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Ballet Dancers of Indian or Pakistani Heritage


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#16 Estelle

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Posted 22 January 2004 - 05:29 AM

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.

#17 ami1436

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 08:58 AM

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!

#18 ggobob

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 08:03 AM

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

#19 bingham

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 08:37 AM

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

#20 bart

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 09:48 AM

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?

#21 ami1436

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 02:04 PM

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.

#22 carbro

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 02:05 PM

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.

#23 ami1436

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 02:28 PM

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!

#24 amitava

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Posted 28 May 2008 - 07:46 PM

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

#25 ami1436

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Posted 29 May 2008 - 06:04 AM

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.

#26 Alexandra

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Posted 29 May 2008 - 06:26 AM

Do Persians count :) Royal Danish Ballet ballerina Linda Hindberg's mother was Persian (her term). Hindberg is on tape in the RDB's "Napoli."

#27 Jane Simpson

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Posted 29 May 2008 - 06:48 AM

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.


Ami, Benazir Hussein eventually took her married name - Surtees - and googling her under that name produces an interview with a little more about her. (Her brother was the England cricket captain for several years and is much better known here than she is!)


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