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This paper examines the art form of bharatanatyam, which is the pinnacle of Indian classical dance that brings together music, art, and movement through the lens of storytelling. With roots in ancient Sanskrit literature and a foundation in the devotional dancing of the dēvadāsis, bharatanatyam’s training methods, audiences, performance settings, gender norms, and dancers’ status is recontextualized throughout shifting historical contexts of colonialism and the post-colonial era. By showcasing bharatanatyam’s historical progression as both a mirror to past traditions and window into the future of endless possibility, this paper illuminates how this respected global art has developed through its far-reaching diaspora and international acclaim. Analyzing the fusion between tradition and freedom of expression, the paper examines how present-day practitioners balance showing fidelity to the past while tapping into the vast range of potentiality. Engagement in this fluidity between past and present ensures relevancy and evolution of the form. As long as bharatanatyam’s unique and unwavering transformative essence remains intact, it is sure to offer much promise to future practitioners as they navigate the stories of tomorrow.

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This Paper was selected under double-blind peer review as one of the best academic papers in dance of by a review committee consisting of members of the LMU National Dance Education Organization Student Chapter, Dance department students, William H. Hannon Librarians, Dance faculty and an external scholar.

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