Is it just me, or does Indian dance seem to be making real inroads here in Washington?
Before answering, first accept my mea culpa for lumping a wide variety of movement forms together. Any dance historian or ethnographer worth their salt will point out that India is home to a range of movement forms, each with its own distinctive history, style, and followers.
There’s classical Indian dance, which was initially designed to serve a religious purpose; the main seven or eight types break down along regional lines. Then there’s Bhangra, which originated as a folk dance created by farmers in Punjab, a northern agricultural state. And Bollywood is a relatively recent invention that’s been influenced by hip hop and modern dance.
Maybe referring to them all simply as “Indian dance” is doing them a disservice. But in truth, most Westerners aren’t yet able to seriously discriminate between the various styles—to see the differences between two types of classical dance, for example, or take in the polyrhythmic interactions between dancer and musician. That’s where exposure comes in.
Luckily, there are a bunch of events going on. A key way to get a sense of Indian classical dance is to check out the program Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company has put together for this weekend at the Lincoln Theater. Director Daniel Singh has invited two Indian dancers who were once quite controversial for their use of traditional dance forms to make modern statements.
Tonight, Mallika Sarabhai performs; the artist has formerly fused the classical Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi styles with more contemporary political issues like land rights and the caste system. In this performance, she’ll be utilizing a particular form of Indian devotional music.
Tomorrow night’s show features Anita Ratnam, who’s also been trained in Bharatanatyam and will focus on stories from Indian poetry that feature archetypes of strong women. In both performances, expect more than just movement: Indian dancers usually also utilize storytelling and music to convey emotion.
But that’s not all going on. If glamour and glitz are your thing, George Mason is showing a full-length Bollywood musical, “The Merchants of Bollywood,” on the weekend of Oct. 22, complete with snazzy costumes, an epic plot, and some serious hip shaking.
Finally, Bhangra’s been getting big on college campuses, and D.C.’s own U.S. Department of Bhangra—which features music plus dance—has recently played packed shows, with another one coming up at the end of the month. And certain Washington Sports Club locations are offering “Masala Bhangra Workout” classes—getting down and dirty to Bhangra music, presumably.