Dancing Out of the Margins - New York


In what seems like an earlier life, before relocating to India more than a decade ago, I was living in New York, pursuing parallel careers in research and dance – or more accurately, I held a day job in research, while the remainder of my time was spent focusing on building my dance career. From the moment I set foot in the city, it seemed impossible for someone with my background, -  a solo dance artiste/teacher (not choreographer) who performed pre-choreographed pieces of a form that was very alien from mainstream dance culture in New York. For me, even the most basic essentials – practice space – was a struggle. The cost of a daily 2-hour studio rental in the city was more than double my rent. Moving to a new place would require canvassing the area for any available affordable spaces (I could not afford to be choosy) that would allow for a daily practice schedule. . The experience in New York was a critical turning point for me, one that demanded a strict discipline in my day-to-day life to manage both careers.

Performance opportunities were also very limited in those days. I emailed my bio to as many organizations and individuals I could find, with little, if any response. Many of the mainstream festival curators were looking for shorter, original works and/or collaborative pieces. At the time, my goal as an artiste had been largely influenced by my Odia heritage and desire to return to the roots of the form. Having received the majority of my Odissi training in Odisha, I wanted the Odissi I presented to reflect the time spent in Odisha in the way I had studied it, rather than changing the content or adapting the dance to suit the requirements of funders and festival curators. While many accused me of being too rigid, I felt I owed it to myself as an artiste to present the work in a way that was aligned with my goals, which I had spent years of focused study trying to achieve. While these choices limited my scope for possibilities in the mainstream dance scene, I continued to try for any opportunities, performing wherever I could. Few of these were paid performances, but what they were able to offer was longer time slots - I saw these shows as opportunities for growth to develop the physical/emotional stamina required for a solo dance artiste. The wonderful thing about living in the city during those days was the scope of possibilities that emerged with hard work, patience, grit – and creativity. As an independent artiste, I learned to create opportunities rather than waiting for them

Over the years I had the good fortune of connecting with other classical dancers and musicians in the city, some of whom were pursuing their art full-time, while others, like me, were managing parallel careers. Meeting and connecting with these artists was one of the highlights of my experience in New York. We bonded through the shared experiences – from artistic development, to lack performance opportunities, practice spaces, rushing to perform after work hours. It was heartening to meet and connect with individuals who were on the same page. During that time there emerged smaller arts organizations focusing specifically on classical-contemporary music and dance from India. These organizations further galvanized the community by creating opportunities  to produce, perform, or just connect with other artists. I found a great comfort and camaraderie with this arts community in those days. With time, the community started to expand as more artists started to relocate to the city. Artists began to form their own companies/presenting organizations, secure funding to produce their own work, curate festivals/programs -  creating a robust and vibrant Indian classical dance and music scene in New York. Today it is heartening to witness how Indian classical arts have evolved to become a mainstay in the city’s performing arts scene.

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