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“Rehearsal Broke my Bones:” Labor, Skill, Virtuosity and Hindi Cinema’s Dancing Women, by Usha Iyer

Monday, September 20, 2021 at 11:00am

Virtual Event

Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema demonstrates how the dancer-actress comes to be a central figure in articulating South Asian cultural modernities. Shifting attention from narrative-driven analyses and turning instead to gesture, movement vocabulary, and the social practices around on-screen dance production brings alive corporeal histories that are peopled by many laboring bodies. Referencing acclaimed and invisibilized performers from the 1930s to the 1990s, such as, Azurie, Sadhona Bose, Waheeda Rehman, Madhuri Dixit, and Saroj Khan, this talk will focus on the processes of training and rehearsal to reveal the networks of creativity and collaboration that produce Hindi film dance. Through material, technological, corporeal histories that unearth the labor, otherwise obscured, in discourses of skill, virtuosity, and talent, I examine how processes of dance training and rehearsal undergird techniques of the body, gender performance, and the specific figurations of Hindi cinema’s romantic-erotic energies. Mapping corporeal formations and relations between and across the bodies of dancer-actresses, choreographers, and spectators, and reading choreography as an archival-corporeal system of transmission and transformation that articulates body cultures, industrial systems, and labor networks enables new modes of writing cinematic and social histories.

Usha Iyer is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. Their book, Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema (Oxford University Press, 2020), examines constructions of gender, stardom, and sexuality in Indian cinema with a focus on women’s labor and collaborative networks. Their next project is a study of the traffic of cultural forms between South Asia and the Caribbean, engaging with transnational perspectives on race, ethnicity, and migration. Dr. Iyer is Associate Editor of the journal, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.

Co-sponsored by the Department of History of Art.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Media Studies, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, History of Art and Visual Studies


cashum, arthistory



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