Matters of Faith: Broken Arrow teen dedicates dance achievement to spreading peace

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Namera's a busy teen

For a Broken Arrow sophomore, Namera Newaz is exactly what school leaders want her to be: engaged in school. Before lunch, she's finishing thank-you notes to teachers who helped with homecoming. At a mock school assembly, as students prepare to record an ever-popular lip-dub video, she's helping her peers with the choreography, "you take your right leg and you're going to cross it and then just turn," Namera explained.

But would you believe at the beginning of the school year, she gave up all this? She skipped the first two weeks of class to make the final preparations for a lifetime dance achievement.

"Words cannot describe my excitement," Namera said. "I can't believe that I'm getting my arangetram."

What's an arangetram?

An arangetram is basically a dance graduation, or solo debut of a dancer. Once Indian classical dancers achieve this goal, they are considered a professional. Namera's dad jokingly said, "it's as important as a wedding, but without the groom." His family flew in musicians from India, along with dozens of family members from all over the world.

Namera's arangetram performance is almost three hours long, which is why she's been practicing her routine for a whole year. This past summer, she danced four hours a day, "Just to build up your stamina, to remember the steps," Namera said laughing. "Because I'm doing a total of eight dances, so I kind of need the time to remember it!"

Tiny dancer

Namera started learning Indian classical dance, called bharatanatyam, at just 5 years old.

"There's something about dance that I can't really explain, it just makes me really happy," Namera said.

Now dancing this style for 10 years, I asked her teacher, Priya Raju, of Kripalaya Dance Academy, "How proud are you as a teacher?" Priya responded, "Very, extremely, I have no words to even express."

Priya, saying Namera's dedication is matched with a God-given talent. "Whenever a student comes to me, I make sure I can teach them something," Priya said. "But, there are certain few people that possess that ability from within, that they are born to dance. That is definitely a gift from God. That we cannot deny at all. It doesn't matter what religion or where you're from."

Final countdown

Now six hours before her performance, Namera, starts three hours of hair and makeup. Her transformation comes at the gifted hands of her mother, precisely adding layers of makeup, especially around Namera's eyes, drawing attention to her facial expressions.

Priya explained why, "In bharatanatyam, everything from our eyes to our feet is used to express a certain emotion," to better tell a story within each dance.

This tradition began thousands of years ago in Hindu temples.

Today, the art form is shared by all religions. Namera's teacher is Hindu; while Namera said, "I'm glad I was born into a Muslim family." Their partnership continues to prove that dance transcends religious boundaries.

It's time

After a decade of their preparation, Namera's final test is here. When asked if she gets nervous, Namera said, "before (going on stage) my heart will start racing and I'll get butterflies. But that will all go away once I get onstage and start performing."

Around 300-400 people file into the Union High School Performing Arts Center. The musicians sit to the left side of the stage as brightly-colored decorations hang from the back. Namera approaches the big black stage with the poise of a dancer well-beyond her years.

Her performance appears flawless. And just as Priya explained, she uses everything from her feet to her eyebrows and painted-red fingertips to express a story, and it's hard to turn away from watching.

Through seven praise-worthy performances, Namera proves her skill; now, it's time to share her heart.

Dedicating her performance to faith

Back in August, Namera and I sat down in her Broken Arrow living room and talked about how her faith is influencing this performance, especially the finale. "My very last dance is about . . ." Namera pauses and glances up while searching for the right words, "You know how all like in the world there's so many . . . fightings going on in the name of religion?"

Namera and Priya, choreographed the finale to share a message of religious unity. As Namera briefly waited backstage before her final dance, Priya said to the crowd, "God is one. Each of us may call Him by a different name, we may worship Him in different ways, but at the end, He is One and He is the Almighty."

Namera then demonstrates how three faiths pray to God, all similar, yet slightly different. She begins with Hinduism, then transitions into a Christian prayer as Priya reads, "Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name." Finally, honoring her own faith, she bows down to pray as the athan, or call to prayer, is sang.

Namera's arangetram is now complete, and judging the crowd's applause, it's a huge success. But instead of hitting the road and dancing professionally, Namera chooses to just be a sophomore, an environment where her message of religious unity, also needs to be heard.

"I think everyone, no matter what religion you're from, that we should all come together as one," Namera said.

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