Learning History

Learning History

Indian Academy Embraces Culture

On Sunday afternoon, little girls dressed in Saris and denim pants race up and down the halls of the Academy of Indian Culture and Arts. Parents help teachers direct students to their hands-on classrooms. By 3:30 p.m., the hallways are filled with beating drums, stomping feet and traditional Indian songs.

The Academy of Indian Arts and Culture is located in the Sterling Annex Community Center on Shaw Road in Sterling. Soma Roy, the academy’s founder and director, said she came up with the idea to open an Indian school in Sterling because there was nothing like it in the area. She was inspired by her daughter's former school in Annandale, the India International School. While her daughter enjoyed taking Hindustani classical vocal classes at the school, the 35-mile commute from their Ashburn home put a damper on the lessons.

Roy voiced her concerns with her husband, Soumyo Banerjee. They shared their vision of an Indian academy with a group of friends.

Roy, Banerjee and their friends, Tapan Rath, Sabita Panda, Jayeeta Purkayastha and Ranjan Dasgupta, came up with ideas, made phone calls to instructors and created the Indian school.

"This has been a team effort," Roy said.

ON SEPT. 10, the group of six opened the academy to approximately 100 students.

"We only expected about 50 students our first year," Roy said.

The group's mission is to foster a culturally aware community through education in Indian culture and heritage, Panda said.

"We’ve had an overwhelming response from the community."

The academy offers classes in a number of areas including classical dance, music and traditional painting.

At one end the hallway, a handful of girls entered a tiny classroom. Sheela Ramanath welcomed students to Bharatnatyam, a South Indian classical dance form. Ramanath kept the beat by hitting two wooden blocks together.

"Te, te, tah," she said. "Te, te, tah."

The little girls bent their knees and stomped their feet to the beats of the blocks.

"Dance is not only an art, it’s a form of exercise," she said.

Next door, Priti Maheshwari sat in the middle of the classroom with a pair of drums between her legs. She instructed five students in tabla, a North Indian percussion instrument.

Maheshwari tapped the tabla with her palms and fingers. When she was finished, her students mimicked her.

The academy also offers classes in Bengali traditional vocal music, Bhangra and Bollywood dance. Rakesh Gupta teaches Hindi to students 3 years old and up.

SHAILENDRA SONAWANE takes his child to the Sterling school once a week. When he was a child, Sonawane said, he remembers his parents enrolling him in Indian dance and music classes. Now, he says, his child can have the same experience.

"This is a big asset to the Indian community, especially to parents of small kids," he said. "You can pick up a lot of things in the U.S., but kids miss out on a big part of Indian culture."

Sonawane is not only a parent volunteer; he is a student. The father of one is now taking keyboard class at the academy.