"I grew up in a part of the world where every morning women make floor drawings using rice flour," she said. "These designs are done on the threshold of the house to welcome the goddess of prosperity. It's also cleaning the entrance, welcoming people who come and blessing those who leave."
The ritual is more than a simple spiritual exercise. It also connects the spiritual world to the material world, allowing the people of the home to help take care of others.
"The rice flour also feeds the birds and insects all day," she added.
Like the daily activities of those women in India, the dance has spiritual themes of daily renewal and impermanence built in to the production.
"The spinal cord of the dance is very spiritual," Ramaswamy said. "But it's not preachy at all. It's accessible and enjoyable. It's supposed to be entertaining."
Ragamala has Indian roots and Indian founders, but the dance company/school was founded in Minneapolis. Born and raised in India, Ramaswamy settled in Minneapolis in 1978, where she became part of the local community of Indian immigrants. Like a lot of other ethnic communities across the country, they'd brought part of where they were from with them, but there wasn't the kind of dance she knew.
"The Indian community here didn't have anything like it," she said.
Ramaswamy began to dance again, and with her daughter, returned to India to learn more before finally founding her own company and dance school.
"In all honesty, if I'd stayed in India, I probably wouldn't have continued with this," she said.
Ramaswamy said in her native region of India learning the dance takes years and is really part of a way of life. Dancers begin when they're just children. Finding dancers in the U.S. is more of a challenge, but the expectations for performing are different. They don't have to be completely immersed in the Indian culture.
"Most of our dancers aren't even Indian. They don't even have Indian parents."
But being a native of India isn't really all that important for this dance. The message is universal and language can be taught.
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.