I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in San Francisco. My father was a chemical engineer, but my mother came from a theatrical family. She danced in the USO during World War II and her parents were part of a ‘vaudevillian vampire show’ that toured the major theatres of Europe before the outbreak of World War I. My grandparents died before I was born, but I grew up with their pictures hanging on the walls and I was always fascinated with their lifestyle.
When I was 16 I worked a few jobs and saved some money. One day I read a psychology magazine that offered a course in Switzerland that focused on the writings of Hermann Hesse and Carl Jung. I went to Switzerland to take the course and then worked as an au pair in Paris for eight months.
When I returned to California I met a young man named Alan who became my first love. He graduated from Cornell and Columbia and was going back to Phoenix, Arizona to join his family business. In order to be with him I enrolled in Arizona State.
Alan had been a heroin user in the past, but I didn’t know what being a heroin addict meant so it didn’t bother me. When we were in Phoenix he had a relapse. Eventually I decided I couldn’t continue in the relationship and fled to Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. At Naropa I took a summer course on Hindu devotional dance and it was the most incredible thing I had ever experienced. The dance is done in a very classic and specific form. Every movement has a precise position of the hands and feet and body. It’s both tangible and intangible – you are connecting with a life energy and putting it into dance.
After the course ended I wanted to study dance in India, but Alan wanted us to give our relationship another try. I agreed to spend the summer together in a communist kibbutz near Haifa, Israel. But Alan brought his drugs on the plane and that was the end for me. I helped him get off the drugs one last time before leaving Israel.
After I left the kibbutz I visited my sister who was a dancer in Amsterdam. One day while we were riding bikes through the city I lost my address book with my teacher’s address in India. All I knew was his name and that he lived in New Delhi. I flew to India anyway, trusting I would find him.
When I landed I immediately felt that India was the home I had always been looking for. I didn’t understand any of the culture or way of life, but it felt like the right place for me. When I arrived in New Delhi I started my search in an area with a lot of art schools. I found my teacher in the very first school I searched!
That started my formal training in the art of Hindu devotional dance. I trained three hours a day six days a week. I couldn’t speak Hindi and my teacher couldn’t speak English but he showed me what to do through dance. Over time we created a language from Sanskrit and Odia and Hindi and English and could discuss anything.
Originally I wanted to stay in India for a year and then return to America and study Hindu devotional dance from an academic point of view. I had read that the average Indian lived on $150 a year, but I had saved over $1,000 for the trip. I thought that with that much money I would get fat with all the excess! I divided the $1,000 into 12 envelopes – $90 a month. I moved into a servants’ quarter and took a local bus. I had to pay the teacher $35. The servants’ quarter cost $35 to rent. The remaining $30 was used for food and transportation. Money was tight.
To help make ends meet I found part-time work with a Canadian garment company in the afternoons. One day I met an American man who offered me additional work at a brass-fitting export company. Little did I know he was part of a massive hashish smuggling ring. I was duped into signing the customs manifest for his hashish shipments. When one of the shipments was seized in the United States an Indian man who also worked for the American tipped me off. That tip saved me. After seeking legal advice I fled India…