the young age of five, when her father was the deputy Collector of Tanjore, Hema showed a
deep fascination for carnatic music and dance, constantly playing 78 rpm records on a hand
operated HMV Gramophone and singing and dancing to the music. It was actually Ramgopal,(famous for first putting Indian dancing on the
International map) who gave her, her first formal instruction. Whilst visiting her father
at Tanjore in 1939, he was so impressed with the child artiste that he placed her on his
lap and taught her some of the elementary mudras and explained their significance.
It must be said that, in spite of the talent shown by her, there was a "taboo" to dancing in public that existed in the forties. However, it was due to the appreciation of the art and the broadmindedness of her parents, that she progressed further. Hema first learnt Bharatanatyam from Kanappa Pillai for about 2 years and then switched on to Guru Vazhavoor Ramaiah Pillai who was then, possibly, the very best teacher in Bhararatanayam . He had at that time pupils like Kumari Kamala & Vyjayanthimala and later Anandi and Radha. Guru Ramiah Pillai continued to personally teach her for the rest of her dancing career and was the nattuvanar on each and every occasion when she danced whether it was in or outside Madras. Apart from learning under such an authority of Bharatanatyam, she also learnt her abhinaya and padams directly from the greatest exponent Padma Vibhushan Smt T. Balasaraswathi. In the case of Hema and Balasaraswathi there was not just the student-teacher relationship; it was much more than that, as will be seen from her "reflections". Hema was Bala's first student for Bala was never known to have taught dancing to anyone until the mid-sixties when she was public acclaimed and asked to teach by the Music Academy. One more thing that is relevant here is that whilst learning dance under Guru Ramaiah Pillai, Hema also learnt a few padams from Mylapore Gowriamma before learning from Balasaraswathi ! ( Note: Balasaraswathi, herself was a disciple of Gowriamma).
Hema's parents recognized that Bharatanatyam can never be complete without a knowledge of music. Knowing that Hema was talented in music too, they gave her and her elder sister Padmini an extensive training in vocal music. These classes were run concurrently with the period she was learning dancing. Their first teacher was Ramaswamy Bhagawathar for a few years and then it was from Mayavaram Krishna Iyer and finally the great Vidwan Maharajapuram Viswantha Iyer. They also received inputs from Musiri Subramania Iyer. ( Note: Mayavaram Krishna Iyer and Musiri Subramnia Iyer also taught Bharat Ratna M.S.Subbulakshmi).