San Anselmo dancer shares her love of classical Indian dance

When people think about dance, they often think about ballet, jazz and ballroom. San Anselmo dancer Barbara Framm wants to add Indian classical dance to the list.

A longtime performer, Framm shares her passion with others at her dance school Saraswati Kala Nilaya School of Indian Dance (Saraswati is the goddess of the arts), a hidden gem in the Knights of Columbus building in San Anselmo. Her school started more than 30 years ago when she was asked by a parent to teach a class. What began as a group of five students has turned into a growing, tight community.

Before starting her dance school, she was the assistant director of the Marin-based Odissi Vilas company and was a principal dancer and assistant to the director for Ballet Afsaneh. In the 1990s, she was awarded the American Institute of Indian Studies’ Smithsonian Fellowship to go to India for an immersion in dance studies.

Q How did you get exposed to Indian dance and music?

A I have always been interested in music and dance. In high school at the former Drake High, I was doing African dance and jazz dance, and I didn’t know anything about Indian dance, but I started to go to Indian concerts. I saw Ali Akbar Khan perform in Marine. I got exposed to the music first, and then Khan brought Indian dancer Chitresh Das to Marin when I was a teenager. Seeing him perform was the turning point for me. I took my first dance class with an American woman, Jill Rosenbloom, at the Belrose studio and I fell in love with it. The first style I started in and did most of my studies in is Bharatanatyam. I ended up studying with Jill for several years and then I met my longtime teachers from Berkeley, husband and wife KP and Katherine Kunhiraman, of Kalanjali Dances of India. Odissi dance, which was also a big part of my life, actually came quite a bit later, not until I was in my 40s.

Q How have your various travels and studies in India impacted your work?

A They were integral to what I do, being on Indian soil, actually experiencing the environment, the fabrics, the color, the culture and the beauty. I really feel for somebody who studies an art form from another country, it’s really important to spend some time in that country.

Q What do you enjoy about these dance styles?

A It has intense rhythm, virtuosity, storytelling, acting, incredible costuming, makeup and jewelry. It’s such a developed classical art form and it’s exquisite in its beauty. It just pulls me right in. It captured my imagination.

Q These styles are not as well known. Want do you want people to know about them?

A Although it has such specificity to India, I feel like it transcends its country of origin, through acting, facial expression and body expression, people can appreciate it. The sheer beauty of the art form, it creates a bridge and you don’t have to know the culture completely to appreciate the performance. I would like to thank the Indian community for their interest and support. It wasn’t my intention to start a school, but it’s been wonderful teaching this community and to see the arts having taken roots here.

Q What’s a memorable performance that you’ve done?

A In Indian dance, there’s a coming out performance, arangetram. A dancer isn’t considered to have completed their studies unless they do that, a public performance. It’s a test of a dancer’s knowledge, endurance and skill, and I ended up presenting in India. It was very intense and at that time, I was a single mother with my daughter, Tara Catherine Pandeya. But that set her on the path to dance because she went with me to all my dance classes. She is carrying on a dance lineage in her own right. The experience doing that there was wonderful. It was a memorable year and event for me.

Q You’re also an environmental activist and a board member for the Lagunitas Project. Tell me why it was special to combine that love with dance in your honeybee-centered event in the mid-2010s.

A That part of my master’s program at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. This was over 10 years, it was when it was first coming out about colony collapse disorder. It was powerful and beautiful. The funny thing is when took my first class at the Belrose studio, I was in overalls. I had just come back from Germany working on farms. I thought I was going to be a farmer, so these have always been parallels in my life, my love of the environment and nature, and my love for the arts.

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