Ramya Ramnarayan

A talented and passionate dance, Ramya Ramnarayan is  known for her graceful movements and expressive gestures. Born on 15 June 1970, Ramya's journey in dance began at a young age and was trained by guru S.K. Rajarathnam Pillai (Vadhyar) and also trained under guru Kalanidhi Narayanan (Mami) for abhinaya.

Through her production company and dance school – Nrithyanjali , Ramya preserves and propagates Bharatanatyam  in New Jersey, USA. Ramya is also a dedicated teacher and choreographer, sharing her knowledge and passion for dance with aspiring artists. Her commitment to the art form extends beyond her own performances, as she strives to inspire and nurture the next generation of dancers.

Ramya holds a visiting faculty appointment in the Dance Department at Mason Gross School of Arts, affiliated to Rutgers University. Ramya has organised and performed benefit shows donating to various charities. Her passion for preserving and promoting the art form has led her to conduct workshops and lecture-demonstrations, both within India and internationally, inspiring countless aspiring artists to explore their creative potential.

Ramya has received the Kalaimamani from the Government of Tamil Nadu, Nadanamamani (Kartik Fine Arts, Chennai), Nrithya Seva Mani (Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana) and Artist Fellowship Award for Choreography (New Jersey State Council on the Arts). In the years 2011 and 2023, Ramya received the individual artist fellowship award from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation for her outstanding contributions in the field of Indian dance. Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey have passed a joint resolution recognising Ramya for her commitment, dedication and achievement in the art. Ramya is also part of the Board of Trustees for the Asian American Study Foundation.

With her talent, dedication, and artistry, Ramya Ramnarayan continues to make a significant impact on the dance community, leaving an indelible mark with every step she takes. Graceful and suave, dancer Ramya Ramnarayan who spends time between New Jersey and Chennai spent an evening reflecting on her dance journey.

Ramya in conversation with Sreelatha Rajan

How did you get started in dance?

My biggest influence has been my mother, Padma Srinivasan. She had had a deep understanding of Carnatic music, having received a sound training in the GNB bani. She also had good exposure to Bharatanatyam, watching performances of the dancers of her time like Kamala Lakshman and Vyjayanthimala. Hailing from Triplicane, Chennai, she had also watched students of Saraswathi Gana Nilayam practice. All in all, she was very passionate about dance.

I started learning dance along with Carnatic music when I was four years old. Adyar Lakshman was my first teacher. I would have studied under him for some months, before he wound up his T Nagar classes and moved to Adyar. Around the same time, I fractured my left arm. My grandmother and father at that time felt that it was an indication to stop learning dance and hence I stopped. The fracture soon healed and dance returned. I would dance on my own whenever I would find a reflective surface – like the car, mirror and so on. My mother noticed this and reasoned out with the family that dance was not just her passion, but something of my interest too and thus I went back to dance classes. I learnt for a year from Chitra Visweswaran. I had my arangetram at the age of ten and by then had been taught by Adyar Lakshman, Raman, Chitra Visweswaran, Kamali and Kousalya. Kamali and Kousalya were disciples of Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. Guru S.K. Rajarathnam Pillai saw me perform in one of the shows organised by my teachers and offered to teach me. Thus, I started learning Bharatnatyam from Vadhyar. He also asked me to join Mami’s abhinaya classes.


My gurus changed quite a few times, yet dance remained an integral part of our home. There was constant exposure to dance and music. We lived very close to the Krishna Gana Sabha. My mother would take me to the performances there. We have been participating in the Natya Kala Conference right from its inception. Apart from the performances of artists based in Chennai, throughout my childhood I have watched performances of many stalwarts across various dance and music forms - like Kanak Rele, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Birju Maharaj, Parveen Sultana to name a few. I got to watch the crème de la crème of India and this helped me immerse in the art, just by virtue of being in Chennai and the proximity to the various sabhas. Every year the Natya Kala Conference would happen around the half yearly exam andI would finish the examination and head right there. I would say, school was something that happened between dance classes and the various kutcheris.

The dance classes were immersive too. Raman, Adyar Lakshman and Vadhyar were wonderful singers. Apart from dancing during my slot, I would stay and watch the seniors learn. Each day, I would spend up to three to four hours in the class. Kuchipudi maestro Vempati Chinna Satyam was my father’s friend and his dance space used to be close to my house. I would spend long hours in his class too, watching him teach others and hear him sing.

(Sreelatha Rajan is a rasika and a writer who loves languages)

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