Hema Rajagopalan is a Bharata Natyam dancer, teacher and choreographer of international reputation with more than fifty years of experience. She is the founder and artistic director of Natya Dance Theatre, a professional touring company and school that has specialized in Bharata Natyam since 1974. Her innovative work preserves Bharata Natyam in its full integrity, developing the art form in new directions and bringing it to diverse audiences all over the world.
Hema has performed as a soloist at prestigious venues throughout the world, receiving critical acclaim. As a choreographer she has created numerous short works and over thirty evening-length productions. Her gurus are some of the foremost figures in Bharata Natyam - Padma Shri K. N. Dandayudapani Pillai and Padma Bhushan Kalanidhi Narayanan, one of the world's greatest exponents of Abhinaya, the art of conveying emotion in a stylized manner by means of the hands, the body and facial expressions.
Noteworthy among the many prestigious awards that Hema has received are an Emmy Award for the PBS production of World Stage Chicago; seven National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Awards (the highest number ever received by any U.S. choreographer); and, in India, the Vishwa Kala Bharati Award for artistic excellence. In 2004, she received the Nritya Seva Mani (Devotee of Dance) Award from Bhairavi, a prominent organization based in Cleveland, Ohio. Hema is the first US-based dancer to receive this award. Also in 2004, she was the first choreographer working in an Indian tradition to be selected among leading Chicago choreographers by the Chicago Dancemakers Forum to create new work.
Scores of students trained under her have distinguished themselves as performers, teachers and choreographers. Her teaching accolades include the Master Teacher Award from the Asian American Heritage Council and the Master Teacher Award from the City of Chicago. She has served as a dance panelist with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council and other state arts agencies. Hema has been appointed by the Canadian government to assess Bharata Natyam dance training programs. She conducts workshops and master classes at colleges and universities throughout the country and was an adjunct faculty member at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago.