Asian Music and Dance

Enhancing Dance Careers through Research and Reflection

Roehampton University’s Dance Department has been declared ‘number one in the field of dance research’. Its alumni include performers, choreographers and entrepreneurs. Dr. Avanthi Meduri, the Convenor of the MA and Postgraduate courses describes what is on offer for dancers looking towards making careers in the wider field of dance

Most readers of Pulse know that a postgraduate South Asian Dance Studies (SADS) course is offered at Roehampton University. But how many understand its relevance to dance practice or production, whether it be in India or the UK? In the course of this article I would like to take the opportunity to describe how the MA and the Postgraduate certificate in SADS may be useful to you as dance-makers, choreographers and teachers, and equip you to work broadly as ‘cultural  entrepreneurs’ in the rapidly-expanding South Asian Dance sector. 

Briefly, the South Asian Dance MA was launched as a new international postgraduate research programme at Roehampton in autumn 2005, following the huge success of the large-scale Leverhulme-funded SaDiB (South Asian Dance in Britain) research project led by Professor Andree Grau at the university in 2001. The SADS MA does not exist separately but is part of a cluster of seven dance MAs. In the recently-published National Research Audit (2008), Roehampton Dance Department was assessed as number one in the country for dance research, and South Asian Dance Studies was declared an ‘area of excellence’. This acknowledgement is significant as it demonstrates that South Asian Dance has come of age, not just in mainstream British dance production but also in higher education! To promote the research vision of the Department, Roehampton offers two graduate bursaries: an AHRC bursary for professional dancers, and a specific bursary for South Asian Dance. The latter, offered by Milapfest, the UK’s South Asian Arts Development Trust, was set up in 2010. Urja Desai Thakore from the UK and Sabina Sweta Sen from Poland are recipients of the award this year.

I joined the Roehampton dance team from India/the US and was asked to lead on the programme. Since we are living in what we call the age of globalisation, I conceptualised a global arts pedagogy for South Asian performing arts including  classical, contemporary and popular forms like Bollywood and Bhangra.  We created this pedagogy by taking as inspiration the work and vision of contemporary/classical Indian and British Asian choreographers, dancers and dance teachers. These include Akram Khan, Shobana Jeyasingh, Pushkala Gopal, Mavin Khoo, Hari Krishnan, Nina Rajarani, Sonia Sabri, Anusha Subramaniyam, Kumudhini Lakia, Mrinalini Sarabhai, the late Chandralekha, Rukmini Devi Arundale, T. Balasaraswati, Ram Gopal and Uday Shankar, to name but a few. 

Drawing on my doctoral research completed in the US in the late 1990s, and the pioneering work of dance scholars in Britain, we positioned Indian dance production within the globalising framework of South Asia and focused on themes revolving around dance modernism, dance migration, dance history, British multiculturalism, diversity, dance politics, and British/Indian arts policy. How are cultural traditions preserved and transformed in the British, American and South Asian diaspora? What links these diverse productions? Does travel change the historical identity of dance traditions? These are key questions that students research at Roehampton. Since arts organisations helped mainstream South Asian dance, Roehampton students research the work of national organisations like Akademi, sampad, Kadam and Milapfest, and write research papers on the unique manner in which they mainstream and develop South Asian arts within the multicultural fabric of Britain.    

Since its inception the programme has attracted practitioners and all have used their academic degrees creatively to create new profiles for themselves. Graduates of Roehampton include Paya Ahuja (India/Australia), Shrikant Subramaniyam (India/UK), Shalini Bhalla (Kenya/UK), Jasmine Lail (UK), Madeleine Hull (USA), Rupa Nathwani (UK/India), Divya Kasturi (India/UK), Urja Desai Thakore (India/UK), and Sabina Sweta (India/Poland). Students enrolled on the programme have the option of writing a dissertation as part of their final assessment, or as a ‘pratice-based submission’. Shrikant Subramaniyam, for instance, completed a ‘practice as research’ dissertation focused on the emergence of the male dancer on the global stage. Divya Kasturi and Urja Desai Thakore have also taken this option and will present their practice dissertations in summer 2011. Mavin Khoo, enrolled on our PhD programme, will be pursuing a ‘Practice’-based dissertation on bharatanatyam, while Suparna Banerjee is working towards a traditional PhD on South Asian dance.  

In addition to the MA, Roehampton now offers a Postgraduate Certificate in South Asian Dance Studies. This introductory or taster programme, compressed into three months, is aimed at professional dancers who do not have the time to pursue full-time study. We offer this foundation course because we think it will be useful to South Asian dance teachers, students and choreographers, and also to students interested in arts management, arts administration, arts curation, dramaturgy and arts journalism. This certificate, combined with an ISTD (Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing) qualification or even an arts management degree can create professional pathways for South Asian dancers and aspiring arts managers and producers of culture. 

Although the South Asian Dance MA has generated international interest, the programme has not recruited as well as we had hoped, perhaps because South Asian students are unaware of career opportunities available to them in Higher Education. I believe it is time to think outside the box and embrace the positive benefits of acquiring an academic/practice degree or certificate in South Asian Dance Studies. As a researcher/practitioner, I would be delighted to enter into such a dialogue with the South Asian dance community and forge new collaborations that could help us expand the South Asian arts sector, both within local communities and Higher Education practices.



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