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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

Two Young Rutherford Girls Participate in Disney's Diwali Dance Fest

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Two young girls traveled to Walt Disney World with their families to participate in the first-ever Diwali Dance Fest from October 26th through the 29th. The Diwali Dance Fest featured South Asian dance schools from across North America.

Nine-year-olds, Madhavi Pandarathil and Reeva Vinod Damodar, from Rutherford were fortunate enough to participate in the Dance Fest. This is Rutherford interviewed both girls to learn more about their dance background and the Diwali Dance Fest.

Madhavi Pandarathil and Reeva Vinod Damodar

TIR: When did you start dancing?

Madhavi Pandarathil: I started learning ballet when I was 2 years and 9 months old and Indian Classical Dance (Bharatanatyam) when I was 4 years and 10 months old.

Reeva Vinod Damodar: I started when I turned three and then started enjoying dancing.

TIR: Where do you take dance lessons?

MP: For Indian classical dance, I am a disciple of Guru Bina Menon. I have taken lessons from her for about 5 years. We call her Bina Aunty. Bina Aunty is the director of Kalashri School of Arts in Troy Hills, Parsippany, New Jersey. For Ballet, I learned largely from Mrs. Jody’s Garden State Ballet. I was a part of the 2022 Nutcracker Team.

RVD: I have been taking dance classes with Guru Bina Menon (Kalashri School of Arts) in Parsippany for about one and a half years before that I was with Guru Devika (Satvika Dance Academy).

TIR: Which dance did you perform Diwali Dance Fest in Walt Disney World?

MP: I performed both Bollywood dance and Bharatanatyam. Bollywood dance for the parade and Bharatanatyam for the Showcase. Our Showcase dance was at Finding Nemo theater in Animal Kingdom Park and was choreographed by Bina Aunty. It was a fusion of two Indian Classical Dances, Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam. We trained a lot and practiced every day.

RVD: I did a Bollywood dancing parade in Disney Springs and an Indian classical dance on the Finding Nemo stage at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

TIR: What did you enjoy about participating?

MP: I enjoyed performing because I got to spend time with my friends, I got to be one of the only two people in Rutherford to be a part of the first Diwali Dance Fest at Walt Disney World and I got to perform at one of the world’s most famous places ever. That’s why I enjoyed performing.

RVD: I enjoyed dancing with my friends and meeting other dancers. It was memorable for me because it was my first visit to Disney.

TIR: Did you also participate in the Parade?

MP: Yes, I did participate in the Parade in Disney Springs. We danced to a set of vibrant and high-energy songs with challenging moves. We had to go to practice every day. It was tiring but fun!

RVD: Yes I did, it was a lot of work but I think it was worth it. I enjoyed the experience that we had like practicing almost every day and we had to memorize the parade steps to perform as a team. It was challenging to coordinate our team to make it look like a synchronized dance parade. I had to get enough energy to dance for twenty minutes.

TIR: While you were in Disney World for the Diwali Festival, what else did you get to do to celebrate the holiday?

MP: While we were at Disney, to celebrate we got DDF (Diwali Dance Fest) Gift Bags for participating with certificates. Reeva and I got to go to all of the theme parks, we went on most of the rides. We got to spend time together and have fun, we got MagicBands. My mom’s and my favorite ride was the Avatar: Flight Of Passage in Animal Kingdom, IT WAS AWESOME! My dad’s favorite ride was the Expedition Everest ride in Animal Kingdom, it was one of my least favorite rides because it is a rollercoaster and I don’t like rollercoasters. We also liked the Kali River Rapids, Reeva and I got drenched after. That’s what we did to celebrate.

RVD: We did go to all the parks thanks to my parents. I would just like to thank both parents for letting us enjoy our trip to Disney and surprising us along the way! The moms did have to do a lot of makeup that me and Madhavi did not enjoy and the dads of course made all the dad jokes and made us laugh all the way.

This is Rutherford also interviewed Aparna Pandarathil (Madhavi's mother) and Anitha Damodar (Reeva's mother).

TIR: How did your child get to participate in the Diwali Dance Fest in WDW?

Aparna Pandarathil: The organizers of the event had reached out to a few dance schools across North America and we were fortunate to be a part of one of them.

Anitha Damodar: Kalashri School of Arts, in Parsippany, NJ was one of the select few dance schools in the US that was invited to participate based on their prior performances globally. Reeva takes dance classes at Kalashri School of Arts. She auditioned to participate in the team to perform at WDW.

TIR: Why was having your child involved in this special celebration important to you?

AP: It's always prestigious to be a part of something as large as this and of course it's Disney! In addition, an event like this that promotes diversity and culture made it all the more exciting.

AD: Participating in this celebration was important to recognize the cultural heritage and also an art form to develop personal values. Showing this dance form in front of a diverse crowd was important to acknowledge cultural diversity.

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