Authenticity and artistry shared through Indian dance at Ajna

“Authenticity and artistry are paramount at Ajna. We really focus on passing down the dance techniques we learned from our teachers to our students and on teaching them the context of the styles we are teaching. We believe this promotes both a greater understanding of and a greater love for the art forms we are sharing. All our classes, including the advanced levels, and the classical technique courses, are diverse.” says Shachi Phene, Assistant Director at Ajna Dance.

Ajna Dance is an Indian dance company located in the Garment District of Manhattan. They maintain the authentic and traditional essence of the art of Indian dance, while simultaneously captivating students living in the modern, urban setting that is New York City today.

Indian dance has become more popular and perceivably accessible to a wider audience in recent years. America loves Bollywood, which, while not representative of all Indian dance forms, provides an entry point through which we can better begin to understand and truly appreciate Indian arts and culture as a whole.

While New York City does have a fairly sizable and colorful Indian community, Ajna explains that classes are not only for people who already know and understand everything there is to know about Indian culture and dance. No matter your cultural background, or your level of experience as a dancer of performer, you are welcome to learn and grow with Ajna.

“Ajna is a premier Manhattan-based Indian dance company that focuses on sharing authentic and artistic Indian dance in all its forms – classical, folk, and film. Part performance ensemble and part dance school, Ajna offers group classes and private instruction for people of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities. We also do a lot of work in schools around the tri-state area, through assemblies and long-term residencies. We use Indian dance as a medium for sharing art, culture, and history.” says Phene.

A young student performs Indian dance with Ajna.

Kids and adults alike can find interesting courses at Ajna. For children, there are weekly classes in a variety of styles, including Indian Classical, Semi-classical, and Bollywood. Students in these classes will even get to perform at the end of the year in a recital showcase.

According to Ajna, “Our children’s dance school was built to encourage a love of dance and instill a practice of disciplined study… Our focus is on expanding knowledge of Indian dance technique, including movement, rhythm, grace, expression and performance. Students develop body awareness, confidence, and discipline.”

Adults may try out a course on a one-time, drop-in basis to get a feel for a particular style before committing to a longer class semester. Drop-ins are available in Classical Blend and Bollywood & Bhangra. For students who are sure that they would like to undertake a more rigorous program and perform in a stage show, there is the option to sign up for a 13-week Performance Intensive in Kathak and Bharathanatyam. Students in the intensives will be taught three unique pieces to perform, focusing on arm, leg, and hand movements, and facial expressions.

Private classes are available for students looking to improve their individual technique, as well as for those with a major event coming up to prepare for; for example, a dance to be performed at a wedding or other celebration. The Ajna dancers are also available to book as performers for events like fundraisers, festivals, business parties, etc.

“The Ajna Ensemble performs at dance festivals, and public and private events. Our pieces showcase the different forms of Indian dance. Ajna’s signature style is what we call “Classical Blend”. It brings together the elegance and technique of Indian classical dance with the energy and expressiveness of Indian folk and Western contemporary dance.”, according to Phene.

An adult student in beautiful costume at an Ajna Dance performance.

One of the most interesting services offered by the company is educational programming. If you are an educator or administrator for a local school, from Pre-K to even college level, you can get in contact with Ajna for a special educational performance and lecture. The lesson can be tailored to suit any age group. To begin, a background cultural lesson will be given to tell a story about the evolution of dance as an art form and communication style in India. Next comes the dance lesson. Students will be given a fun and educational overview of each style, from Garba to Dandiya, Bhangra, Bollywood, Bharatanatyam, and Kathak. A piece of choreography will even be taught to the whole group! These educational programs come in a variety of forms. Aajna dancers and educators are available for assemblies, workshops, residencies, after-school workshops, summer camps, and special Diwali holiday performances and workshops.

Is Ajna Dance company somewhere that you could belong and thrive?

According to Phene, “We have and do work with students of all backgrounds, and no one should feel afraid to come try it! Dance is a great way to get in shape, learn rhythm, and develop body control, because it is fun. If your body is not yet able to do something, we break it down or modify steps if necessary. Our goals for all our students is to teach them dance technique, develop their love of dance, and have them gain confidence in their abilities.”