Sowntharya Ayyappan started dancing at age six when her parents took her to learn Bharatanatyam, a classical style of Indian dance, from a teacher 30 minutes away from her home. Ayyappan has been dancing since, spending time doing so every weekend throughout high school. So when she got to Tufts, it was only natural that she’d join Tufts Pulse, Tufts’ Indian classical dance team.
“I always knew I wanted to join just because dance was such an important part of my life throughout high school, so I knew I really would miss it if I didn’t join in college,” Ayyappan said.
Ayyappan has been a key member of Tufts Pulse throughout her time at Tufts, becoming a captain in her junior year. Though Tufts Pulse was small during her first year, only consisting of about six members, it has almost doubled in size since then. It’s still a small team, but Ayyappan credited its size with their close-knit, great dynamic.
“We’ve all gotten to know each other so it’s not just like we dance together,” she said, “We bond over that dance but we’re also friends.”
Bharatanatyam is a type of dance that takes years to learn. Ayyappan said that it can take almost 20 years to gain enough experience to do a solo performance, so many of her team members, like her, also spent years learning from a teacher.
“In college, most of us come out of doing that solo performance, and we just kind of bond together in the dance team with this one art form,” Ayyappan said.
One of her favorite memories as a Tufts Pulse member were the culture show weekends, when all of the South Asian dance teams and TASA, the student association for South Asians, would come together and dance for hours in a weekend full of shows.
However, dancing at Tufts was also distinct from the dancing Ayyappan did before in that it allowed for more freedom. Rather than following what her teacher did, Tufts Pulse has allowed Ayyappan to explore.
“In college, it’s like you’re kind of in charge, so you find your own style,” she said. “And I think over the last four years, I’ve definitely found what I like to do, my style of dancing.”
Furthermore, she, along with her two other co-captains, chose the music, created the choreography and then taught it to the rest of the group. This leadership position and learning how to teach others, along with working as a group, has translated into skills that she can use outside of dance, both in the classroom and in her future career.
“It’s made me a more strong, confident person because just being a leader and putting a lot of effort into something, you’re pushing yourself to your own capabilities so all of that stamina that I build and all that hard work I put into Pulse also kind of help with STEM [classes],” she said.
Outside of Tufts Pulse, Ayyappan is a biochemistry major and a science, technology, and society minor. She also volunteers for Sharewood, helping to provide healthcare to uninsured patients, and is a mentor at ENROOT, a program that works with immigrant students on achieving academic, personal and career goals.
After graduation, she will be a research assistant at Boston Children’s Hospital for a year while she applies to medical school. However, dance will continue to be a big part of her life.
“I want to go back to my dance teacher,” Ayyappan said. “There’s just so much more to learn … I really just want to keep pursuing [Bharatanatyam] and getting better at it.”