Obituary: Medha Yodh, 79, Former UCLA Dance Professor and Expert on Theory and Practice of Classical Indian Dance
Medha Yodh, an expert on the theory and practice of the Indian Bharata Natyam dance form and a former adjunct faculty member at the UCLA Department of Dance, has died. She was 79 and had been in failing health for several years. A memorial service is being planned for the end of September.
Yodh, who died July 11, was a renowned classical
Indian dancer and a progressive force in the dance community she deeply
influenced. Born in Ahmedabad, in the Indian state of
Her formal academic education was in science,
and after receiving a bachelor of science degree from the
In 1962, Yodh met and became a disciple of Tanjore Balasaraswati, one of the most revered Indian dancers of her generation. Yodh chose to concentrate on the teaching and performing of one of the best-known forms of classical Indian dance, Bharata Natyam.
"We had to practice for hours adavus, basic dance steps within a square … drawn with a chalk stick on the floor," Yodh remarked of her training with Balasaraswati. "We had to study the music, the meanings of Tamil padams, and work hard. Her discipline was strict. Those who survived received the best they could from such a great dancer."
the tenure of Allegra Fuller Snyder, UCLA professor emerita of dance ethnology
and chair of the
"Medha was a significant artist and a teacher," Snyder said. "There is a tradition within dance forms of a master–pupil relationship which goes beyond just the form itself and includes the philosophy. Many students found her to be a master they could learn from. She had great inner sensitivity that came through her performance and relationship with students."
"It takes 10 years to become a competent Bharata Natyam dancer," Yodh once said, echoing the words of Martha Graham, George Balanchine and many other great dancers and teachers of the second half of the 20th century, according to Emma Thomas Lewis, dance historian and UCLA professor emerita.
the 1960s [when the department was established as part of the
worked with numerous dance companies and dance organizations in
was a supreme artist and performer," said Gary Bates, who received his master's
from UCLA and was a former soloist with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company and
founder of Eyes Wide Open, an important Los Angeles-based avant-garde dance
company in the 1970s. "Through her work
at Pacific Motion Dance Studios, Medha's artistry and ideas about movement
influenced many dancers and choreographers who moved from
brought the Indian community into the larger
many lecture-demonstrations included appearances at the universities of
Her documentary film "Garba-Ras: A Glimpse Into Gujarati Culture" (1987) was funded by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department as part of its folk arts program and was highly regarded in academic circles. A study of the Garba and Ras communal dances of the western Indian state of Gujarat, as practiced by the immigrant Gujarati community of Los Angeles, the film shows the dances being performed at Los Angeles' Hindu Sanatana Temple during the 1986 Navaratri (Nine Nights) festival, an autumnal celebration of the mother goddesses of Gujarat.
her retirement from teaching at UCLA, Yodh continued to guide and influence
dancers and choreographers, advise arts organizations and dance at Highways
Performance Space in
Yodh is survived by her two daughters, Kamal Mullenburg and Neila von Essen, and two granddaughters. Her son, Eric von Essen, a well-known jazz musician, died in 1997.