Standing before a group of Luther community members, two Ananya Dance Theater professionals invited all present to join with them in a pranam. This meant that together, the group gave salutations to the earth on which they stood, paying their respect by bowing low to the ground in silent reverence. After this, they began to learn and dance in unison, and the master class got underway.
On Tuesday, March 8, a dance seminar was held by members of the Ananya Dance Theater in CFA studio one, which invited Luther community members that were interested to come and learn about movement and intersectional feminism. Proposed by Professor of Dance Jane Hawley, the Luther session was intended to teach students a new dance perspective. This event was just one of several classes over the course of two days sponsored by the Identity Studies Department and the Lucille Brickner Price Endowment.
“The Identity Studies Department has an endowment that allows us money to celebrate women’s [history] month,” Hawley said. “Alumna Kristi Owens, who graduated in 2016, went and took classes [with them]. She told me how much she loved their work, and that I should bring them here. A purpose and the money became available in the fall of 2021, so I reached out immediately to Ananya.”
Ananya Dance Theater is a company of BIPOC women, womxn, and femme artists who believe in the transformative power of dance. They aim to facilitate a socially engaged artistic process that builds community and nurtures leadership in cultural activism, creating choreographic responses to global issues. With this being women’s history month, Ananya was seen as a new perspective to bring to Luther students seeking to expand their understanding of many social and cultural issues, through the lens of dance.
The afternoon began with group warm ups. Ananya Dancer and Rehearsal Assistant Alexandra Eady led attendees in a variety of dynamic stretches, walks, and small sequences of movement, designed to start getting dancers comfortable with Ananya’s contemporary Indian yorchha style. Once warmed up, Eady began teaching a short yorchha dance across the floor. This was then sped up slowly before having multiple groups perform at once to create a fully choreographed routine.
After attendees had gotten to experience a bit of the new style, dancers began to explore the Ananya energy sequence by building from painful memories and fears, or shawngram. This was demonstrated by Eady and Anyana Dancer, Artistic Associate, and Co-Leader of Shawngram Institute for Performance & Social Justice Kealoha Ferreira, before leaving it to the students to explore on their own.
“At least for me what seemed to happen was a continuous battle between fears and trying to feel at peace inside,” Maite Olivera (‘25) said. “It was a constant battle to keep it down and feel ok inside.”
Rooted in social justice, Anyana’s artistic work hinges on an urgent invitation to daak, which is dance as a transformative, radical call to action, rather than simply entertainment. Their technique yorchha combines with shawngram to create heat energy, or aanch, which they can channel into their dance. This process of distilling energy through vibration and feeling of pain is a cardinal part of their work as a group.
“The stories that we are holding, they are very intense,” Ferreira said. “But we have to find a way to deeply personalize and [yet] deeply de-personalize at the same time, knowing that what we do as dance artists is transform energy. We are transforming the energy in ourselves, and we are also transforming the energy around us. This is what we have to work with and train in.”
As Ferreira continued to lead the workshop in energy transformation, students explored both on their own and together what this process felt like. While some seemed to cope with their feelings on their own during the workshop, others came together with their bodies and felt these intense emotions with their fellow dancers.
“Personally, it is very difficult for me to stop my ‘thinking self’,” alumna Kim Chham (‘21) said. “If I think about being different, then my body doesn’t move. I had to really just go into [my] body and let it be whatever, into a creative space, and that is why dance is so powerful whenever I get to do it.”
As the time came to a close, Ferreira and Eady concluded the dancing with a final pranam, once again paying respect to the earth and to the ground which they had danced upon. Professor Hawley hopes to repeat this experience in future years, as well as expand upon the ideas and styles used by Ananya to benefit Luther dancers.
“I think the energy of both Kea and Alex has been wonderful to feel on this campus,” Hawley said. “It’s really important to bring in other techniques and dance artists and personalities. The guests that come in just really help expand the movement vocabulary for all of the dancers, and me.”
For any who missed the Tuesday class or are interested in having a similar experience, Ananya’s two week summer intensive is open for registration either in person or remotely. More information can be found by emailing [email protected].