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Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe: Sharing the Grace and Beauty of Dance and Tradition (In Sinhalese)    
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Today’s A Journey through Aesthetic Realms will be presented in Sinhalese and English, with subtitles in Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Chinese, English, French, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish and Thai.

Greetings, graceful viewers, and welcome to A Journey through Aesthetic Realms on Supreme Master Television. Today, through interviews with founder and president Mrs. Rukmal Gunasekara and members of Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe based in Ottawa, Canada, we will explore some cultural values reflected in Sri Lankan dance, and see how traditional dance helps promote intercultural understanding. In Sanskrit, Sri Lanka means “venerable island.” Indeed, like a sparkling gem in the northern Indian Ocean, this tropical island nation enjoys beautiful landscapes, delightful teas, herbs and spices, and well-preserved customs.

The Buddhist ritual dance of Sri Lanka is a unique tradition, started during the 4th century BCE. Through generations and generations of evolution, it is widely practiced today in three major forms: Udarata (Kandyan) dances, which originated in the up country in Kandyan district; Pahatharata dances, which originated in the low country; and Sabaragamuwa dances, which is a mixture of Udarata and Pahatharata dances. In 1995, Mrs. Gunasekara arrived in Canada with the vision to form an ethnic dance group that she has long contemplated.

In 1983, when Sri Lanka’s image was a negative image that was coming on the public media, I was thinking that there is another side to Sri Lanka. There is a beautiful culture that is not portrayed. I learned dancing when I was in Sri Lanka and I have performed there. And this is one of the most important factors of our culture that needs to be brought forward to portray Sri Lanka, its culture, and its people. People are very peace-loving. And that’s what should be given to the people who don’t know much about Sri Lanka.

Also, there is an entire generation of Sri Lankan American or Sri Lankan Canadian kids who are growing up. They are Canadian citizens but they also inherit a very important culture through their parents. And that needs to be given to them.

It is extremely important that we do that. And then the kids will learn something about their home countries. And they will pass it on to the next generation. That’s how the dances have gone for 3,000 years in Sri Lanka. The mother or the father passed it on to the next generation.

When forming the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe in 1998, Mrs. Gunasekara paid detailed attention to every aspect to ensure the authenticity of the performance.

The traditional costumes are designed specifically for the dance group by Malathi Vidyapathi, whose son is actually one of the most premier male dancers in Sri Lanka. These are traditional families, so they have specific skills in choreography. The mother of this dancer is so wonderful and skilled in doing costume design. She will create one costume and she will never repeat that costume design again.

The music is specifically composed for this dance troupe, so some of them are not even performed in Sri Lanka. The choreography is specifically designed for us, so they become unique dance items, not only in Canada, but also in Sri Lanka.

On the stage, it is an enjoyable experience for the young performers.

It’s really fun to perform in front of an audience, and wear all those cool costumes. I just love to dance.

We have the Peacock Dance and then we have the Snake Dance.

And our costumes are really nice. They are very colorful. We have a head-piece, and then we have a lot of decorations on it.

They're really colorful, vibrant, and our dance form is really unique. Most of our dances, they usually portray a story. So, like the Snake Dance, the way a snake moves. Just things like that and it shows a lot of our culture through our dancing.

I have never come across a single kid who has joined my dance troupe who has said “I’m not interested” and has moved away. They are always fascinated with the music, the steps, and of course, definitely they want to wear the costumes and put on makeup. As one small one came to me and said, “The best part of this thing is putting on makeup.”

During the interview, we were amazed by the diversity of the members of the dance troupe, particularly in terms of age differences.

This is the first time, actually I have even pre-kindergarten, just kids performing for me. But I find them to be even easier because they seem to mimic the older members and picking up steps as they go.

And the older members always help them along, so either they coach them or they take care of them. So it’s one big family.

Then the little ones become more secure and that secureness is portrayed on the stage always.

And whenever I’m performing with them, you just have this really good feeling, because, it’s just like, you’re just around family.

When you are nervous or something, it’s just really nice to be performing with family.

The warm family-like atmosphere serves to unite the diverse team. Among the team members, there are also dedicated heroes whose work behind the scene is crucial for the overall success of the dance company.

That is Damithri Silva, who created the website for me. It’s an outstanding design, and I have compliments coming from all over the world on this website.

Her father is Patrick Silva, who does a lot of my stage decorations. Any time I have a presentation, he does the stage decorations. And of course I cannot forget all of my teachers back in Sri Lanka because unless we have our teachers’ support in every possible way, it is not possible for us to move forward.

What a caring and appreciative tradition! We will continue our program after these messages. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television.

You can bring a multicultural society together with each other’s understanding of culture. And also, let them be representatives of the Sri Lankan culture.

Welcome back to A Journey through Aesthetic Realms on Supreme Master Television as we continue our interview with Mrs. Gunasekara, founder and president of the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe in Ottawa, Canada. Mrs. Gunasekara explains some time-honored cultural elements associated with the dancing tradition that benefit both the youngsters and the society.

The Sri Lankan dance is called “pure” dance which is connected to rituals. Those rituals come both from Hinduism and Buddhism. For instance, before we start a practice session or before we start the class, we perform a very simple exercise with which we ask for the blessings of the parents and teachers and Goddess of Earth, to keep our feet on the ground. And the concept of parents and teachers comes from Buddhism. We always respect our parents and teachers. And for the dancers, we think it is appropriate that we ask for the permission of Goddess Earth.

A few years ago, I had this very small group of student members getting on the stage. And as I said, we always have so much respect towards the teachers, but I didn’t expect that much probably from the smaller members. And I remember, I was just asking them to get on to the stage. The lead dancer turned around and, just did exactly as a very experienced dancer would do in Sri Lanka.

I was just amazed that how did this little one in just two years learn this aspect that before you could get into that stage, it’s extremely important that you get that blessing. Yes, it remained in my memory. And also I think it is a very good indication that if given the proper circumstances and guidance, they have a tendency to go more in the right direction.

Respect towards each other is extremely important. It is specifically important when we live in a multicultural society, where people come from all over the world, with different customs, with different traditions. I find that people are very fearful of what they don’t know. When you have a neighbor who is from a different country whom you don’t know anything about, you find, “Oh, I don’t know what they are doing.”

But if you really know that some of these traditions do have some specific meaning to that, then that fear factor is taken off. And you might find something similar in their own culture. So dance and music is very beautiful. And anybody will come to their feet in appreciation of beauty. Dance is very good to break down these barriers. Because if somebody sees a beautiful Sri Lankan dance, the next time they meet somebody from Sri Lanka, “Oh, yes I saw a nice Sri Lankan dance.” And they get to talk and they become friends.

Over the years, the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe has been invited to perform at numerous cultural occasions, including with the Canadian government.

We are becoming wider and wider known, especially among the Federal Government of Canada. We have performed for the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Defense, and we have some other requests from the Federal Government as we go along. So it is quite, quite a wide audience.

The Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe’s program director and dancer Ms. Ericka Ushliyanage shares with us her experience in interacting with their audiences.

Being part of a Sri Lankan dance group is a great way for me to learn about the culture, to learn about the traditions of Sri Lanka, and it gives me a way to express those traditions.

I feel that all the girls act as cultural ambassadors for Sri Lanka because we’re spreading something spiritual, something traditional to the Canadian community that they wouldn’t necessary get to see. I think that it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase something beautiful and cultural about Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a beautiful island, full of beautiful people, with such a rich cultural tradition that it’s really important to us, as students of the dance form, to be able to showcase it, and to showcase what a wonderful country we come from.

I think there are numerous incidents, following performances, or we have people coming up to us and saying, “You know, I’ve never seen anything like that before.” And I think that is what makes it so worth it.

The enthusiastic responses attest to the achievements of Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe. Mrs. Gunasekara has an even greater vision for their work.

The Dance Troupe from the very early days has been linked to the Odyssey Theatre of Ottawa, which Laurie Steven is the artistic director. She has been to Sri Lanka and she fell in love with the Kolam theater, which belongs to the low country form of dance which is the full mask theater form.

And for many years, we have been trying to incorporate that theater form into the Canadian theater and the Odyssey Theatre productions. And we and Laurie Steven of Odyssey Theater really hope that we would be able to come up with the theater production here in Canada. And she hopes to take it to Sri Lanka all the way. And Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe will be a part of it.

Our sincere appreciation, Mrs. Rukmal Gunasekara and members of the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe, for sharing with us your heartfelt story of promoting cultural exchange with the traditional folk dance of Sri Lanka. Wishing you ever greater success!

Gentle viewers, thank you for joining us today on A Journey through Aesthetic Realms on Supreme Master Television. Up next is Vegetarianism: The Noble Way of Living, after Noteworthy News. May the caring people of Sri Lanka and the world be blessed with peace and prosperity.

Gentle viewers, thank you for joining us today on A Journey through Aesthetic Realms on Supreme Master Television. Up next is Vegetarianism: The Noble Way of Living, after Noteworthy News. May the caring people of Sri Lanka and the world be blessed with peace and prosperity.

For more details about the Sri Lanka Youth Dance Troupe, please visit
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