Seeing Indian dancers as gendered labor highlights the politics of Asian American racialization, migration, and citizenship
Indian Dance as Transnational Labor
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Emory Elliott Book Award, 2012
A groundbreaking book that seeks to understand dance as labor, Sweating Saris examines dancers not just as aesthetic bodies but as transnational migrant workers and wage earners who negotiate citizenship and gender issues.
Srinivasan merges ethnography, history, critical race theory, performance and post-colonial studies among other disciplines to investigate the embodied experience of Indian dance. The dancersí sweat stained and soaked sari, the aching limbs are emblematic of global circulations of labor, bodies, capital, and industrial goods. Thus the sweating sari of the dancer stands in for her unrecognized labor.
Srinivasan shifts away from the usual emphasis on Indian women dancers as culture bearers of the Indian nation. She asks us to reframe the movements of late nineteenth century transnational Nautch Indian dancers to the foremother of modern dance Ruth St. Denis in the early twentieth century to contemporary teenage dancers in Southern California, proposing a transformative theory of dance, gendered-labor, and citizenship that is far-reaching.
"Sweating Saris provides a thorough examination of the history of Indian dance in the U.S. with a particular focus on the dancing body and its presence in various locations. In both methodology and topic, Srinivasan contributes to the growing studies in embodiment. Her research is excellent, and her arguments are quite cogent and strong. Sweating Saris exemplifies a new direction in Asian American studies with its dancer-focused interpretation of immigration laws, citizenship, cultural nationalism, orientalism, and contemporary identities. The addition of examples from popular culture in the epilogue underscores the relevance of the book in current scholarships in dance and Asian American studies."
"Sweating Saris takes us through the fascinating interconnections of labor, dance, and immigration. Beautifully researched and written, this book makes us think deeply about what dancing bodies mean and how they achieve their seeming perfection. Srinivasanís blending of archival research, ethnography, and first-person narration is a tour de force."
"The immense detail, the careful deployment of scholarly and personal narrative, and the dexterity of weaving history and ethnography together in Sweating Saris results in a beautiful and critical piece of scholarship for those interested in Asian American embodied practices. Srinivasanís adept interdisciplinary study is an essential read for those exploring transnational embodied practices across historical periods and ideologies. Its most important contribution, perhaps, is its framing of Bharata Natyam and other dance forms not as staged events subject to the gaze of spectators, but rather as continuous forms of physical, intellectual, interpretive, and performative labor that contribute to the honing of (personal, national, and cultural) identity, both in the public domain and within practitionersí bodies."
Priya Srinivasan is an Associate Professor in Critical Dance Studies at the Department of Dance, University of California, Riverside. In 2008, she received the Gertrude Lippincott Award given by the Society of Dance History Scholars for the best English-language article published in dance studies