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Alina Deshpande—Dances of India

Lab scientist Alina Deshpande teaches classical Indian dance and writes, produces, directs and choreographs an annual benefit performance in Los Alamos.

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“My goal for the Dances of India benefit event is not only to raise money for worthy organizations but to showcase my students.”

Dances of India

Each October, the Analytics, Intelligence and Technology Division’s Alina Deshpande takes time out from developing tools to help detect global infectious disease in order to put on a “Dances of India” benefit performance in Los Alamos, and 2015 is no exception. Taking her initial inspiration from Walt Disney Pictures’ box office hit Toy Story, Deshpande has written, produced, directed and choreographed an East Indian fairy tale named Doll Story.

“My goal for the Dances of India benefit event is not only to raise money for worthy organizations but to showcase my students,” Deshpande says. “It’s also a fantastic outlet for my creative side and a great way to energize me and focus my thoughts when at work.”

Deshpande studied “Kathak,”a classical North Indian dance form, for 11 years in her native India and participated in several performances. After moving to New Mexico, she began teaching Kathak at the Los Alamos Family YMCA in 2004 when her daughter, Ashvini, was six years old so that Ashvini could learn more about her Indian roots.


Deshpande with husband Rajendra Vaidya, who also works for Los Alamos National Laboratory, and daughter Ashvini during the October 2013 production of Aladdin. Vaidya serves as master of ceremony for the benefit events.

“Kathak is one of India’s many classical dances,” Deshpande explains. “The word 'katha' means ‘story’ in Sanskrit and 'kathak' means 'storyteller.' You can find influences of temple dances in today’s performances, though some of the technical aspects were introduced by the Persians when they invaded India in the 1500s.”

Deshpande started her Kathak classes in Los Alamos with just a handful of students, but now classes average around 30 participants, with only about half having East Indian family connections.

The annual Dances of India benefit performance is composed of an eclectic mix of dancers as well.

“In addition to my regular students—and those of a colleague who teaches South Indian dance at the Y—we’ve added an increasing number of guest dancers over the years,” Deshpande says. “Some are local high school kids who just join for the fun of it, while others are trained in belly dancing or hip hop and want to broaden their repertoire.”

Cinderella, Doll Story

Planning each benefit event is a year-round activity for Deshpande. She single-handedly coordinates all aspects of the production, from choosing the featured charity organization and communicating with them to organizing all of the stage support, props, light and sound, publicity and intermission sales.

“I learn from every production and get inspired for the next one,” Deshpande says. “People laugh at me when I tell them that I start thinking about next year’s theme before I have even finished this year’s.”

The Doll Story performance on October 18, 2015, will be the first time that Ashvini, Deshpande’s now grown daughter, will only play a small role, because she is attending college.

“Last October we performed Cinderella for the benefit,” Deshpande recalls, “with Ashvini playing Cinderella and I her fairy godmother. Toward the end of the third scene, the two of us danced a brief duet, and we hugged when the dance was finished. Several audience members later told me that they had tears in their eyes at the time, knowing that the duet was going to be the last benefit event for mother and daughter—or at least for a while.”

Deshpande (r) and Ashvini during Cinderella duet.

Currently, the 2015 benefit dancers are hard at work practicing for Doll Story.


Doll Story is about a little girl in India whose dolls come alive and dance with her when no one is around,” Deshpande notes. “But on her sixteenth birthday the girl gets a new set of dancing dolls, and things take a turn for the worse.”

More Deshpande won’t tell.

“Our Dances of India benefit performances take place at Los Alamos High School’s Duane Smith Auditorium,” Deshpande reveals with a smile. “We don’t charge admission or require tickets; people can just show up on the announced day at 4 p.m. The proceeds from any collected donations benefit a different cause in India each year, such as schools for the mentally challenged, cancer wards or hospice care. This year it’s an education program for the hearing-impaired.”

Part of the Doll Story cast during dress rehearsal.

Deshpande works for the Analytics, Intelligence and Technology Division’s Information Systems and Modeling group.

Photos courtesy of Henrik Sandin Photography.

Photo captions for the slideshow at the top of the page: The left side of Slide 1 shows Deshpande in Aladdin, the right side in Cinderella. Slides 2 through 5 are from Aladdin, Slides 6 and 7 from Cinderella.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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