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Power of Woman

Sonali Vepa
Dancing Jewel: Sonali Vepa is a leading exponent of classical Indian choreography.

Photo by Marty Sohl

Sonali Vepa upholds a venerable tradition

By Bernice Yeung

SONALI VEPA, a Cupertino resident, is one of the Indian-American community's most heralded second-generation dancers in the Bharata Natyam style, an art that originated in Southern India 2,000 years ago as a form of religious worship. Vepa began dancing as an 8-year-old. After studying the art for six years, Vepa made her solo dance debut, or arangetram, as a 14-year-old. She eventually earned the title nrtya mani, or dancing jewel, and became one of the first to perform an arangetram in the U.S. Once a senior-most disciple of the Abhinaya Dance Company, Vepa is now a noted soloist.

In breaking ground as a young American Bharata Natyam dancer, Vepa says she has dealt with interesting cultural issues. When she journeyed to Madras, India, to study Bharata Natyam, she was met with skepticism. "They doubted the authenticity of my knowledge and ability," recalls Vepa. "The teacher I studied with doubted that I knew what I was doing and asked me about raga, the Indian system of melodies. So I rattled them off--and I said them with an American accent, which she thought was very quaint--and she realized that I did know what I was talking about."

Vepa's dance career has also taken on a feminist dimension. Her most recent performance brought her to the Foothill College's stage for Women in the Performing Arts series. The 26-year-old also co-starred and choreographed a program titled Prakriti: The Power of Woman to benefit Maitri, a nonprofit organization that provides services for South Asian women.

In addition to dancing, Vepa also plans to practice law. She passed the bar exam in August and is currently considering offers from a few firms. She says, though, that she will continue to find time for dance. "There's something in it that strikes a chord within me," she says. "I spent way too many years in school to make dancing my livelihood, but I've also spent too many years dancing to just give it up. So it'll be something in between, something more than just tennis on weekends."

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From the October 3-9, 1996 issue of Metro

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