Dancers perform Indian dance tonight for charity

Audience will donate to nonprofit against violence, see tradition



Raji Soundararajan has choreographed fundraiser performances for over 10 years. In the past, the event supported organizations like the Pullman Education Fund.

ALANA LACKNER, Evergreen managing editor

Raji Soundararajan’s dance students have been practicing with dedication for months, and on Friday they will showcase their skills.

The Sudiksha Center for Classical Arts of India’s annual charity fundraiser is an event Soundararajan said she and her students look forward to all year. This year they will be raising money for Alternatives to Violence in the Palouse (ATVP.)

Soundararajan sat in the middle of her home dance studio. She held a broken stick — damaged in a previous practice — in one hand and rhythmically hit it against a special block on the ground, keeping time for the dancers. She counted aloud and watched her students with a smile on her face.

The group will perform a classical Indian dance form known as bharatanatyam, which deeply stems from Indian tradition and has always been important to Soundararajan, she said.

“I did not learn this dance to be a professional by any means,” Soundararajan said. “I just learned it as I was growing as a child. I was interested in music, I was interested in dance — it was just always part of my life.”

When Soundararajan came to WSU in 1999, she was working at the university as a researcher. She started teaching for a few students in her spare time and slowly her classes grew.

In 2008 Soundararajan realized she had enough students to make a public performance possible.

“I thought ‘Why not present them to the community and let people see this culture and dance?’ and that’s when it struck me, why not make it a charity fundraiser?”

The charity element is very important to the students, Soundararajan said. Oftentimes, they’re the ones who suggest the charities. A few years ago, a junior in high school wanted the money to go to the Pullman Education Fund, so that year it did. Students have also asked to contribute to the Humane Society in the past, so they’ve done that as well.

This year, the focus is on ATVP, and Soundararajan said her students are excited about it.

“The takeaway for my students is not just learning it and presenting it to others but in addition to the entertainment aspect, it is also something they can be proud of and that gives them the extra ‘oomph,’ you know. They can say that ‘I am giving back to my community.’ ”

They held their first performance in 2008 in the Gladish Community and Cultural Center. The basement has a small theater that seats about 70 people. The first year, they raised money for the Community Action Center. From the beginning, the event was always free. People who attend have the option to donate, but it is not at all required to attend.

Even so, Soundararajan said they made $500 their first year.

“We were all thrilled!” she said. “And my students were so happy because, most often, performances are to just showcase talent. But this was for a specific purpose, it was not just to expose other to the culture of dance, but also for these students to give back to the community.”

This year will be first they’ve gone back to performing in the community center since 2013. The event grew in popularity as the years went by and they couldn’t seat the growing audience.

“The hall was not big enough for us anymore,” Soundararajan said. “So many of them were sitting on the floors that the manager would come and say ‘There is a fire hazard, you’re not supposed to sit there.’ ”

Soundarajan contacted WSU’s Residence Hall Association (RHA) and explained their situation, and that they wanted to perform in Daggy Hall. RHA was more than willing to help, she said, and agreed to pay the rental charge for the theater.

“All I have to do is train my students … and, you know, publicizing and all that, but since 2013 RHA has been sponsoring our event every year, including this year.”

Daggy Hall was recently privatized, meaning it would cost too much to rent, even for RHA, Soundararajan said. So she decided to go back the Gladish Community Center but this time in the larger theater. RHA continues to sponsor the event and pay the rental fees.

Last year they raised $2000, said Soundararajan and the group was blown away.

“We have such a generous community,” she said.

Soundararajan continues to keep the event free.

“Especially for [college] students, we just want them to come and watch the show. I don’t want them to have to have the burden of paying for a ticket or anything, just come and watch the show.”

They will perform at 7 p.m. today at the Gladish Community and Cultural Center. The event is free to enter, and donations are optional.

“Every penny will go to [ATVP],” Soundararajan said.