Farmington Hills dance, yoga, and Bharat Natyam instructor builds a 40-year legacy of community

Chaula Thacker started both her business, Chauladevi Institute of Dance and Yoga, and non-profit organization, Nadanta, in 1977, just a year after her arrival in the United States in 1976. 
She came to study ballet, but her teacher soon asked Thacker to start teaching, too, a request that would affect the rest of her life. She knows numerous styles of dance, but her specialty is Bharat Natyam, a classical Indian dance known for its colorful costumes and exuberance.

"I came to this country and started studying ballet in Dayton, but they had me start teaching Bharat Natyam right away," says Thacker. "I said, I came here to learn ballet, and you're telling me to teach my dance style. They said, 'you can do both.' So I did."

Both her business and non-profit still exist today, 40 years later. And 40 years later, she is still at it. 
In her dance and yoga studio, she teaches school children, university students, senior citizens, and more, both Indians and non-Indians alike. She also volunteers classes for people with special needs, offering wheelchair dance classes and more.

Thacker also operates the non-profit Nadanta out of her Farmington Hills home, dedicating the entirety of her basement to the organization, as well as a couple of bedrooms-turned-offices upstairs. While the business allows her to teach, Nadanta allows Thacker the ability to promote and preserve the Indian tradition of Bharat Natyam.

When Thacker first arrived in the United States, she says that not many people were interested in Bharat Natyam, even Indians themselves. Nadanta has helped change that. Over its 40-year existence, Thacker's group has been invited to perform all over the world, from the then-Soviet Union to Disneyworld.

"The very first year we were invited to Russia and Europe as cultural ambassadors," says Thacker. "Three different continents: Indians born and raised in the United States, except me, presenting Indian art from America in the Soviet Union."

Metro Detroiters might recognize Nadanta from any number of their many performances; Thacker says they're busy just about every single weekend of the year. Public performances, private parties, birthdays, weddings, competitions; here or abroad, the group is in high demand. 
They're regular performers at events held in downtown Detroit and have performed at the Arts Beats and Eats festival for 19 years straight. They sell out local theaters and have been taped for television, including PBS. Nadanta is so busy that they don't bother advertising for gigs. There's simply no need.

"It's all by how we've established ourselves," Thacker says. "We don't really advertise too much; we don't have fifteen different YouTube channels. We don't have any of those. Now, sometimes we should, but we don't have the hours to work on that. Whatever time we do have is spent on the production itself. And people keep coming back."

That hard work has paid off for the group. And Thacker says that audiences can see the discipline and effort put into their performances. They've performed in numerous countries. They've won hundreds of awards and competitions. They've earned financial support from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts every year since 1988.

Thacker herself is tireless, either teaching at CIDY, Nadanta, or both, every single day of the week. In addition to being the founder and artistic director at Nadanta, Thacker has been a faculty member at College for Creative Studies and has taught dance classes at Wayne State University, Oakland University, and Marygrove College. 
And not only has she a degree in dance, Thacker also earned a degree in microbiology. While she never pursued a career in microbiology, Thacker says that elements like anatomy and the movement of the DNA strand have informed her work. She's also written a book, "An Introduction to Bharat Natyam," among her many, many other accomplishments.

For Thacker, all that effort has been worth it. After 40 years of teaching and choreographing, Thacker is now working with the sons and daughters of previous students. She's watched other students form lifelong bonds, and she's watched them pair off into couples. This December, she'll be traveling to Chicago to watch a performance by a new Bharat Natyam dance company started by one of her former students.

"That is what I need to see, as a future legacy. Not if Nadanta is still doing something or not, but that they the students are doing something on their own," says Thacker. "As long as there is dance, yoga, and a good sense of Bharat Natyam, then Nadanta survives."

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.