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Maheetha Bharadwaj Wins Young Artists Merit Award

The 16-year-old senior at Thomas Jefferson School views a well-rounded education as a top priority.

With television shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance,” “America’s Best Dance Crew” and “Dancing with the Stars” in today’s limelight, both young and old genres of dance are showcased to a variety of audiences. Maheetha Bharadwaj, who was profiled last year on for her stellar volunteer work with piano, has done it again. This time she is a Young Artists Merit Award Winner in dance. 

As one of the best and brightest young artists in the nation, Bharadwaj was chosen as one of 271 Merit Award Winners from more than 5,000 applicants in nine disciplines, including the visual, literary and performing arts. Bharadwaj, a senior at (she skipped second grade), who lives in Wildwood, receives a monetary award and a trip to Miami, Fla., to attend YoungArts Week, which includes master classes taught by world-renowned artists, performances and exhibitions. 

Bharadwaj applied for the award by sending in a four-minute DVD of two Indian classical dances. Two minutes were of pure rhythmic footwork and hand gestures, and the other two minutes were a solo piece with choreography.

“I’ve been learning Indian classical dance for about 11-12 years. I finished my graduation in this art form when I was 9 years old (usually someone finishes their graduation when they are 15 or 16),” Bharadwaj said. “I have to definitely have to say thanks to my parents and my teachers for encouraging me and teaching me. I have one of the world’s best teachers in this art form.”

A nationwide panel of judges selected Bharadwaj in a blind adjudication process from a pool of applicants from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories. YoungArts is the only organization in the nation to recognize students in nine discipline categories of cinematic arts, dance, jazz, music, photography, theater, visual arts, voice and writing. The program has chosen more than 16,000 young artists and awarded more than $6 million and nearly $84 million in college scholarships.

Bharadwaj said that she’s really glad that there’s an organization that recognizes talent in kids and that it’s great encouragement.

“It also recognizes that fine arts are just as important as academics and it encourages a well-rounded personality,” she said. “I really enjoy the fact that young arts also encourages keeping that tradition. There are categories for classical music and jazz—art forms that keep that classical tradition alive. A lot of people are listening to more Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and keeping the tradition is dying away.”

When asked if she’d ever consider auditioning for a show like “So You Think You Can Dance,” she said she probably wouldn’t due to the time commitment. She has been early action accepted to Stanford, and knows she has a lot of decisions to make for her future.

“When you see all these performers out there who have never finished high school … you just have to weigh it out,” she said. “I have though about auditioning for something like Disney and I’m now listening to a lot of Korean pop music and Irish folk music—it’s just a phase.”

Bharadwaj is looking at other scholarship opportunities and wants to focus on undergraduate work in a combination of science and business. She’s particularly interested in molecular genetics and economics, and eventually wants to open her own classical dance studio. But for now, the Young Artist joins the ranks of other award winners such as actresses Vanessa Williams and Kerry Washington, four-time Tony Award nominee Raúl Esparza, executive director of American Ballet Theatre Rachel Moore, recording artists Nicki Minaj and Chris Young, musician Jennifer Koh, choreographer Desmond Richardson and internationally acclaimed multimedia artist Doug Aitken.

“It’s important that judges see the passion that you have through the way you dance. I think people can see that passion from me. I love to dance I would never let it go,” she said. “When you look at the previous finalists you can see that they have so much energy and they are well-trained in their field. They love doing what they do and I think that’s a major contributing factor.”

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