Choreography Fellow 2022-2023: Dr. Sloka Iyengar

Credit: M. Tanksley

Sloka Iyengar is a classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer and a neuroscientist. She carries a PhD in Biomedical Science/Neuroscience from University of South Carolina School of Medicine, worked on the Women’s Global Health Leadership Working Group at Johns Hopkins, and served as a research consultant and visiting faculty at mutiple institutions. Sloka curates a podcast on the cross between neuroscience and Bharatanatyam. Her recent choreography, “Neuronatyam” reflects this convergence.

She states, “My passions lie in the power of science and arts to change the world for its most vulnerable populations, and the importance of communication to effect that change. I have always been fascinated by the brain as the organ that controls all that we sense, feel, and do. For my graduate and postdoctoral work, I examined neuronal circuits that lead to the generation and propagation of epileptic seizures. In the recent past, I’ve realized the impact that science and effective science communication can have, and the critical need for science geared towards public good. It is also clear to me that I have an obligation to use my scientific training for direct public impact. To do this, I work with collaborators in India and the US in the areas of patient advocacy and communication, dementia, aging, palliative care, harm reduction in substance abuse disorders, and post-traumatic epilepsies. As a Bharatanatyam performer and practitioner, I believe that the arts have a critical role to play in society. As a practitioner of dance and science, I have created productions that explore the many points of convergence between Bharatanatyam and neuroscience.”

When asked about her ideas around how traditinal arts and medicine conbine, Sloka states “While I have been practicing Bharatanatyam and neuroscience (both, separately and together) for many years, the loss of my mother and the ongoing pandemic have solidified in me the passion to use my time and gifts wisely. I believe that the Aseemkala fellowship will give me support to use Bharatanatyam to explore issues of aging. I have been lucky to learn with gurus who have emphasized that dance as a way of expression that is beyond one’s body, and reaches one’s mind and soul. The fellowship will help me put structure around this idea of dance as a way to relate with one’s community and with humanity.”

Her proposed choreography this year will focus on aging, centered on recent loss of her mother. She states “Losing my mother recently seeing how senior citizens are treated in society have inspired me to use the medium of Bharatanatyam to talk about this issue.”

Credit: Michael Tanksley