By Aaron Zhang
“Sometimes, I can’t get across my words, like I just don’t know what to say,” Samarth Ramaswamy said. “But I feel like I can express anything with dance.”
At the age of five, Ramaswamy started pursuing Bollywood hip-hop, which provided him a foundation for the rest of his dancing career. As he continued on to ballet, jazz, and other Western dance styles, he used his prior skills to his advantage.
You can see his Bollywood experience present in his expressive facial expressions and lithe gestures as he prances across the stage in video performances. He’s striking, yet playful. “I’m very bubbly when I dance,” he said. “My unique movement came from my hip-hop experience, with more sharper movements, and that has been applied to contemporary and jazz too.”
Since he already has a great deal of style and personality while dancing, Ramaswamy continues to improve by focusing on the technical aspects of dance. He trains at Complexity Dance Center in New Jersey about six to eight hours a week, studying technique and ballet. He also goes to New York City to dance in various styles eight hours a week, and attends conventions about seven times a year. How does he stay motivated to tackle this intense schedule? Ramaswamy cites his peers as his inspiration, because “a lot of them are just amazing dancers.”
Ramaswamy also finds that dance helps him build a community and communicate with others: “If I'm shy or anything like that,” he said, “then I can just dance.”
Nevertheless, when Ramaswamy changed studios and began learning Western dance styles, he entered into a different community—“I was the only brown kid there!” he said. As one of few boys in a female-dominated artistic genre, he already felt different, but the added distinguisher of his race led to a greater sense of isolation: “You’re looked at a little bit differently or not talked to as much.” However, he kept showing his commitment to the team and maintaining a positive attitude; his exuberance soon gained him friends: “As you build more relationships, people don’t care about [race] anymore. No matter who you are,” he said, “you can feel welcome.”
That being said, when Ramaswamy attends dance conventions, events where dancers learn, perform, and compete for hours a day, he is often what seems like “the only Indian kid out of a thousand people there.” As well, he faces the cultural stigma that the arts cannot be a career. Others are simultaneously happy and surprised when Ramaswamy tells them that he dances: “It’s kind of weird that every time you say that, they’re so surprised. It should be a normal thing.”
Despite the challenges, there are upsides to being a dancer of color. Ramaswamy feels that he can use his differences to his advantage. As a boy and a person of color, “I don’t have to wear a bright neon top to stand out,” he said, laughing. “I stand out automatically, and what I do with that--I can choose.” Ramaswamy uses the attention to his benefit in auditions and in performances, establishing his place in a genre where others may not look like him.
Ramaswamy does accept the exclusion or self-doubt that sometimes comes with being a person of color in the arts. However, he said, “Don’t worry about that; just do it, because if other kids see you do it, they’re going to do it too.” Even if you don’t initially find a community, as he did, keep working to build connections and meet others through social media or at events: “When you find your people, you will find your people,” he said. “Talk to everyone and welcome them, make them feel good. Even if you don’t talk to them, smile.”