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April 1, 2009 > Fifth grader wins state award

Fifth grader wins state award

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By Miriam G. Mazliach

Priyanka Chary is not your typical fifth grader.

So it's no surprise she won an Award of Merit from the California Parent Teacher Association. After all, how many 11-year olds do you know who can choreograph an original dance routine? And most wouldn't know a veena is a South Indian stringed instrument similar to a lute, let alone be able to play one.

Each year the California PTA's National Reflections Program encourages students to expand creative horizons by submitting an original piece of work in literature, musical composition, photography, visual arts, dance choreography or film/video production. It was left up to each participant to interpret imaginatively this year's theme of "Wow!"

Priyanka, a student at Gomes Elementary School, competed in the Intermediate category covering grades three through five.

"When I heard 'Wow!' I thought, 'What do I see?' I saw a bud developing into a flower or a seed developing into a plant. That was my idea for the dance," she said.

First she spent several days composing the music on a veena in the South Indian classical genre called "Carnatic." Her father, Srikanth, began teaching her how to play the veena at age 4. The family has quite a selection of them, constructed in India and shipped here.

After the music portion was completed, Priyanka choreographed a classical South Indian Bharatanatyam-style dance to accompany the song. She has taken dance lessons since age 5 with Nirupama Vaidyanathan of the Sankalpa School of Dance.

She next made a DVD of her performance and submitted it to the Gomes PTA in both the musical composition and dance choreography categories. She won in dance choreography and went on to win at the district and regional levels.

Priyanka's work was sent to Sacramento for judging at the state level, where ultimately she received an Award of Merit for Dance Choreography. The California State PTA gave out only three such awards.

"I felt really happy and overjoyed when I heard," recounted Priyanka. "I received a medal of recognition, a certificate, and the principal of my school announced it."

Priyanka's energetic and vibrant dance will be displayed April 30 - May 3 during the State PTA Convention at the San Jose Convention Center.

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