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Sweating Saris

Indian Dance as Transnational Labor

Priya Srinivasan

Publication Year: 2011

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 dancers’ sweat stained and soaked saris, 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.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. ix-xi

We are in a garage. The floor is concrete, and the slapping of feet against it creates loud thwacking sounds. The open windows mercifully allow air and light to circulate in the space. The guru chants complex rhythmic syllables: Tam tata kita naka jam, takun tari kita taka, tata kita taka...

Acknowledgments [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 7-24

New York was cold in December 1880 when the nachwali1 Sahebjan, who had traveled from India2 with other company members to perform in Augustin Daly’s theater production Zanina, went into labor and gave birth to her baby boy. To many New Yorkers’ amazement, Sahebjan was back...

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1. An Invocation for Ethnohistories

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pp. 25-41

The students, the guru, and I are in a rehearsal room. The wooden dance floor is sprung and can absorb the impact of the dancers’ footwork. A large bronze statue of the god Siva as the Lord of Dance or Nataraja stands in the back of the room. The bodies present are many and their histories varied. ...

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2. Death, Citizenship, Law, and the Haunting of the Oriental Dancing Girl

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pp. 43-66

When Indian dancers known as “nautch” were first1 mentioned in New York newspapers in 1880, they engendered deep curiosity, interest, and even admiration.2 An Indian dance troupe had been contracted by Augustin Daly, the famed theater impresario, to perform interludes...

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3. Archival Her-Stories: St. Denis and the Nachwalis of Coney Island

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pp. 67-82

It was in graduate school during a classroom video presentation when I first saw a hamsasya mudra formed perfectly on the right hand of a white female dancer known as Ruth St. Denis (one of the three “foremothers” of American modern dance).1 I was gripped with a thirst to know...

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4. Legal Failures and Other Performative Acts

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pp. 83-102

When I first saw photographs of st. Denis performing Radha, my attention was immediately drawn to the bodies at the edges of the photographs. Most of the photographs show St. Denis front and center, posing in dramatic gestures with her skirt flying, while costumed brown Indian...

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5. Intermission and Costume Changes

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pp. 103-115

This chapter addresses the intersection of American modern dance at midcentury with U.S. immigration policy and the effects of this on the movement of Indian dancers to the United states. It functions as an “intermission” to address the so-called gap between two key immigration...

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6. Negotiating Cultural Nationalism and Minority Citizenship

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pp. 117-140

In writing this chapter, I became increasingly frustrated over my inability to deconstruct the ethnographic experience in Bharata Natyam dance classrooms. I wrote. I rewrote. I then deleted what I had written. I stopped writing for a long time. I tried to write again. I couldn’t write. ...

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7. The Manufacturing of the Indian Dancer through Offshore Labor

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pp. 141-164

To the beat of the mridangam and the sound of the carnatic vocalist’s alapana in the haunting raga of Nattai, Madhavi walked to the front of the stage, positioning herself right in the middle.1 The audience went wild cheering her onstage. Perhaps it was the sight of her in a mango yellow...

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pp. 165-170

I turned on the TV in January 2009 and was shocked to see an Indian woman dancing on the screen. It was not a documentary about Indian dance in India but a prime time show on NBC called Superstars of Dance.1 She was dressed in a blue gauzy salwar kameez, with bells on her...


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pp. 171-176


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pp. 177-199


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pp. 201-211

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 213-221

E-ISBN-13: 9781439904312
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439904305

Page Count: 221
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 762101893
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sweating Saris

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women dancers -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Women dancers -- India -- Social conditions.
  • Dance -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Dance -- Social aspects -- India.
  • Bharata natyam -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • East Indians -- United States -- Ethnic identity.
  • Foreign workers, East Indian -- United States -- Social conditions.
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