Some of Sumitra Baraily’s earliest memories include dancing with her father in the living room of their home in Nepal. At 5 years old, she also remembers watching him dance at a Nepali festival and feeling dazzled by his sense of joy on stage.
Today, Sumitra misses her father who died in 2010. She uses dance as a way to remember him.
“Dance is important for me,” she says. “When I dance, I miss my dad. I feel my dad with me.”
When Sumitra came to the United States in 2014, she says she was scared of starting high school. She remembers struggling on her first day at North High School until she met friends who helped her start a dance group.
The group helped her transition into high school and her life in the U.S. They participated in the cultural festival at North High School and spent months practicing.
Although that group is currently inactive, Sumitra took everything she learned from them and now teaches dance classes at the Himalayan Music Academy on Saturdays.
Founded in 2015, the goal of the Himalayan Music Academy is to connect Bhutanese and Nepali residents in Akron to their culture and language through music and dance. At the academy, younger generations of immigrants take reading and writing lessons in their native tongue and learn how to read music and dance. Behind founder Puspa Gajmer’s desk is a library of school workbooks that teaches the first generation of Bhutanese and Nepali Americans how to read and write.
“This is an important thing to preserve and extend our culture and to preserve the identity and where we’re from,” Puspa says.
Puspa says music has always been his passion. He fondly remembers picking up his first guitar at 12 years old and taking lessons from his neighbor in Nepal. After learning how to read and play music, Puspa taught younger kids in India and later volunteered as a music teacher at the refugee camp in Nepal. These experiences solidified his love for teaching.
But despite being one of the only public spaces in North Hill where Nepali and Bhutanese residents can connect with each other, and where people like Sumitra can dance with one another in their native music, Puspa says the Himalayan Music Academy is struggling to find grants to continue operations.
Puspa says they’ve been “running in the best way” and trying to make the most with little, but keeping the academy operating has been very challenging.
His long-term goal for the Himalayan Music Academy is for it to become an international music school.
“I have that dream, and that’s why I’ve been struggling really hard,” Puspa says. “Music is the one thing that will connect people to other people.”
Visit the Himalayan Music Academy on 739 North Main Street and keep up with events on Facebook by following along at www.facebook.com/myhmacademy.
Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s Senior Reporter. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo of Sumitra by Gum-Dip Theatre. Used with permission.