Stories Told Through Movement Empowers A More Socially Aware and Empathetic Future Through Performing Arts Advocacy

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( ENSPIRE Community Spotlight ) Dancers Come Together to Construct A Space Where Stories Explore the Intersectionality Between Art and Activism in the South Asian Community and Beyond

ENSPIRE Contributor: Aishwarya Suresh

The threads of storytelling are woven differently in every region of the world. For some past and present come to life through oral traditions. Ink swept pages of written texts and imagery also tell their own tales. Then there are those who turn land into music-filled stages; playing rhythm for classical and folkloric dance. 

Roshni Desai and Riti Singh are utilizing their online platform, Stories Told Through Movement (STTM), to cultivate new perspectives by actuating dance as a form of media activism in this digital era. Both Desai and Singh are classically trained in Bharatanatyam, an Indian dance form from Tamil Nadu state, have studied Indian classical dance theory, performed in various South Asian folk styles, and furthered their knowledge of Western and fusion dance in college. They also share a discernment in the visceral and intellectual power of dance to tell stories, and it is from this understanding that STTM was named. 

Photo: Roshni Desai and Riti Singh by Photographer Sunny Dhanjal

“Through dance, some type of feeling or theme is always trying to be conveyed to the audience.  Whether it’s a performance exploring the darker side of human nature or just someone trying to have some fun, to anything in between! With every video we create, we are always trying to think of the bigger picture – what do we want the audience to feel from the piece? How can we intentionally choreograph certain movements, pick out certain costumes, and find specific sets that emote the story we are trying to tell?” 

Using their Facebook and YouTube pages, STTM shares their own choreographed weekly dance videos; while their Instagram page also includes stories of behind-the-scenes shots and learned routines from outside workshops. Currently, they are working on two pivotal projects to be released in the coming months, both honing their artistic analysis of movement and visual advocacy. The first will be a series of videos showcasing differing movement manipulations of the same pieces, allowing STTM to interact with the diverse reactions a single piece can elicit in their audience. The second will be a social justice storytelling series depicting experiences many face, particularly within the South Asian community, that are often tabooed into silence. By focusing on domestic violence, gender inequality, and the effects of immigration and anti-immigration prejudice, STTM is purposively invoking the need to tell unfeigned forthright realities.  

Photo: Roshni Desai and Riti Singh by Photographer Sunny Dhanjal

From social pressures and self-expression to mythology and celebration, STTM aims to look through every lens when finding stories that reverberate throughout the South Asian community. Their expressive style is rooted in South Asian performing arts, dissecting and piecing together varying essences of drama and motion while creating content for their initiative. They envision their platform as a space that proves the thought-provoking potential of art, and where anyone of any identity can come to discover and nurture their dance repertoire. STTM also seeks to expand on their technical and creative methods by learning from others.

“We are both constantly trying to continue to stay educated and informed. From online resources, books, community events, and conversations with friends/family, we always want to be involved in the conversation. We also know of many dance instructors who have used their talents to give back to the community, so we hope to learn from them and do the same. Advocating for others is one of our main goals, so moving forward in our training and dance journey we want to continue to find ways to blend activism and art together.”

Photo: Roshni Desai and Riti Singh by Photographer Sunny Dhanjal

True to their passion, Desai and Singh are aspiring to enrich their dance knowledge by fostering sustained dance training of their own. They look forward to attending training programs at Broadway Dance Center in New York, auditioning for dance companies, and actively increasing their exposure to genres namely contemporary, jazz, and hip hop. The dichotomy and parallels that can be found in all forms of dance, of which they thoroughly want to pursue, are what inspire them to employ performing arts as their primary mode of activism. 

In terms of advancing production in STTM, Desai and Singh see this as a chance to meet fellow dancers who, as future collaborators, can bring in their own cultural dance forms and individual backgrounds. They are mainly looking at working with individuals and organizations that focus on intertwining social advocacy and performing arts, and more specifically the solidifying of that unit as a tool of activism. In the future, STTM will be setting their sights on community events and outreach projects that align with both of their main objectives. By doing so, not only are the stories STTM tells continuously wholesome and unique, they are genuinely reflective of diverse experiences among peoples and storytelling art. They value positive social change in their own communities and partnering with others that wish for the same, as a way of breaking internal and external barriers through each physical step and conversation. 

Photo: Roshni Desai and Riti Singh by Photographer Sunny Dhanjal

“STTM truly believes in every dancer’s growth and journey. As we pave our own path, we want STTM to be a safe space for artists to push one another and learn from each other. Learning and training never stops, and as we continue to try and make sense of our own life experiences through dance we hope that you will join us and try to do the same!”

Interested collaborators can reach out to STTM at sttm211@gmail.com or any of their social media accounts above.

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