Sampradaya Bharatanatyam Troupe of Iowa City

Indian classical dance is a fixture of Iowa City’s Indian community.


Bharatanatyam is a story-based dance form that has been taught for centuries.


Caroline Barker Growing up around the dance form in her home, Shreya Khullar ’22 has been dancing since she was four.

Characterized by its meaningful gestures, facial expressions, and coordination, learning Bharatanatyam is a challenging process.

The Sampradaya Dance Troupe is a Bharatanatyam studio directed by Smitha Khullar in Iowa City. The nearly forty young dancers learn and perform group exhibitions of the Bharatanatyam dance form several times a year.

With performances across the Corridor and involvement from girls of all ages, the troupe has become an important part of the Indian identity in Iowa City.

Advika Shah ’22 has been dancing since a young age. This year is her graduation year from the Bharatanatyam troupe. Caroline Barker

“I think [the studio] is a big part of the Indian community in Iowa City. My mom [Smitha Khullar] is one of the only people in this area that does it, and there are so many girls that come to dance,” said Shreya Khullar ‘22.

I think [the studio] is a big part of the Indian community in Iowa City.”

— Shreya Khullar '22

For the girls involved, dance serves as a socially and culturally enriching activity.

“We met at our first performance together. Once you meet at a performance, you are spending seven-hour rehearsals together, so it’s like a bonding experience,” said Advika Shah ‘22.

Historically acting as an artful interpretation of folklore and religious texts, the expressive dance is helpful to the girls’ understanding of their own Indian identity.

“I met some of my closest friends through dance, and it helps me understand my culture better,” Khullar said.

Caroline Barker Advika Shah ’22 executes a dance position for the camera. Every gesture and limb carries a unique meaning in this form.

As a medium for creative expression, Bharatanatyam is a fun and intricate way to communicate.

“I enjoy dance because it is a way for me to express myself. Its an art form, and being able to move around and use the space to your liking gives you happiness. It is a really awesome stress-buster for me,” said Shah.

I enjoy dance because it is a way for me to express myself.”

— Advika Shah '22

Annually, Sampradaya has a group performance in which the entire troupe performs a choreographed storytelling dance.

This year’s show will take place on March 7th. All are encouraged to attend and learn about this classical art form. 

“I think a lot of non-Indian’s started knowing about Bharatanatyam because of our performances. At our performances I see a lot of people come in and appreciate the dance form,” Shah said.

Caroline Barker Shreya Khullar ’22 wearing Bharatanatyam costume and jewelry. 

Although many students begin dancing in elementary school, the troupe welcomes all levels of participants.

“You can start any time, we have had people start in high school,” said Khullar.

Sampradaya is a culturally relevant, community-engaging troupe that offers a unique approach to the expression of Indian culture in Iowa City. For many ICCSD students, it has been a place to build community and learn a new skill.

It brings awareness to Indian Culture around the community.”

— Shreya Khullar '22