“Dance Allows Me to Touch the Deepest of Human Sorrows and Joys”

March 16, 2020

I often think I came to dance because it was the accumulated desire of generations. I heard stories that my grandmother, whom I never met, loved dance but held that secret close to her heart. A generation later, my mother found dancing magical, but growing up in a large, joint family at a time when India was rocked by the anti-colonial independence movement denied her opportunities to train. When I was born, my parents struggled to afford for me to dance. But despite economic barriers, I was determined to journey in it.

The gifts of dance practice are many: Precision, discipline, patience and humility are often talked about. Yet, if dancing were to be all about holding sculpturesque balances forever, or executing fast footwork, it would be difficult to sustain over the years. As a social-justice choreographer, I dance because it allows me to touch, metaphorically, the deepest of human sorrows and joys, to articulate often overlooked stories from global communities of women of color. For instance, when I dance in memory of 8-year-old Asifa Bano, brutally murdered in Kashmir in 2018, every cell of my body reverberates with her pain and enables me to hold up her story to light. At those moments, when I am most deeply inside my body, dancing expands my spirit, and I receive its greatest gift: to be connected to energies larger than myself, to the humanity I share with others.

Chatterjea in
Mohona: Estuaries of Desire
Paul Virtucio, Courtesy Ananya Dance Theatre

Dancing’s demands have kept me humble. I have failed, I have sustained injuries, and I have learned to never take it for granted. My life has been about dancing at the crossroads of classical line and the passionate articulation of community organizing and justice advocacy. From my gurus and teachers, I have learned meticulous attention to detail in craft, and the rigor necessary to transform technique into artistry. From the community activists, who organized daily performances of street theater, I learned to cultivate energetic presence, bring urgency to every gesture and engage audiences with my gaze. To track all of this complexity while dancing means I have to be 100 percent present. And I thank dancing for this challenge, and for giving me the experience of being alive at every nerve ending.