Dancing Together

Dancing Together

Dancing Together

Discovering Friendship and Belonging at the Festival of Art & Creativity

Half a world away from where they grew up, Classical Indian dancers Shyamili Rajan and Rose Mary Prakash found each other through performing at artsPlace’s Festival of Art & Creativity in September 2023, forming a connection that’s turned into a meaningful creative partnership and lifelong friendship.

Rose and Shyamili have been studying Bharatanatyam—the oldest classical dance style in India—since they were toddlers. Rose grew up in Kerala while Shyamili is from Tamil Nadu, states on opposite coasts of Southern India. Even though the two women’s stories started some 400 kilometres away from one another, their paths converged here in the Bow Valley when they had the opportunity to share their passion and talent with the Canmore community.

Shyamili has moved between Calgary, California, India, and the Bow Valley since 2012. “When I got to Canada, it was very hard to find another person from Southern India,” she remembers. “So I started dancing and participating in multicultural events and festivals. That’s how I was able to find my community.” At the end of 2022, Shyamili set up an online dance school to train kids in Bollywood, Indian folk dance, and freestyle Indian dance, embedding her in the Indian community in the foothills.

Shyamili got connected to artsPlace through Bow Valley Let’s Move It, a community dance class that started during the pandemic. She and her family participated in artsPlace’s Stories of Resilience exhibition in 2021. The following year, she joined the Let’s Move It crew at the Canmore Festival of Art & Creativity where she got to perform and try out other dance styles like salsa—but she noticed that there were no Indian dancers performing. “I knew lots of Indians living in the Bow Valley, so I reached out to artsPlace to see if I could bring some students to perform the following year.”

Rose arrived in Canmore with her family in 2019. “When I came to Canada, I didn’t see an opportunity to dance. I was busy with my kids and wasn’t making time to do the things I liked,” she admits. Luckily, she stumbled on a Facebook post from artsPlace calling for applications to perform at the Festival.

“The Multicultural Celebration [at the Festival of Art & Creativity] was actually my first performance in Canada. It was a great opportunity,” Rose says with a wide smile.

Performing reconnected Rose to a part of herself she’d been out of touch with for a while. And, thanks to Shyamili, the event also connected Rose to the community she’d been missing.

Shyamili didn’t just show up to perform alone. To the surprise of artsPlace organizers—who forgot to check just how many dancers were in her performance—she brought along 20 kids and eight adults to showcase a variety of Bollywood, classical, folk, and freestyle Indian dance. Shyamili’s students came with their family and friends, packing artsPlace with a group of people with similar cultural backgrounds and a shared love of Indian dance.

“I didn’t realize before that so many people were doing Indian dance here,” Rose recalls. “When I got to watch Shyamili and her students perform I got to see that there are so many other Indians in the dance community.”

Participating in the Multicultural Celebration helped Rose find a place where she could share her lifelong dedication to dance. Through artsPlace, Rose discovered a community where she feels she belongs and was able to establish a wonderful friendship with a fellow dancer. “I never imagined that I would find a good friend like Shyamili in Canmore!” she says.

Since meeting, Shyamili and Rose have performed together in Calgary and regularly rehearse together online. Rose has also continued her relationship with artsPlace by participating in one of our Cultural Learning Circles and is now a Creative Combat Committee member.

While they search for their next opportunity to perform in person, the pair share dance videos on social media against a backdrop of Rocky Mountain peaks, turquoise lakes, and flame-yellow larch trees, showcasing their Southern Indian heritage for everyone in the Bow Valley to enjoy.

“artsPlace is always connected to my heart. I got the opportunity to dance again through artsPlace and I want to participate in the events they have every time.”

The Festival of Art and Creativity is made possible by funding from the Government of Canada and Alberta Culture Days.