ARTWALLAH is back- Los Angeles, June 24th

ArtWallah ’06 is now less than a month away in Los Angeles. SM readers have heard me sing the praises of this organization and its annual festival before. I appreciate what they do and what they are about so much that I have been wallahnteering to help run the festival for the past three years. This year I decided to retire and actually cool out to all the artists and just enjoy myself…or so I thought. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. I’m the new “CashWallah.” I will leave it to your imaginations what that job entails.

Last year I decided to entice SM readers to come out to the festival with a little multimedia tour which made it pretty obvious why anyone within a hundred miles of L.A. (at least) should show up. I hyperlinked to some new musicians, artists, dancers etc. This year the ArtWallah Press Team has saved me the trouble and made a detailed program FULL of interesting hyperlinks to artists many of you have never heard of. It took me an hour to click through them all and appreciate what I saw. It was an hour well spent.

…this year’s ArtWallah festival [at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center] will present the works of over 40 artists through dance, film, literature, music, spoken word, theater, and visual arts – showcasing the personal, political, and cultural celebrations and struggles of the South Asian diaspora (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).

Click on “Continued” below for a quick lick.

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I’m not afraid of Elvis

I was looking at the photos from the recent Bhangra Blowout [thanks Amardeep] and was struck by the non-desi dancers in the photos. What confuses me is why I’m surprised at all.

Growing up, NYC was a giant thali of different cultural practices. Black kids did Kung Fu and Lion Dances, Chinese Americans breakdanced and rapped. Culture wasn’t “apna,” it was for anybody willing to put the time in to learn. I probably did as much Irish and Israeli folk dancing (yes, I’m a dork) as a kid as I did Punjabi folk dancing. I should be no more surprised to see a non-Punjabi, non-desi, dancing Bhangra than I am surprised to see a non-Latino doing Salsa, or a non-Korean doing Tae Kwan Do.

Still, I’m not used to it, and I think that other desis are even less used to it than I am. We tend to snark a lot about white people doing puja or yoga, criticizing their pronunciation, saying that they don’t somehow grok the soul of the practice. Well guess what – it’s not going to stop there and we ABCDs are hypocrites if we’re affronted. Let’s be honest, many of us sit here and learn the words to Hindi songs phonetically, just like the non-desi next to us. We’re cosmopolitan, not essentialist, in all other aspects of our lives.

We’re just scared that if somebody else can do these things, these things that we associate with our homes, cook our food, speak our languages, worship our God(s), dance our dances, sing our songs, as well as we can or better that we’ll lose our distinctiveness. That’s understandable but dumb.

Yes, I’m better at dancing Bhangra than most non-desis, but that doesn’t mean that I have the rhythms of Punjab in my veins, just a bit more practice than some. At the end of the day, it’s about talent and enthusiasm, not ancestry (and I cringe equally when I see most non-Punjabi desis dancing Bhangra). It just takes a little while to get used to the fact that these things are now … public, and open to all.

Related posts: White girls in Brooklyn appropriate Saraswati

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All She Wants to Do is Dance…

rubiya203.jpg

…but if certain people had their way, she wouldn’t. Via the BBC:

The family of a young Muslim girl in India’s southern state of Kerala say they are being shunned by the local mosque committee (mahallu) because she is practising Indian classical dance.
VP Rubiya, 16, came first in Bharatnatyam, Kerala natanam and folk dance competitions at the recent Kerala School Festival.
She also won the dance competition at the Veeran Haji Memorial Higher Secondary School at Morayur in the Muslim-dominated district of Malappuram.

To me this is such a Mallu thing: twenty years ago when I asked for Bharatnatyam lessons, I was scolded so harshly you’d think I’d said “stripper” when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.

“That is NOT a Christian thing to do,” my normally-very-chill Mother snapped. When she noticed my perplexed expression, she tried to explain her reaction.

“It’s not just a dance, it is religious. It is very Hindu, and as an Orthodox girl you should understand why you can’t participate.”

I was still perturbed.

No one in my family has studied it”, she concluded, as if that was the end of that.

Apparently, the local mosque committee agrees with my parent, and that’s why they aren’t showing this talented child love. Rubiya’s daddy calls them out on their bias:

“If she had won prizes in ‘oppana’ and ‘mappila pattu’ [traditional Muslim art forms], she would have been flooded with gifts by now. The mahallu leaders would never openly admit that it is her dance that makes them treat us as virtual outcasts,” says Mr Alavikutty.

The indomitable Rubiya has danced since age three; she has performed at over 50 temples, using the fees she earns to help support her family. Her dance gurus RLV Anand and Bharatanjali Sasi don’t charge her for her lessons or her costumes.

“I’m confident that she will bring us laurels. That’s all we need,” says Mr Anand, extolling the virtues of the rare find from a community that still fights shy of classical dances.

I’m not at all surprised by the following:

Rubiya is the darling of her teachers and friends at the Veeran Haji high school.

…when the girl drops wisdom like THIS:

“God is one. When I pay ritualistic obeisance through mudras [hand signs], I am imploring not just the Hindu gods but the supreme creator, which we call by different names,” she says.

Word. Continue reading

Now is the time in Torino when we dance

Check out this video of an Armenian ice dancing couple performing to a Hare Krishna bhajan in Torino (thanks, Masked Tipster). I don’t think the Blue One looked quite like this. Nothing says religion to me like than a half-naked dancer hanging upside down off a man’s shoulders flashing mudras

‘Sex sells,’ said American Jamie Silverstein, 22, referring to itty-bitty costumes… Anastasia Grebenkina of Armenia wore a backless outfit except for a small swath of cloth that covered her bottom. [Link]

For the dance enthusiast, an ice dancing performance is like a five-minute clip of “Strictly Ballroom” – on acid. Incredible holds, tight twizzles and … hydroblading? Hell yes.

For the chick-flick fan, ice dancing is all the drama without the shitty, sub-par dialogue. When Italian pair Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio stumbled into a heap of sheer, neon Lycra, they stood on the ice for almost a minute, shooting each other the classic “f– you and your sequined appliqués” look. They didn’t speak for more than 24 hours after. “Beaches,” “Hitch” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding” don’t have a blade to stand on.

And men will find themselves enchanted by the ladies’ bare-it-all, barely there leotards of ice dancing, where salsa meets slutty and strategically placed daisies are the only things preventing Armenian skater Anastasia Grebenkina from landing on the cover of a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue. [Link]

Grebenkina and Vazgen Azrojan didn’t medal with this acrobatic routine. But with only four competitors from India, two from Pakistan and one from Nepal, sadly, it actually increased the Olympics’ sepia quotient. Continue reading

Filmi salsa

Dance troupes in salsa competitions often come up with elaborate themes to set themselves apart from the endless parade on stage. Some of the themes are quite inventive. One Korean couple even dressed up as Ryu and Chun Li from the Street Fighter video game.

At the Women in Salsa event last year, a salsa troupe from Philly/South Jersey opened their performance with ‘Daya Daya Daya Re’ from Dil Ka Rishta. Longtime readers know that I love Hindi/bhangra/salsa fusion. The video clip isn’t advanced salsa, but it’s fun to watch.

Dancer Alpita Patel probably chose the music:

Alpita has 8 years of training in… bharatnatyam… she was introduced to salsa in 2004… her dance styles include hip-hop, modern, jazz, and Indian folk… Alpita has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Rutgers University and currently works full-time for the State of New Jersey Judiciary. [Link]

Techie salsa dancers are teh hott

Bollywood choreographers often lift salsa spins and armplay. They should rip from it completely. Please, please bury that standing-head-thrust move which makes male stars look like retarded monkeys.

Watch the clip (WMV format). For more advanced performances, watch this (trick dips) and this.

Related posts: High aspirations, Theater town: Buying salsa shoes on Broadway, Salsa by Lady Liberty, Thursday nights: Salsa with a ballerina, Bhangra to salsa: Mixing dances freely, The salsa competition

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NYCB’s Amar Ramasar: I Saw Him First

ramasarx.jpg A fabulously helpful anonymous tipster sent me my newest and sweetest crush: a boy who can DANCE! Said my anon-penned GMail:

Hey gang, I was reading a NY times article about ballet and it mentioned an Amar Ramasar, an Indian-American male ballet dancer with the NYC Ballet. How cool is that?!

…I hope you write about him! Bonus points if you include lots of Billy Eliot/Center Stage references. :-P

More about this gorgeous man, whom the Voice deems “extremely promising, both forceful and softly muscular” (hell yes!)

Amar Ramasar was born in the Bronx, New York. He began his studies at the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of New York City Ballet, in 1992. In addition, he studied at the American Ballet Theatre Summer Program and The Rock School of Pennsylvania Ballet. In July 2000, Mr. Ramasar was invited to become an apprentice with New York City Ballet, and in July 2001 he joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet.[nycb]

I think I’m feeling faint. A brown face in the New York City Ballet? You can’t hear my eeeevil cackle, but I’m gloating over the fact that our DesiDancer is married, else I’d have to whip off my bamboo earrings (at least two pair), smear vaseline on my face and get DIRTY. I keed, I keed…I’m all about the “sistas before mistas” principle (ahem. until someone else comes up with a feminized “bros before hos”, we’re stuck with that).

Amar said the following about his unique situation:

I actually looked at my race as an advantage because there was no one who looked like me. In New York City Ballet especially, I felt my casting has always been great. The biggest one for me was Fancy Free because, if you think of the history of that ballet, it’s not necessarily the case that in the 1940s an Indian guy was one of the sailors fighting for America. But they let me do that here, and I thought, “I’m breaking boundaries that people automatically put up for a stereotypical white ballet.” [link]

So hot. Continue reading

NSFW, But for Temple

While writing my last post, I ran across an article about trying to reduce the number of families who had their daughters become devadasis. I was fairly sure that I knew what that meant, but Googled for confirmation and thus saw this NOT SAFE FOR WORK site, which was the third hit. Abhi blogged about it previously here.

I don’t want to be putting down someone whose circumstances and mindset I’m only gleaning from a website, but for a devadasi to operate for personal profit seems rather irregular. I suppose this independence removes it from the most objectionable aspects of the “traditional” devadasi system as still practiced today. Yet to be doing it so differently while working under the same name worries me, because that kind of definitional blurring often works to bury the problematic actions under the newly legitimized ones. Kama dismisses the question of why she isn’t working in a temple with “For many years it has been illegal to leave girls in the temple because of the many problems that have become associated with the poverty and exploitation of many Devadasi.” This answer seems to minimize the inherent problems of temple prostitution. Continue reading

Gypsy Rajas

Beginning today, Delhi will play host to its first ever Salsa festival. Hips will be swaying and spins will be attempted. The BBC reports:

Kaytee Namgyal, the president of the Salsa India Dance Company and festival organiser, says he opened his first salsa studio in Delhi four years ago.

With the growing demand for salsa lessons, he now runs nine centres in the city. He is hoping to open a school in Mumbai (Bombay) soon.

Kaytee says he’s taught close to 1,500 students in the past four years and the number of those wanting to join his studios is ever growing.

So what makes salsa so appealing?

“Salsa is funky and fancy,” Kaytee says.

I think this introduction of Salsa into the motherland is just plain wrong. Hear me out. Picture if you will a guy and a girl. They are in love but the girl is being coy and evasive. Suddenly, they start singing, and dance…the Salsa. Now I ask you quite simply, what would their friends in the background do? Hindi-film dancing provides opportunity for these background hang-arounders to just do their thing. It’s very individualistic. I can’t imagine all those extras hip grinding as well. That would be scandalous!

And now for the zinger:

“Indian people are not great at salsa. That’s because they are so attuned to dancing to Bollywood lyrics. They can’t dance to beats. And salsa is totally based on beats.”

And that’s not the only problem Indian dancers have.

Indian men don’t lead well,” says Jaquelin, who learnt salsa in Geneva.

“And it’s not really the music they listen to all the time. Also, there’s a cultural problem here. In salsa, you have to touch the woman. And it’s not always easy for the men here to do so. They have to learn to do that.”

Ouch. Luckily there are boot camps for this sort of thing. Continue reading

Staying home from The Prom

I keep hearing about the growing “dish cities” in Europe and especially in France. “Dish cities” are named as such because they are predominantly Muslim areas where the residents keep to themselves and have television programming from the Arab world beamed into their homes via a satellite dish. The danger here is that this leads to an extreme, often self-imposed isolation, and a local set of laws and norms that often ignores the laws and cultural norms of the adopted country. Is it possible that such “dish cities” might eventually form in the U.S.? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on some young adults whose religious views guide them to skip the prom.

With prom season in full swing, Najeeb and her Muslim peers are learning one of life’s lessons: Principles matter more when something is sacrificed to uphold them.

Each year, many teen Muslims choose not to take part in one of the hallmark social events of high school. For them, staying true to their Muslim identity is staying true to themselves, no matter how hard.

Proms – a ritual of dating and intimate dancing that for some is associated with drinking and sex – conflict with Islamic beliefs. Islam requires Muslims to dress modestly, abstain from alcohol and avoid close contact with members of the opposite sex. Such interactions are considered haram, or forbidden.

Meeting these standards can be an especially tall order for teens driven by raging hormones, intense curiosity and a fear of alienation.

“It’s a challenge,” said Naba Mallick, 17, a senior at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee, who didn’t attend prom last year. “To be the one who has stayed strong in religious beliefs, it’s a big deal.”

Since I live in Los Angeles, I am always looking at stories in terms of a possible script for a Hollywood movie. I am thinking about updating Footloose, but with Muslim characters.

To be clear, not all young Muslims skip prom. And among those who do, they are not alone; many conservative Christian families also frown upon dancing and dating among teens.

Alas, it just isn’t easy for young studs to deal with this kind of thing:

Living in America and holding true to his Islamic beliefs are a delicate dance for Zeki Arain, a junior at Brookfield Central High School.

Arain, 16, sometimes struggles between being a teenage boy and a practicing Muslim. With thick dark hair, pale skin and a sharp wit, Arain knows girls have been sweet on him. He’s had crushes, too.
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Kobe-inspired Kathak

An Indian dance troupe incorporates Kobe Bryant’s moves into their latest creation:

The dribbling is quicksilver, strong and startlingly percussive. The jumps look effortless — and lofty. But this isn’t Staples Center, and instead of purple-and-yellow Laker jerseys, the garb consists of sherbet-colored silk kurtis, or tunics, cotton drawstring pants and hundreds of ankle bells. In fact, this isn’t a game of basketball but a rehearsal by Anjani’s Kathak Dance of India, a Diamond Bar-based company that Sunday at La Mirada Theatre will premiere a work inspired by hoops. “Kobe Bryant is my favorite,” gushes Anjani Ambegaokar, the 60-year-old dancer, teacher and choreographer who founded the company in 1985 but only began watching the Lakers on television a few years ago. “The kid is so graceful that the dancer in me started thinking, ‘How does he do that? He’s like an artist.’ I became interested in the rhythms of how they play the game and thought, ‘We can incorporate their moves and even sounds of bouncing balls into a Kathak-style piece.’” [Los Angeles Times]

Their new Kathak moves include a continuous shooting pattern dubbed “The Ball Hog,” a back-stabbing motion called “The Shaq,” and a simulated chokehold with crotch-thrusting labeled “The Eagle, Colo.”

Los Angeles Times: A jump shot, from Kobe to Kathak (free registration required)

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