I love to capture people’s facial expressions with my camera. One photo I took over 10 years ago always makes me smile. The “subject” was a young woman preparing to dance in a group of other women during the Hindu festival, Diwali, (or Festival of Lights) at a large park near me.
Already several groups of younger girls had performed their skilled dances on stage. Each group dressed exactly alike in costumes and styles of a particular area of India. Many of them, as is the custom, began training for performing when they were 6 or 7 years old. Each minute move of their fingers, hands, arms, head and facial expression and their bodies were in synchronicity with each other.
Some dances tell a story, while some are movements based on dances from centuries ago. There also are dances for boys and men, young and old, as well.
Their costumes were vibrantly colored and often ornate with gold inlay materials. Their golden jewelry reflected the sun’s brightness, thereby accentuating the movements of their feet and the gestures of their hands. Each girl’s appearance made them look and feel like little princesses. Each of the three regions (South, North, and West) of India have their own particular styles of dance and clothing.
To the sides and front of the stage there were other performers of varying ages preparing for their group’s time on stage. As I turned around to look at the sideline activities there was one sight that caused me to pause.
One of the most beautiful young women was sitting on the ground, probably on a mat, with legs crossed at the ankles. She was in her early twenties. Her head held high with the look of a queen. Her relaxed hands were resting on her knees as an older woman prepared her hair.
From the seated older woman’s expression I imagined that she must be the young woman’s mother. Her face was aglow with such pride as she perfected the young woman’s hair style. First checking her efforts from different angles to be sure not a hair was out of place.
I asked the young woman if I could take her picture and she nodded and posed. She looked straight into the camera with an unwavering look of confidence, self awareness and calmness. I snapped the picture. Later I saw her and the other young ladies in her group perform.
As you can see her costume was beautiful. Regally she held her head high and her shoulders back like a queen. In spite of all the splendor of her clothing, it was her eyes and her smile that stunned me.
But those characteristics and her being a skilled dancer did not make her vain or arrogant. To me she seemed confident, kind and strong that she would pause in her preparation to allow me to take her picture. Before a performance often many performers are anxious or reviewing the steps of the dance in their heads or on their feet; afraid they might make a mistake during their time on stage.
Her confidence gave her a sense of discipline and grace, as one would have from dedication, much practice and certainly many performances. I would love to have known more about her.
But I could definitely tell that she was loved by the lady who groomed her hair. There must be some story there between the two women. Was the older lady once a dancer too? Was she unable to dance when she was young because of some disability? Maybe this young lady was her only daughter and she was so happy and proud of her qualities as a woman and as a dancer.
If you know the younger lady please message me with her name or contact me here and I will give you my number. I live in Cary, NC. I would love to give her a copy of this photo. I know the surroundings were not the best but I have no regrets.
Her photograph embodied so much of what I lacked at that age. Perhaps that is why I was so struck by her appearance. The confidence in her own appearance, her ability to perform the dance routine that she had likely been trained for since she was a young girl: the pride she felt in the knowledge that she was beautiful and a talented dancer.