Mudra Dance Studio has been celebrating the dynamic traditions of classical Indian dance, and putting a contemporary spin on it, since long before Bollywood films became a popular genre here in the US with non-Indians. Namita Khanna Nariani, a brilliant, energetic dynamo of a teacher and choreographer, founded the troupe 17 years ago and turned it into a non-profit organization eight years ago — all while raising a family and maintaining a career as an architect.
We first met Namita in the second year of the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival (the photo above is from this summer’s festival), and she’s been a regular every year since, closing out the festival with a one-two punch of her Mudras followed by the very popular Denver Taiko Japanese drummers. Starting the third year, at Erin’s suggestion, the Mudras started collaborating with Denver Taiko and now that’s become a regular cross-cultural highlight of the event.
The powerful Japanese drums have come to fit so well in Namita’s South Asian vision of cultural fusion, in fact, that Mudra Dance Studio now incorporates a taiko drummer, Thomas Knight, as a regular part of its exciting annual performances.
This year’s performance, ILLham, opens this Sunday at 2 pm, and then repeats Saturday, Nov. 20 at 5 pm and Sunday, Nov 21 at 2 pm, at the Lakewood Cultural Center. Tickets are available online at the Mudra website.
Each of the annual Mudra shows are carefully structured to be showcases not only of fabulous dance, music and multimedia, but also of an innate spirituality that is a part of the Mudra lifestyle. All its members seem imbued with this spirituality, because it flows down from Nariani herself. She explains the idea of ILLhaam, which is about cycles:
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Big news for Asian Americans (and for the South Asian community): Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the affable and seemingly tireless chief medical correspondent for CNN (and a practicing neurosurgeon), is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to serve as Surgeon General of the United States.
According to the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz:
Gupta has told administration officials that he wants the job, and the final vetting process is under way. He has asked for a few days to figure out the financial and logistical details of moving his family from Atlanta to Washington but is expected to accept the offer.
It’ll be great to have another Asian American high up in the Obama administration, and the pres is smart to hook Gupta, because he’s so well-known and well-liked, not to mention trusted, by the general public.
But it’ll be a loss for journalism, and one less prominent Asian American journalist in the national media.
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Erin and I have great respect for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ need to preserve our traditional heritages — they enrich our lives and help give us our sense of identity with the countries of our ancestors. I think too few young Asian Americans hold on to their ethnic heritage.
At the same time, we’re not just about kimonos and martial arts and traditional music and dances, and don’t appreciate that outsiders (white people, mostly) view us through the exoticized filter of our cultural and social traditions. That’s why, during her tenure as editor-in-chief of Asian Avenure magazine, Erin sought to paint Denver’s AAPI communities with a broader palette. Major stories were about AAPIs in politics, the popularity of Anime with non-Asians, Asian Americans in the U.S. military, multi-racial Asian Americans and even how Asian Americans are excelling in hip-hop dance.
Erin also wrote this month about Namita Khanna Nariani, the founder of Mudra Dance Studio, who’s a terrific example of how AAPIs can synthesize their respect for traditional culture with the modern energy and pan-cultural richness of being Asian in America.
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I don’t watch “American Idol” (“Dancing with the Stars” is enough reality TV for me), but I’ve been mildly curious about this 17-year-old kid, Sanjaya Malakar, who managed to squeak through week after week of elimination on “AI” with his breathy singing voice, toothy grin and bizarre variety of hairstyles.
Well, he finally got voted off the show last week, but over the weekend he got a consolation prize as a guest at the annual White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner, a big deal in DC.
Malakar interested me because he’s Asian American; his parents immigrated from India, and he identifies himself as an Indian American, hoping to be the “next” Indian pop star in the U.S. (was there a previous Indian pop star in the U.S.?).
Unfortunately, Indians don’t seem to share his enthusiasm for Sanjaya. The Indian media seemed relieved when he lost last week. One South Asian I know pointed out that the name “Sanjaya” went against Indian convention because ending a name with “a” is a female signifier, and though his name should be “Sanjay.” Continue reading →