Reva Srivastava of Fremont is not your average college-bound teen. She has a superpower almost as exciting as Ms. Marvel’s, perhaps even better. Reva is a Kathak dancer and was recently named a 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.

“It was, like, 6 a.m. in the morning,” says Reva of the day she received confirmation via email. “I woke up checking my mail. And I went running to my parents and told them.”

Reva’s mother Anupama Srivastava said, “I thought there was an earthquake; she was jumping up and down so hard.”

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When the Srivastavas applied, they were not aware of the magnitude of the honor.

Twenty scholars are chosen each year nationwide out of 60 candidates nominated by the YoungArts program. Those 60 candidates come from a pool of 157 finalists, which come from a pool of 720 YoungArts award winners.

Storytelling through dance

As one of 157 finalists, Reva participated in National YoungArts Week+, learning remotely with a young Odissi dancer and being mentored by Bharatanatyam dancer Nadhi Thekkek. “She had a really interesting way of approaching your dance, which I hadn’t thought of,” Reva says of Thekkek. “She really pushed us to show more than just the story that was being told, like how we were feeling because of the story, and to go a deeper layer.”

Due to the COVID pandemic, National YoungArts Week+ was held virtually, but Reva says, “I didn’t feel like I was getting a lesser experience because it was online.”

Reva Srivastava and her mother Anupama strike a Kathak pose outside their Fremont home. (Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local via Bay City News)

It was Reva’s work ethic and commitment during National YoungArts Week+ that prompted her to be nominated for the U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts award.

Reva noticed other Scholars posting about receiving the medal on social media. She was hoping her medal would arrive soon. The day of Reva’s high school graduation, she received her medal at 4 p.m., just in time to wear it before she left for her graduation ceremony at 5 p.m.

Journey to the medal

The journey to the medal began when Reva’s mom, Anupama, was 6 or 7 years old and began learning Kathak under Padma Shri Shovana Narayan in Delhi. She continued learning until moving to the U.S., where pressures of work and family prevented her from dancing consistently. 

It was Reva’s fascination with dance that pushed Anupama to start InSyncKathak Dance School when Reva was 6 or 7 years old.

Reva says there was “something about the dance and seeing how happy it made my mom that kind of captured me at a really young age” and pushed her mom to teach her.

Anupama says of Reva, “She made me a teacher. I was just a dancer.”

A similar episode happened when Anupama met Shovana Narayan for the first time at around the same age. Anupama recalls, “I believe I went up to my guru’s mother once in a social situation. And I stopped her, and I said, ‘Are you Shovana Narayan’s mother?,’ and she turns around, and there’s this little 6-year-old, and I said, ‘Will she teach me how to dance?’”

Working with Shovana Narayan

Anupama is still learning from her guru, online twice a week. Reva also learned from her mother’s guru when Narayan would visit the U.S., training primarily in the Lucknow Gharana style of Kathak. “I was so focused on what she was saying. She’s able to draw you in. And she was saying really complicated things. But the way that she explained everything was really helpful to me.”

Learning from Shovana didi was not dissimilar to learning from her mom, says Reva. The teaching styles were similar, and there’s “a very clear separation” between Mom and guru.

If anything else, Anupama has been more strict with her daughter, telling her, “You’re not going to automatically just because you’re my daughter get, you know, the main role. You have your strengths; somebody else has [theirs].”

Dancing to ‘Epiphany’

InSyncKathak Dance School’s May 29 show,”Nirat-Nirtat: Forever Immersed in Dance,” exemplifies what Anupama Srivastava hopes to convey to her students, particularly as they leave for college. Performing a solo show as the end result of training is something Anupama discourages, “Because a lot of people, they start approaching it as their destination. And that’s what I don’t like.”

Reva Srivastava wears both her YoungArts and Presidential Scholar in the Arts medals in Fremont. (Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local via Bay City News)

Reva performed a solo piece she choreographed to Taylor Swift’s song “Epiphany,” which talks about health care workers and their experiences during the COVID pandemic. She showed through dance “health care workers, helping other people and then witnessing the death and then moving on to help other people.”

While it should come as no surprise that Reva is planning on going to medical school, she is firm that dance is something she will always come back to. “When I’m dancing, I’m not thinking about anything else.”

“I would want to use my creative ability and my artistic platform to make art that inspires me and art that helps me stand up for what I believe and use it for a positive change in the world.” Reva also hopes to teach dance in the future.

She encourages young dancers to “focus on building a strong base and strong technique” and to “learn as much as you can from your gurus because they have so much to teach you.”

Morning ragas

Anupama is proud of her daughter. “A little validation is great,” she says. “Now, let’s put it aside, get back into the studio. Let’s just keep working.”

Mother and daughter are very much in sync, but there is one area in which they slightly differ, their favorite raga.

For Anupama, it is the morning ragas “because they always invoke so much devotion, I think,” she says. “I feel very powerful and very raw, in some sense. Like, you know, it just hits you somewhere deep inside.”

Reva Srivastava with her mother and teacher Anupama in their Fremont home. (Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local via Bay City News)

For Reva, a night raga, yaman, is her favorite. “You can feel the energy of all of the positions, full orchestra and the singer. And I just feel it’s so much fun to dance to those pieces, because you take that energy into yourself.”

When thinking about comparing herself to others, Reva says, “just focus on your training and what you can do with the dance rather than worrying about others.”

Anupama says, “I don’t think one lifetime is enough to learn. I mean, I feel like it’s just getting interesting.”

This article originally appeared on India Currents on Aug. 10.