, this is not going to be OK. You are not going to get what you want.’ She fights for it and I think that is something we can both respect.”