A Year in Review, 2018-2019

Who knew time could fly? Here at the Aseemkala Initiative, we know this fact very intimately. Was it not just last year at this time that our founder and Artistic Director was packing her bags for New Hampshire to start her first year as an OBGYN resident? Or our Research Director, Rohini Bhatia, returning from her time in Botswana? Or our cherished friend and previous director of Content finding her space in the thoughtful world of Buddhism and writing for her wonderful blog Homecoming of the Human Spirit. We also were on the search for our next Content Director and were able to find the wonderful Sriya Bhumi, an MD candidate at Albany Medical Center whose true passion for Bharatanatyam shines through her work. She has stepped into Jenn’s shoes perfectly, taking the position and making it her own. We could not be prouder of the team we have created. Learn more about Sriya here!


To be honest, my intern year has been humbling in many ways. From performing my first cesarean section and supporting someone through a difficult vaginal delivery to learning to manage a busy floor without losing my cool, I think the transformation of an intern is a dance unto itself. One of the greatest fears I had was losing my connection to dance and the bigger picture of making that bridge between indigenous and traditional arts and dance to the modern world of medicine. There were definitely times after 24 hour calls or bad outcomes or being chastised at work that I often thought of giving up on this “crazy” idea that Aseemkala stands for. But then, emails from friends across the world, a short video of watching Kuchipudi or Bharatanatyam, or a chance meeting with someone who also dreams crazy big would dissipate the building anxiety inside me. Like we always say, every person comes into and out of your life when you need it most (and least expect it). I rarely say this, but I am grateful to my family and to Arhant Rao, who held me together when things fell apart. Those trips to Boston and D.C. is like coming up for air.


Despite my internal struggles (and maybe because of), the Aseemkala Initiative has, with the help of many people, achieved some great work this year! We started off in August with the one and only Sakhi for South Asian women, one of the first organizations that addressed domestic violence in brown community. I remember finding out about Sakhi’s work as an undergraduate at Union College and trying to calculate how much it would cost to travel to and from Schenectady to NYC to work with their team. It was impossible then to become involved, so when our piece Bagalamukhi’s Words was accepted for their “Gender Justice&The Arts” show at the Bowery Poetry Club, an old dream felt fulfilled. Jenn Chowdhury and Sophia Salingaros performed the piece beautifully.


Enlight84I was on the search for a new home for dance here at Dartmouth and found the Artworks Festival at the prestigious HOP Garage for the community. Our videos were selected for presentation in December’s show. And of course, thanks to the incredible director Tom Block, Aseemkala presented its first hour long show in the International Human Rights and Arts Festival in November in NYC at the Wild Project. One of our Choreography fellows, Haritha Sishtla, a fourth year OBGYN resident, Supraja Chittari, Sophia Salingaros, Jenn Chowdhury, and I were able to pull off a performance despite living in separate cities with very busy lives. We were able to work with the very talented Vidhya Manivannan, the videographer behind MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A. on the life of the critically acclaimed artiste, who recorded our performances. Videos will be up very soon! One of the highlight pieces was Supraja Chittari’s choreography on the human rights violations at the border using Spanish spoken stories with Kuchipudi dance—a piece that received praise and provoked questions at the end of the show from the audience. Art should be made to create surprising bridges between seemingly unrelated things…and this piece genuinely achieved just that.

Enlight85We have also had some amazing research presentation opportunities this year as well. We were honored to present an oral lecture of our Aseemkala Traditional Dance Public Health model at the American Public Health Association meeting in San Diego (what a wonderful city!) where I met the amazing Christiaan from Philadelphia. Christiaan came up to our poster on our work with starting a community health workers program in Yarinacocha, Peru with Alianza Arkana and asked us about how we can really measure health literacy at all and the challenges associated with trying to apply western public health terms on indigenous communities. In many ways, in trying to connect two worlds, we struggle with the small instances of neocolonialism, with our programming and our semantics, and hope that these small steps forward will slowly empower indigenous communities to define their concepts of health in their own terms in the public health sphere. Our work was eventually published in the NYSAFP Family Doctor Journal in its Fall 2018 issue on cancer care. We also started the arduous process of trying to publish on dance medicine narratives, with our piece on Chinnamasta’s DNR order, being accepted for poster presentations at the Performing Arts Medicine Association conference and at the 10th International Shared Decision Making Conference in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada this summer. We are excited for Sriya Bhumi, our content director, to share this work and connect with other artist-healthcare providers at these conferences. We are also excited for our return to the American Medical Women’s Association, this year in NYC, with an oral presentation at their centennial congress this year in partnership with the Medical Women’s International Association. I also had the great honor of being one of the interviewees on the very genuine and unique website, The Human Side of Medicine, curated by Rose Schutzberg. Shout out to our beloved friend Jenn Chowdhury for making the connection!

We also started our Choreography and Research Fellowship this year, with amazing and talented fellows, who have been hard at work creating pieces that speak to a social issue close to their hearts. We are excited to reveal their work in June!

Our future seems brighter than it ever has been before as we build communities and create choreography that is relevant and powerful. In today’s political and global climate, it seems almost silly to be going to work and creating pieces, but I realize that our resistance is in our very existence and creativity. It’s this voice of difference and critical perspective that impacts how we live our lives. It is with this realization that Sriya, Rohini and I have decided to return the core of Aseemkala and draw out exactly what our mission, vision and values are. We also worked with the amazing freelance art director and designer, Sarah Peng, to create our new logo below! Please take a look at our homepage and share your thoughts with us. Here’s to another year of slip ups, success, and resilience to keep dancing and keep creating.

Shilpa Darivemula, Founder and Creative Director