When the women owners of Ragamala Dance Company talk about excellence, they aren’t only referring to their multi-disciplinary dances for the stage. For 30 years running, they’ve focused on infusing excellence into all aspects of their operations. Hailed by The New York Times as “soulful, imaginative, and rhythmically contagious,”1 the company’s works are rooted in the South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam.
Ragamala, a Bremer customer since 2001, was founded in 1992 by Ranee Ramaswamy. “I was 26 when I came to this country, and now I am 71,” Ranee shared. “It has been an amazing honor to share the Indian traditions of dance and culture with the Minnesota and international communities.” In those three decades, Ragamala dancers have performed across the United States and around the world, from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai and more.
Bremer Business Solutions Specialist Claudia Carrasco appreciates Ragamala as both a customer and a community asset. “At Bremer, we support all communities, and Ragamala allows us to be part of the Indian community – and specifically, to experience their authentic expression of the immigrant experience through dance,” she said.
Ragamala is led by Ranee and her daughters Aparna and Ashwini Ramaswamy. Aparna is Executive Artistic Director, in partnership with her mother, and Ashwini is the Choreographic Associate. The focus on excellence clearly runs in the family. “We’ve been uncompromising in our commitment to the story of Indian immigrants and the wisdom of ancient Indian culture from day one,” Ashwini said.
“Our greatest strength is the excellence we bring onto the stage, but we also strive for excellence throughout everything we do – including community engagement, grant writing, connecting with supporters, teaching classes – all aspects of running the organization,” Ashwini added.
They take a unique approach to operating the dance company, with many of the dancers taking on administrative roles. According to Ashwini, “Having knowledge about both the business and artistic side gives the dancers administrative skills and self-motivation. They are very much involved and interested in all aspects of the company.” The company has eight dancers, about half of whom have been with Ragamala for at least 20 years.
“There are so many years of training required in Bharatanatyam, and you’re always evolving your practice; we believe that we are lifelong students of the dance form and the cultural wisdom that is embedded within the form,” Ashwini said. Ultra-committed dancers aren’t easy to find, but once they are on board, they want to hold on, and Ragamala’s staffing approach gives them a fulfilling dual-purpose career worth holding onto.
If excellence is the mantra at Ragamala, then community is the conduit. At the Ragamala Training Center, the dancers bring Indian culture into the lives of children as young as 7 years old. It takes about three years to learn the basic footwork of Bharatanatyam, so all members of the dance company take turns teaching. “Bharatanatysm is like learning a language; once you have mastered the grammar, a seasoned choreographer can create their own movement poetry,” Ranee explained.
Ragamala relies on Bremer for banking and insurance, and the partnership has been valuable for both organizations. “Bremer is very responsive, interested in our growth and in how we’re doing as people,” Ashwini said. “And best of all, they are community-minded, like we are.”
That sense of community is why Ragamala Dance Company has made Minnesota its home for more than 30 years. In the 1980s, a University of Minnesota professor invited the legendary Alarmel Valli, a preeminent choreographer and performer of Bharatanatyam, to teach and perform over the course of two weeks. Ranee and then 9-year-old Aparna were hooked after seeing her, and they spent four months in India the following year, learning from her. That education continued and ultimately resulted in Ranee opening Ragamala Dance Company.
“We are so grateful for Minnesota. I had the greatest support in building this business and creating a network. We have received, and received, and received. Now it time to give back,” Ranee said.
Ragamala will no doubt put their best foot forward as they continue their journey as pioneers who believe that while history is time bound, the stories we share are timeless. And Bremer will be by their side on that journey.