perky

Ballet Dancers of Indian or Pakistani Heritage

27 posts in this topic

Reading the other post on Minorities in ballet has got me wondering.

I'm married to a man originally from India. Our 3 1/2 year old daughter has just started taking creative movement dance classes. If or when she decides to take ballet what role models are available to her?

The ones that come to my mind are a ballerina with the Royal Ballet in the 1990's whose name escapes me at the moment, and Amar Ramasar with NYCB, whose career my husband and I follow quite closely. Are there more?

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At the Royal Ballet there was Benazir Hussein, a wonderful and very tall dancer. She did Myrtha and Lilac Fairy, which is on tape, Aurora being Viviana Durante. And even before her there was Nicola Katrak, a really beautiful principal dancer at the Sadler's Wells, now Birmingham Royal Ballet, she was Iranian. She is on tape too, in The Rake's Progress. She was often compared with Margot Fonteyn, same dark hair and eyes, medium height, and pale skin color. There was also Stephen Jeffries's wife, Padma.

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Oooooppss! Sorry about that Stephen Jeffries's wife is Rashna indeed, don't know why I said Padma, I was thinking of someone else, anyway I always mix up ethnic sounding names :wub: . Thinking harder now, what nationality was Ravenna Tucker? She was born in an exotic land, but I don't remember which. :sweating:

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Aaaaaa!

Benazir Hussein was the one from the Royal whose name I couldn't remember.

Thanks!

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Ravenna Tucker grew up in Hong Kong, but I believe she was of British parentage. She always looked somewhat Asian, however. Someone posted here recently that she is now back in Asia -- Singapore? -- teaching.

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Remember Afshin Mofid who was Iranian and French? He was a NYCB beauty.

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No, Ravenna wasn't the Pakistani girl, it was another girl, who graduated in her same class, who was. Samira Saidi, graduate of RBS and danced with the Royal, was Pakistani, I think. Never saw her dance, though.

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Thanks for recalling Afshin Mofid, Glebb. He was superb in "Afternoon of a Faun."

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So special in the role that, correct me if I'm wrong, Suzanne Farrell requested to dance the pas de deux with him.

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Farrell Fan, you beat me to it! I was going to thank Glebb for mentioning the uniquely hypnotic Afshin. Had I the least bit of credibility as a dancer, :wub: I would have demanded to dance with him! :) Yeah, right!

As for women of Asian (though not South Asian) descent, Perky, I'd like to mention Stella Abrera, a Phillipine beauty now dancing as a soloist -- and quite impressively, most of the time -- at ABT. Marianna Tcherkassky spent her career there, most of it as a principal dancer. Marianna is the daughter of a Japanese mother and Russian father. Yan Chen, a soloist, recently retired from ABT. Janet Shibata, a gorgeously lyrical dancer, was a soloist at ABT before she joined Washington Ballet as a principal. Zhong-Jing Fang is a new and very promising member of ABT.

I know I am overlooking some, and I apologize. Is it possible that NYCB has never had an Asian woman dancing? However, Perky, I hope that by the time your daughter is ready to consider her professional options, her racial background will be a non-issue.

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Just wanted to add, I was surprised with the comment that NYCB has never had a female of Asian descent in its company. And then I thought it over, and it tickled me no end, and it's true! Why is that?

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From looking at the cases of several Asian students from SAB, I recall their being recruited out of C level classes by other companies before the NYCB could act to bring them in. Usually, it was one season of being supplementary corps members in Nutcracker, and they were scapped up by ABT, or Feld, or somebody else.

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I don't remember any Paris Opera Ballet dancer of Indian or Pakistani descent (but, unlike in UK, there are very few people in France from India or Pakistan). On the other hand, there have been several dancers with Asian heritage, like the former étoile (principal) Charles Jude, whose mother was Vietnamese, Miteki Kudo whose father is Japanese (her mother is the former étoile Noëlla Pontois), the former premier danseur Eric Vu An who had some Vietnamese ancestry (and also African), and more recently Kim Young-Geol who is from Korea.

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Apologies for bringing up this thread. An email from a friend was asking about South Asian dancers, and I found myself here.

I was aware of most of the women listed, so I've done a quick search on them as well, and its rather sociologically interesting I think. Benazir Hussein was born in Madras, Rashna Homji and Nicola Katrak are apparently both Parsis from Karachi, and I'm not sure of Samira Saidi. What an interesting mix! And all at the Royal Ballet! I wonder why/how/etc. Still now in dance classes, outreach programmes, etc, I find it very unusual to see anyone else of South Asian origin, let alone anyone with exceptional pre-pro training - but I'm speaking mainly of the diaspora in the US, which is demographically quite different and has a different history. Out of pure personal interest, I find this fascinating!

I'm not sure of Tara Brigette-Bhavnani's (also at the Royal) background...

And obviously there's Amar Ramasar.

I've been slowly gathering some more information about them, including any video footage. If anyone has any recommendations or insights, I'd be glad to hear them. Or even better - any dancers not on this list!

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One more factoid - Rashna and Nikola are related, I believe they are cousins.

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I might be mistaken but isn't Georgina Pazcoguin of NYCB is of Filipino-parentage?

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but I'm speaking mainly of the diaspora in the US, which is demographically quite different and has a different history. Out of pure personal interest, I find this fascinating!
I find this fascinating as well. Can you tell us more about the differences between the US and, for example, Britain, and how this might impact decisions to train for a ballet career?

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Oh I'm glad folks are interested!

Any other info on Samira Saidi?

Partly what I'm interested in is the demographics of it. I mean, ballet isn't cheap to learn. And the backgrounds of the women would suggest a so-called 'conservative' background (obviously this is a gross generalisation, which I'm quite aware of!) -- two Parsis from Karachi, and a Muslim from Madras! In most simplistic words, I find this amazingly 'cool'.

My quick comments are below are necessarily brief and thus great generalisations as well....

Migration to Britain from India has a much longer history than to the U.S. - and there was an especially large flow of migrants around the time of Independence/partition in 1947. Last I checked, about 5 years ago, the majority of South Asians in the UK were Punjabi - the state probably most affected by partition. There's a greater demographic spread in background - a lot more working classes, but also a greater integration into arts and pop culture.

In the U.S., the main migration stream started around the 1960s, and consisted largely of professionals and those seeking to advance their education. Yes, there are of course working class migrants as well, and the 'model minority' myth really does not hold. However, the integration into larger U.S. culture has only just started - on shows like E.R., movies like Harold and Kumar, etc. This group of migrants is known for its focus on education.

I know a few other young (South Asian) girls who took ballet classes on-and-off in the small town I grew up in, largely on the recommendation on my mom with a heavy focus on the 'discipline' and 'preventing time wasting' aspects.... But most of them did not stay for more than a few years, and most of those I knew who took dance classes focused on classical or folk forms from the subcontinent. In my many years of dancing, I think I've only seen a handful of other South Asian dancers, and maybe only 1-2 others who dance at an intermediate standard or higher.

I'm extremely curious as to what brought these women to ballet, around relatively similar times.

Another interesting side note is the number of South Asians, especially those who came to the U.K via East Africa, who are involved in ballet and pointe shoe-making, including Ushi Nagar. When I met with Mr. Nagar, we had a long talk about other South Asians in dance, he noted that beyond those I've mentioned, he's met one in the U.S... I think maybe in Kansas City Ballet? I'll have to double check with him.

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Britain was until fairly recently (in historical terms) the colonial power in that part of the world. That has to have some bearing on the difference.

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Yup, I'm aware and I agree.... but it is still nonetheless a rarity to find South Asians in ballet. And thus I'm curious!

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Erin Patak of the Houston Ballet is of mixed heritage (American-Indian). She is leaving the company to join another in Germany.

Some of the reasons for a lack of South Asian dancers could be as follows:

1) Islam does not encourage dance, and thus dancing (especially of females) is not encouraged in Pakistan

2) Within India, the local dance forms flourish. Western dance performance are extremely rare (far less than Indian performances in the USA for example). So one can images how few ballet schools (probably one can count them on your finger tips) there are. China and Japan embraced and incorporated the Western classical arts a lot more in their culture than India/Pakistan.

3) Even in countries outside of India, first generation children are encouraged to learn Indian dance forms before western ones. I suspect that most of the dancers named in this thread did not spend their formative dance years in the sub-continent, but were groomed elsewhere.

4) While the performing arts are given a high status on the cultural scale, it is principally lip service within the Indian Community. The Performing Arts are encouraged as a "hobby"/passion, but not really a profession in most cases. One's career is expected to be in the sciences, medical, or financial/business fields.

Amitava

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Thanks amitava, for letting me know about Erin.

I'm guessing, from the responses, that I'm not being clear. I understand the numerous obstacles as to WHY there aren't that many South Asians in ballet. What I'm curious about is the biography of those who are the exception - and here I'm largely focusing on those in the diaspora (of which I am one - although just recreationally - hence my interest.) People like Akram Khan (not ballet, I know) have been expressive about the paths they took.

Without getting too much on a tangent, I think we also have to be careful about over-generalising the role of music and dance in Islam, as it varies greatly.

Nonetheless, amitava is right that women in any type of arts are much harder to come by in Pakistan - thus the RB dancers I mentioned are a novelty of sorts (see my post above - two Parsis from Karachi (Pakistan) and a Muslim from Madras (India)).

In any case, if anyone does know of any further biographical information of the dances listed in this thread, could add to the list, or could point to recordings of their dancing, I'd appreciate it. I believe Hussein is the Lilac Fairy on the Durante RB Sleeping Beauty recording, but I'll have to double check.

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