Music is said to be by many, the universal language. It is a way to connect people of various cultures and backgrounds. Because music transcends geographical, political, economic, spiritual and ideological distances, it has the power to break down boundaries and unite people. This is exactly the vision of the Guiding Star Dance Foundation (GSDF). Founded in 2009 by Varun Mahajan and his wife, Sonia, GSDF seeks to educate the American community about Indian culture and traditions through music and dance.
When Varun and his wife migrated to Pittsburgh from India in 1997 they saw that there were many people from different nationalities living in the region, but noticed that there was a cultural element missing, especially within the Indian community. Both professionally trained dancers, Varun and Sonia decided to start teaching Indian dance – classical, folk, Bollywood – to the Indian community in their basement as a way to bring Indian culture to the Pittsburgh community. They created the Guiding Star Dance Academy with four students and now have over 150 dancers.
In 2009, they wanted to “do something more to involve other members of the community”. They decided to form the Guiding Star Dance Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable arts foundation, as a separate entity from the Guiding Star Dance Academy. Through the GSDF they perform original musicals scripted in English while still keeping the authenticity of Indian dancing and history. They use both professionally trained Indian and American artists in every production as a way to create cultural partnerships. By including performers of various backgrounds Varun believes that he is able to better tap into a wider audience. The most important element, Varun shared, is that they incorporate an Indian festival (e.g. Diwali – the festival of lights) and traditional Indian costumes into every performance to educate the audience about Indian culture.
Varun explained that “the key is inclusivity”. Through the musicals GSDF is educating the Pittsburgh community on Indian traditions, culture,values and beliefs through the universal language of music.