Dear Aseemkala Team, Friends, and Supporters,
What an incredible year and decade for our community here at Aseemkala! From our humble start in 2017 as an idea between Rohini Bhatia and Shilpa Darivemula, to now a growing network of artists, scientists, and activists, we have remained dedicated to our mission of using traditional dance to transform healthcare.
In the last year, we have had many exciting events:
We were able to continue our choreography of the Mahavidyas in Medicine project, working with Teresa Cuevas (our former fellow!) and Sayoko from the IndoRican Multicultural Project to create stories on the waiting room, with Sophia Salingaros and Sriya Bhumi, our content director, on eating disorders and body dysmorphia in dancers to reimagining our favorite piece, Bagalamukhi’s Words. We are excited that our research on Chinnamasta’s DNR order was shared at several conferences, including Medical Women’s International Association, Performing Arts Medicine Association, and at the IDSM in Montreal. We were able to work with our favorite festival director, Tom Block, and present not only dance but also our very first workshop on their stage at the International Human Rights and Arts Festival. Thank you to photographer Danny Boyd for these pictures from IHRAF!
Our fellows continue to grow, with our final projects being celebrated for their intensity and bravery to explore complex issues, such as race, body dysphmorphia, Vajra Dance, and Ayurveda. We welcome our three new fellows this year and cannot wait to see what they create!
We also connected with the Cambridge Innovation Center, creating a special workshop on movement and health and worked with the Johns Hopkins Kennedy Krieger Institute to perform a dance based interactive lesson for their patients. Thank you to Quisqueya Whitbeck and Dr. Shilpa Kadam for recommending us! We had a blast!
Finally, we celebrate the excellent work of our Content Director, Sriya Bhumi, whose effort has brought us our Instagram page and our increased activity on Facebook. We are grateful for your amazing dedication to everything you do, Sriya! We also celebrate some personal happiness this year, as the Content Director said “I do” to the love of her life, as our Research Director, Rohini Bhatia, begins her journey of residency, and as our Content Director awaits her match for her intern year and beyond. We were able to celebrate the wedding with our entire team present!
We wish you all a very happy new year and look forward to this upcoming year and decade! Thank you for your constant love and support. We will see you all again soon!
The Aseemkala Board of Directors
Fall 2019 Workshops and Performances
We at Aseemkala are so excited about this year! Our team has been enriched by the addition of three new fellows, our new experiential research fellow, and our excellent Content Director. We have a great line-up for the Fall as well, with multiple performances and workshops. And we are excited to share that we started our first instagram account! Follow us at @the_aseemkala_initiative.
October 6th: Workshop on Dance and Self Expression at the Kennedy Krieger Institute
We are thrilled to be invited by Dr. Shilpa Kadam to present a workshop on using movement and mudras to tell stories on the inpatient floor at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Parents and children of all ages and dance and non-dance backgrounds are welcome to join!
November 1st: An Intimate Performance and Workshop with the Cambridge Innovation Center
The Cambridge Innovation Center has long had a commitment to bringing the arts to the Boston Area. Their previous work includes the Global Arts Eats and Beats series, which last joined forces with the Japan Society of Boston to bring the arts of Japan to the area. We are honored to present our work to this hub of start ups, showing how dance can be used to narrate stories for change. This event is for CIC members only, and will involve a small showing followed by an interactive workshop led by Shilpa Darivemula, Creative Director.
December 14th, 1:30-2:30 PM: Presenting Mahavidyas in Medicine at The International Human Rights Arts Festival
The first show the Aseemkala Initiative ever performed was at the first International Human Rights Arts Festival over three years ago. We are honored to be invited back to perform an excerpt from our work, Mahavidyas in Medicine, and follow it with a workshop on using narrative dance forms for social change. Event is open to the public. Please be on the lookout for tickets soon!
We are also excited to share that we are in the midst of working with Project Kajsiab Laos, an old friend of our work and partner, on assessing knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs around cervical cancer screening, treatment, and access to care for the Hmong mountain people of Huay Xai, Laos. More on that collaboration soon! For the inspiration behind this project, please look at Zjong’s story here.
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.
I 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.
We 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
On August 6th, The Aseemkala Initiative will join a powerful lineup of performers at Sakhi for South Asian Women’s “Third Annual Gender Justice & The Arts: An Asian American Showcase”.
Founded in 1989, Sakhi for South Asian Women is a community-based organization in the New York metropolitan area committed to ending violence against women. Aseemkala fully supports their extraordinary work and vision to create strong and healthy communities for women.
Jenn Pamela Chowdhury and Sophia Salingaros will perform “Bagalamukhi’s Words”, a spoken word-Kuchipudi choreography performance.
Tickets can be purchased here: https://bit.ly/2LnNpmM ($20 on registration | $25 at the door)
This archive protects some of the original videos and much loved and celebrated choreographies of the iconic Late Padmabhushan Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. Enjoy these rare videos courtesy of the NCA of India by clicking below.
We are thrilled to announce that we will be presenting the Aseemkala Initiative at the national conference of the American Public Health Association Conference in San Diego, CA in November! Check out our lecture on Tuesday at 3 PM as a part of the lecture series on “International Perspective in Integrative, Complementary, and Traditional Health Practices”.
We also have one of our research projects on improving cervical cancer literacy using the arts being shared as a poster on the same day! Congratulations to our partner in this research endeavor, Alianza Arkana!
Here is a video recorded by Alianza Arkana’s Women and Youth Program Coordinator, Macarena Arias on our workshops in Bena Jema.
Check out this lovely feature of Shilpa on the RAH dance works “What Moves You” project
Check out this feature on the Southern Vermont Dance Festival’s website: http://southernvermontdancefestival.com/explore/choreographers/
Come and check out our works that will be shared here!
Rohini Bhatia and Shilpa Darivemula of the Aseemkala Initiative presented Sati’s Surgery at the conference to a room full of amazing physicians and students. It was a wonderful experience.
Shilpa also presented her White Coat Dance for her AMWA Artist in Residence presentation. She also helped to organize the White Coat Installation at the conference.