Harini Sridhar is a graduate student of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. She previously earned her Bachelor’s in Biology at Duke University. Harini is classically trained in Bharatanatyam, an age-old dance of India. As a dancer for over fifteen years, movement has allowed her to explore themes of community, environmental health, gender identity, and disability.
Co-creating art with communities provided Harini with an appreciation for the power of the arts as a means of connection across culture, language, and age. Dancing on Duke’s classical Indian dance and Raas folk dance teams helped her find a community in college. While spending a semester abroad in South Africa, movement blossomed into conversation on health and community between her and her homestay grandmother. In India, while serving as a teaching assistant at a special needs school, she used the arts to teach menstrual health management to ten-year-old girls with autism. For her undergraduate capstone project in a neuroscience course, Harini studied how dance can improve social and cognitive skills for people of all abilities. She choreographed and taught a piece focused on community development, and through interviews, learned that the dancers shared meaningful new connections and spoke of a catharsis that comes from being heard. Their group performed at the Talent Show of All Abilities at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Harini’s training in dance coupled with her study of Narrative Medicine has allowed her to understand the significance of both verbal and nonverbal expression. This attentiveness has allowed her to understand the nuances of others’ experiences, better attend to their suffering, and advocate for those with illness. While she spent a year working as a behavioral therapist for children diagnosed with autism, this was important in advocating for families of color and marginalized communities in medicine. Harini also works closely with a non-profit, We Are Saath, that aims to destigmatize mental illness in the South Asian diaspora. She brings this lens as she contributes to research, building a database of South Asian mental health providers, and conducting narrative medicine workshops in the community.
With Aseemkala, she hopes to closely read ancient Sanskrit stories with themes of mental illness and wellness, and embody these stories through movement. She also hopes to consider western constructions of memory, trauma, and witnessing literature, exploring the clinical applications of these texts through time. Particularly, the use of dance does not limit us to a singular definition of the language that makes up stories, as we can engage with the symbolism, methods of construction, metaphors, tone, gaze, and body movement that exist beyond. In this way, she hopes to discover how we can serve as better witnesses to different communities.