Sweating Saris

Sweating Saris: Indian Dance as Transnational Labor

Priya Srinivasan
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 221
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bt8tz
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  • Book Info
    Sweating Saris
    Book Description:

    A groundbreaking book that seeks to understand dance as labor,Sweating Sarisexamines dancers not just as aesthetic bodies but as transnational migrant workers and wage earners who negotiate citizenship and gender issues.Srinivasan merges ethnography, history, critical race theory, performance and post-colonial studies among other disciplines to investigate the embodied experience of Indian dance. The dancers' sweat stained and soaked saris, the aching limbs are emblematic of global circulations of labor, bodies, capital, and industrial goods. Thus the sweating sari of the dancer stands in for her unrecognized labor.Srinivasan shifts away from the usual emphasis on Indian women dancers as culture bearers of the Indian nation. She asks us to reframe the movements of late nineteenth century transnational Nautch Indian dancers to the foremother of modern dance Ruth St. Denis in the early twentieth century to contemporary teenage dancers in Southern California, proposing a transformative theory of dance, gendered-labor, and citizenship that is far-reaching.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0431-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-6)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 7-24)

    New York was cold in December 1880 when thenachwali¹ Sahebjan, who had traveled from India² with other company members to perform in Augustin Daly’s theater productionZanina, went into labor and gave birth to her baby boy. To many New Yorkers’ amazement, Sahebjan was back on her feet within days, performing with her troupe. She stomped her feet on the hard, cold stage floors, turning softly so that the cloth she wore spun out from her body as she gestured to a carefully selected love song. Her troupe was featured during the intermission between acts of the main show,...

  6. 1 An Invocation for Ethnohistories
    (pp. 25-42)

    The students, the guru, and I are in a rehearsal room. The wooden dance floor is sprung and can absorb the impact of the dancers’ footwork. A large bronze statue of the god Siva as the Lord of Dance or Nataraja stands in the back of the room. The bodies present are many and their histories varied. The guru, in her late thirties, wearing a cotton sari, sits in the front of the room chanting rhythmic syllables, such astei ha tei hi tei ha tei, while beating a stick against a wooden block. These are syllables that have no...

  7. 2 Death, Citizenship, Law, and the Haunting of the Oriental Dancing Girl
    (pp. 43-66)

    When Indian dancers known as “nautch” were first¹ mentioned in New York newspapers in 1880, they engendered deep curiosity, interest, and even admiration.² An Indian dance troupe had been contracted by Augustin Daly, the famed theater impresario, to perform interludes during his expensive, high-art opera productionZanina. Nautch women were a curiosity and an exotic commodity on the American landscape in 1880, especially considering that few women of color were performing on theater or opera stages at this time. The women in the troupe were prioritized in the newspaper reports and reviews that followed, often to the exclusion of the...

  8. 3 Archival Her-Stories: St. Denis and the Nachwalis of Coney Island
    (pp. 67-82)

    It was in graduate school during a classroom video presentation when I first saw ahamsasyamudra formed perfectly on the right hand of a white female dancer known as Ruth St. Denis (one of the three “fore-mothers” of American modern dance).¹ I was gripped with a thirst to know how and why a white woman in a black-and-white film dating to 1941 could so expertly form a mudra, a hand position that had taken me quite some time to master. I could tell by the tension and placement of her finger on her thumb that she had imbibed the...

  9. 4 Legal Failures and Other Performative Acts
    (pp. 83-102)

    When I first saw photographs of St. Denis performingRadha, my attention was immediately drawn to the bodies at the edges of the photographs. Most of the photographs show St. Denis front and center, posing in dramatic gestures with her skirt flying, while costumed brown Indian men sit on the peripheries. Their gazes are directed at St. Denis, and their bodies are slightly bent over. They are supposed to function as “Hindu priests.” In the 1941 film of the dance piece, however, there are no Indian men on the peripheries while St. Denis is dancing. The film depicts St. Denis...

  10. 5 Intermission and Costume Changes
    (pp. 103-116)

    This chapter addresses the intersection of American modern dance at midcentury with U.S. immigration policy and the effects of this on the movement of Indian dancers to the United States. It functions as an “intermission” to address the so-called gap between two key immigration laws pertaining to Indians in the United States. Using Indian dance and its legacy as the central focus, I theorize that the gap between the 1924 immigration exclusion law and the 1965 Immigration Act reopened America’s doors to Asian professional immigrants. Focusing on Indian dance during this period reveals the transformation of the terms of citizenship...

  11. 6 Negotiating Cultural Nationalism and Minority Citizenship
    (pp. 117-140)

    In writing this chapter, I became increasingly frustrated over my inability to deconstruct the ethnographic experience in Bharata Natyam dance classrooms. I wrote. I rewrote. I then deleted what I had written. I stopped writing for a long time. I tried to write again. I couldn’t write. I circumvented, procrastinated, stared at the computer screen, listened to music, cooked, looked out the window, and just plain twiddled my thumbs. I did not want to write this chapter. It was difficult. It was too difficult, perhaps, because I had to write about the living. This was unlike my other chapters, in...

  12. 7 The Manufacturing of the Indian Dancer through Offshore Labor
    (pp. 141-164)

    To the beat of themridangamand the sound of thecarnaticvocalist’salapanain the hauntingragaofNattai, Madhavi walked to the front of the stage, positioning herself right in the middle.¹ The audience went wild cheering her onstage. Perhaps it was the sight of her in a mango yellow sari with a dark purplezariborder, with her ankles adorned by a pair of leather and metal dancing bells. Or her body bedecked in jewels shimmering against the backdrop of the sari. For the largely diasporic first- and second-generation Indian American audience, Madhavi perhaps transported them magically...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 165-170)

    I turned on the TV in January 2009 and was shocked to see an Indian woman dancing on the screen. It was not a documentary about Indian dance in India but a prime time show on NBC calledSuperstars of Dance.¹ She was dressed in a blue gauzysalwar kameez, with bells on her ankles, her eyes and face fully made up, and a smile on her face. Her feet were shuffling and striking the floor from time to time, and she was doing a number ofchakkars, spinning around and whirling herself so that her dress would fly out...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 171-176)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 177-200)
  16. References
    (pp. 201-212)
  17. Index
    (pp. 213-221)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 222-222)