• Meera Murti On Bharatnatyam In The Indian Diaspora

    Meera Murti grew up learning Bharatnatyam in the suburbs of New Jersey. Dance helped her come to terms with her identity as an Indian American and helped her find a community while growing up.

    Bharatnatyam had such an impact on her life that she decided to make a documentary on how the dance form is perceived and practised in the Indian diaspora in the US. Meera and her partner Sweta Devarajan were given a grant from the Institute of Women’s Leadership at their university to produce Artham: Exploring Diasporic Bharatnatyam. 

    Here are some excerpts from our conversation with her:

    What inspired you to make the documentary?

    Sweta and I have both danced since we were 5 years old. For many young dancers, college marks the end of an era of your dance – it becomes really difficult to regularly attend dance classes with your guru, so your relationship with dance can stagnate. Luckily for both of us, we were both selected to be a part of our university’s classical dance team, RU Natya.

    There are also plenty of non-South Asian people who engage with the art form. We interviewed Jess Perez in our film, and she discussed her interest in Bharatnatyam as something that connected to a love for her own culture

    After sharing space on our dance team and within our certificate program, the two of us decided that we wanted to pursue an art project that examined our relationships and experiences with Bharatnatyam.

    You mentioned that Manhattan does not have too many opportunities for Indian dance. Is this changing? 

    I think that opportunities to learn and perform Bharatnatyam are growing nationwide. In our film, we interviewed Sahasra Sambamoorthy, who recognized the lack of educational and performance spaces for Bharatnatyam in Manhattan. She and her peers have completely changed the landscape for Bharatnatyam in Manhattan, and similar changes are happening across the nation.

    After the release of our film, lots of people reached out to us to tell us that they felt familiarity with the material; many of them weren’t Indian, or even dancers. In this way, art is incredibly powerful and important in its ability to reach across culture

     

    The art form itself is steadily gaining both visibility and traction in America. This impact is very real; today’s audiences in America tend to be more familiar with the art form than audiences 50 years ago were.

    bharatnatyam diaspora video

    Source: Meera Murti

     What is the interest in Bharatnatyam among non-Indians?

    Though Bharathanatyam grew primarily out of South India, lots of people who are not Indian engage with it through both performance and consumption. We know lots of non-Indian South Asian people who dance or appreciate Bharatnatyam. There are also plenty of non-South Asian people who engage with the art form. We interviewed Jess Perez in our film, and she discussed her interest in Bharatnatyam as something that connected to a love for her own culture.

    Bharatnatyam diaspora

    Source: Meera Murti

    After the release of our film, lots of people reached out to us to tell us that they felt familiarity with the material; many of them weren’t Indian, or even dancers. In this way, art is incredibly powerful and important in its ability to reach across culture.

    Watch the film here.

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