Cover image for A time to dance
A time to dance
In India, a girl who excels at Bharatanatyam dance refuses to give up after losing a leg in an accident.
Physical Description:
307 pages ; 22 cm
Geographic Term:
Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA),
Publication Date:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), [2014]
Call Number:


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33607003024422 Young Adult VENKATR

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Padma Venkatraman's inspiring story of a young girl's struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance--so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who's grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

Author Notes

Padma Venkatraman ( is an oceanographer by training and a writer by choice. Her critically acclaimed novels Climbing the Stairs and Island's End were both ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, Booklist Editor's Choice BBYAs, Amelia Bloomer list selections and CCBC choices, in addition to winning several other honors and awards (such as the South Asia Book Award, Paterson Prize, Julia Ward Howe BAC award, NYPL Book for the Teen Age, Kirkus Best Book of the Year, Booksense Notable, and PW Flying Start). Padma was born in India, but is now an American citizen and lives with her family in Rhode Island.

Reviews 2

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-Despite the pressure from her parents to become an engineer, Veda dreams of being a dancer. She studies the classical Indian dance, Bharatanatyam, and has reached the competition finals. Impressed with her graceful lines and skill, the judges award her first place, and Veda is ecstatic. After posing for pictures, she is injured in an accident on the way home and her leg has to be amputated below the right knee. Devastated, she lies in her hospital bed devoid of hope until one day her doctor introduces her to a specialist from America. He sparks optimism in her because he understands that she needs to dance. Eventually Veda receives a prosthetic limb that allows her to walk and dance once again. She finds a new teacher for whom dance is more than a technical performance; it is an art form. Veda is placed with a student teacher, Govinda, who not only supports her as she relearns and strengthens her dancing but also becomes her friend. This exceptional novel, told entirely in verse, captures beautifully the emotions of a girl forced to deal with a number of challenges and how she overcomes them on her way to becoming a confident young woman. It is sure to appeal to readers who are also trying to find their place in the world.-Laura Fields Eason, Henry F. Moss Middle School, Bowling Green, KY (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Venkatraman (Island's End) again follows the maturation of a passionate and serious young woman, this time in a verse novel set in contemporary Chennai, India. After teenage classical dancer Veda loses part of her right leg, her teacher doesn't believe she can succeed even after Veda is outfitted with a prosthesis. Veda joins a new studio, where her perfectionism and determination clash with her instructors' philosophy of emotional and religious expression. "You dance like a demon," her attractive young tutor tells her, envying Veda's strength while inadvertently highlighting her spiritual shortcomings. Aided by a cast of stock characters-a supportive grandmother, a disapproving but loving mother, and a wise older mentor-Veda sets aside her longing for applause and develops the "three kinds of love.... A healthy love of one's physical self,/ compassion for others,/ and an experience of God." Veda's questions about the nature of God, her growth as an artist while performing a Buddhist tale of grief and acceptance, and her transcendent experiences linked to Shiva, often portrayed as a dancer, lend depth to her spiritual journey. Ages 12-up. Agent: Rob Weisbach, Rob Weisbach Creative Management. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.



PROLOGUE Temple of the Dancing God Clinging to the free end of Ma's sari, I follow the tired shuffle of other pilgrims' feet into the cool darkness of the temple where sweat-smell mingles with the fragrance of incense. Pa's hand rests heavy on my curls. The priest drops a pinch of sacred ash into Ma's palm and she smears it on my forehead above the red dot she paints between my eyebrows each morning. I push through the rustling curtain of women's saris and men's white veshtis, tiptoeing to see better. A bronze statue of Shiva, four-armed God of dance, glistens. He balances on His right leg alone, His left raised parallel to earth, the crescent moon a sparkling jewel He wears in His matted hair. Carved high into the temple's granite walls, I spy other celestial dancers. "Pa?" I tug at my father's shirt. He lifts me onto his shoulders but the sculptures are too far away to touch. After the crowd empties out into the sunshine of the temple courtyard I, alone, slip back into the soft blackness of the empty hall, spot a step-ladder propped against my dancer-filled wall and climb. Up, up, up, to the very top. Leaning forward, I trace dancing feet with my fingertips. "What are you doing, little one?" A priest steadies my ladder. "You don't have to climb ladders to reach God. He dances within all He creates. Come down." I run my fingers along the curve of each stone heel. The priest's laugh rumbles up into my ears. "Place a hand on your chest. Can you feel Shiva's feet moving inside you?" I press on my chest. Feel bony ribs. Under them, thumping, faint echoes of a dancing rhythm: thom thom thom. Shiva outside me, gleaming in the temple sanctum. Yet also leaping hidden, inside my body. "God is everywhere. In every body. In everything. He is born, at different times, in different places, with different names. He dances in heaven as Shiva, creator of universes; He lived on earth as Buddha, human incarnation of compassion; And as you can see, he moves within you. Now, please, come down, little one." I'm half-way down the ladder when Pa and Ma rush back in. Pa prostrates, laying his squat body flat on the stone floor, thanking God. Ma thanks the priest, words of gratitude bursting from her like sobs. "Searched--the other four temples--couldn't find her- --so scared--what if she'd left the temple complex-- --run outside the walls-- into the city--" As we leave, Ma's thin fingers pinch my shoulders tight as tongs roasting rotis over an open flame. Pa scolds, "You could have burst your head climbing a ladder like that!" My head is bursting with images of stone dancers come alive, the tips of their bare toes twirling with sounds of the tiny bells on their anklets twinkling with music. A TIME TO DANCE Hoping and Waiting I race upstairs, kick my sandals off outside our front door, burst into our apartment. "I'm in the finals!" My grandmother, Paati, surges out of the kitchen like a ship in full sail, her white sari dazzling in the afternoon light that streams through our open windows. I fling my arms around her. Drink in the spicy-sweet basil-and-aloe scent of her soap. Paati doesn't say congratulations. She doesn't need to. I feel her words in the warmth of her hug. "I knew you'd make it." Pa plucks me out of Paati's embrace into his arms. "Finals of what?" Ma says. I've only been talking about the Bharatanatyam dance competition for months. Mostly to Paati, and to Pa, but Ma's hearing is perfect and we don't live in a palace with soundproof walls. Paati retreats into the kitchen. Paati's told me she doesn't think it's her place to interfere with her son and daughter-in-law. Pa's eyes rove from Ma to me, caught in the middle as always. Ma's diamond earrings --the only reminder of her wealthy past-- flash at me like angry eyes. "Veda, you need to study hard. If you don't do well in your exams this year--" For once, my voice doesn't stick in my throat. "I am studying hard. To be a dancer. I'm not planning to become an engineer. Or a doctor." Or any other profession Ma finds respectable. Ma launches into her usual lecture. "Dancing is no career for a middle-class girl. You need to study something useful in college so you can get a well-paid job." I sigh extra-loud. My dance teacher, Uday anna, isn't rich. But his house is larger than ours. Clearly, he earns more than Ma at her bank job and Pa at his library. Ma goes on and on. Back when I was younger, I'd struggle to be better at school for Ma's sake. But numbers and letters soon grew too large for me to hold, and I grew far away from them and Ma grew out of patience. Paati places steaming sojji, my favorite snack, on our table. The sweet, buttery smell of cooked semolina is tempting but I leave the plate untouched. March into the bedroom Paati and I share. Slam the door. Pa knocks. Says, "Come out, Veda. Eat something." "Leave her alone," Ma says. "She knows where to find food if she's hungry." I probably shouldn't have slammed the door. But Ma never even said congratulations. She's never pretended my dancing made her happy. But never has a performance mattered more to me than being chosen for the finals of this competition. All my life, Ma's been hoping I'll do well at science and mathematics so I could end up becoming what she wanted to be: an engineer. All my life, I've been waiting for her to appreciate my love of the one thing I excel at: Bharatanatyam dance. Speaking with Hands "Steps came to you early. Speech came late," Paati said. She'd tell how she watched me pull myself up by the bars of my cradle at eight months, eager to toddle on my own two feet. Months before others my age, she said, I could shape thoughts with my fingers. My body wasn't shy. While words stumbled in my throat, losing their way long before they reached my lips, like lotus buds blossoming, my hands spoke my first sentences shaping themselves into hasta mudras: the hand symbols of Indian classical dance. Paati said, "It was as if you remembered the sign language of Bharatanatyam from a previous life you'd lived as a dancer before being reincarnated as my granddaughter." Paati always understood everything I said with my hands. Dance Practice I'm a palm tree swaying in a storm wind. My dance teacher, Uday anna, sits crosslegged on the ground tapping beats out on his hollow wooden block with a stick. I leap and land on my sure feet, excitement mounting as Uday anna's rhythm speeds challenging me to repeat my routine faster. My heels strike the ground fast as firesparks. Streams of sweat trickle down my neck. My black braid lifts into the air, then whips around my waist. Nothing else fills me with as much elation as chasing down soaring music, catching and pinning rhythms to the ground with my feet, proud as a hunter rejoicing in his skill. The climax brings me to the hardest pose of all: Balancing on my left leg, I extend my right upward in a vertical split. Then I bend my right knee, bring my right foot near my ear showing how, when an earring fell off as he danced, Shiva picked it up with his toes and looped it back over his earlobe. Locking my breath in my chest to keep from trembling, I push myself to hold the pose for an entire eight beat cycle. A familiar thrill shoots up my spine. I enjoy testing my stamina, my balance. Uday anna's stick clatters to the floor. He claps. "Pull that off and you're sure to win." Both feet on the ground again, I piroutte and leap, rejoicing in the speed at which my body obeys my mind's commands, celebrating my strong, skilled body-- the center and source of my joy, the one thing I can count on, the one thing that never fails me. Excerpted from A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.