Tag Archives: #raceandethnicity

Preeti Vasudevan Dances Stories of Ethnic Folklore to Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello

New York-based award-winning choreographer and performer Preeti Vasudevan is known for creating provocative contemporary works from Indian tradition. Founder and artistic director of the Thresh Performing Arts Collaborative, her mission is to create experimental productions that foster a provocative dialogue with identity, and our relationship with heritage cultures and contemporary life. 

Preeti has been recognized by a number of prestigious institutions in the US for her outstanding contribution to dance. Cultural diplomacy is key to her work through education. As an artist alum of the US Department of State, she leads groundbreaking educational initiatives encouraging self-expression and artistic risk through cross-cultural creative exchange among artists and the community.

Preeti partners her educational and creative leadership with world-impacting organizations, such as Silkroad founded by legendary musician Yo-Yo Ma and the National Dance Institute founded by celebrated dancer Jacques D’Amboise. Recently, she started The Red Curtain Project (RCP), a new initiative from Thresh dedicated to sharing stories from around the world. Born during the NYC Covid lockdowns, RCP’s innovative digital stories highlight universal tenets, inspiring children to see connection and unity between cultures, while also encouraging them to live by the principles featured.

In this exclusive interview, she talks among other things about her earliest influences, her new operatic musical theater production, and the process of presenting ancient, contemporary, and mythological digital stories through movement, theatrics, music, visual art, and a simple red curtain as a prop.

How did you get interested in Bharatnatyam, and who were your earliest influences?

I was always interested in dancing, any dance would motivate me. My mother always says that she saw me dancing even before walking! I had this high energy that would make me want to move all the time. As we are from the south of India, I think my mother wanted me to learn the culture from where we are. At that time, I was growing up in New Delhi. So, it was all the more reason not to lose the connection to one’s roots. 

My earliest influences were dances I saw through the cultural exchange programs between India and China and India and the USSR. Living in the capital, we were exposed to some of the most incredible dances, something I had never seen before. The dynamism and costumes all were mesmerizing. I grew up watching some of the Indian greats as well from Kelucharan Mohapatra to Birju Maharaj to the Jhaveri sisters, teachers from the Kalamandalam. 

My first proper influence was my own teacher, the late Shri U.S. Krishna Rao who made me see dance for its own beauty and didn’t make it over precious. He loved cricket and was a chemistry professor, so he put it all in perspective as something all humans must do – dance! My own gurus, the Dhananjayans, were like my second parents. I owe a lot to them beyond dancing. They taught me how to look at life and where movement can come from. These further opened my eyes to the world of human expression through movement.

How did your dance evolve with the influence of a western and eastern range of dance and theater forms while you were teaching in Japan?

Japan made me grow up! I was used to traveling by then, touring and performing a lot. But these were mostly in India or the west. The Far East was still a mystery to us in the 90s. When I got a cultural scholarship to go there, I was partly nervous and excited – I love adventures! Japanese dance, Nihon Buyo made me experience my own body differently. The kimono, which first confined my body, taught me how to use my spine to liberate myself from the inside; the fans held during dance taught me how to channel the energy of emotions through my fingers onto them as an extension of my body. Thus, when I did perform the Bharatanatyam, I felt all these changes from the inside and made my dancing more three-dimensional and alive than before. 

Prior to Japan, I was a cultural delegate at the India International Dance Festival where the American dance festival came to New Delhi for three weeks to teach Indian dancers modern dance. Almost everything was new for me – falling, lying down, and moving, touching another dancer…between giggles and shocks, I learned to open my eyes to see movement as one of the most amazing energies there is! After these two crucial influences, I felt it seamless to collaborate and continue investigating my own approach to dance. Over the years, I have cross-trained in various forms of movement, theater, and voice to keep searching for the next meaning.

Preeti Vasudevan Choreographing at the Joyce Lab.

What is the idea behind your company Thresh, and tell us about some of the work that you do with it?

Thresh is like the threshold – it is about the present – the now. We come with a past and we go into an unknown future. What’s important is how we see and experience the present. It’s the liminal zone. That’s how Thresh came about in 2005 after I completed my Master’s from the Laban Centre in London. It’s an experimental platform to bring international artists together to create a provocative dialogue on identity and our relationship between our contemporary lives and heritage cultures. It’s about finding the universal experience and truth from the diverse voices as a collective.

Tell our readers about the Red Curtain Project, your recent initiative of sharing stories from around the world that was born during the NYC Covid lockdowns.

The Red Curtain Project (RCP) was born due to Covid. When all performances shut down, we had to find out what we stood for and what we could do for the larger society. Digital storytelling came out of this. My husband, Bruno Kavanagh, does online learning and therefore, he jumped in to help Thresh develop this amazing online platform. We have created 14 stories to date including one of our highlights with the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Through RCP, we have also done similar work for a Lebanese organization on stories from the war. Now, we are embarking on a new social impact venture called First Voices where we are working in partnership with the Indigenous people of Montana in the US to create a series on ancestral creation stories. This will lead into school workshops within the reservations to empower the youth with leadership skills through the arts.

Describe the process you use to present ancient, contemporary, and mythological digital stories through movement, theatrics, music, visual art, and a simple red curtain as a prop?

Thresh has a great network of artists globally who share a common mission of sharing a story. For RCP, we work with children’s book publishers to select stories based on chosen themes and then license them. We then seek composer and visual artists to work alongside me as I do the choreography. This year, I have been the sole dancer due to distancing and restrictions. But from next year, I will be seeking other dancers who can be a part of this incredible sharing. The Red Curtain is a metaphor – in theater, we reveal everything once we open the curtain and the color red has multiple symbolisms the world over. In my apartment in New York, we have a red curtain. I simply used it, and it became the indicator for our project!

What are you working on next?

As mentioned, we have created our project First Voices. On December 10th, we launched the first performance online. We welcome everyone to come to see this and be part of our new adventure. Apart from this, we are also in residence creating a new operatic musical theater production called L’Orient: Search for the Real Lakme. This is a 21st-century take on the 19th-century French opera, Lakme. It looks at gender and Orientalism, and plays with Bharatanatyam, ballet, opera, and Carnatic music. It hopes to be a really fun production with a lively cast of unusual performers. We have received a residency commission from Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, NY.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul and Bombay Memory Box.

Dinesh Mohan Is Busting the Age Myth in Indian Fashion

As someone whose work has always been in front of the camera, I must admit that as the years went by, I expanded my horizons (and waist) to have my kids. I often felt the need to catch up backward. It was now time for me to find some much-needed inspiration from people whose stories inspire me for my future.

Dinesh Mohan, a 62-year-old male model, walks for India’s top designers. That’s enough of a stand-out story but there’s more to him, I realized, as he spoke to me about self-love and beauty standards. Dinesh Mohan recognizes that he is an exception in the fashion world – he went from being overweight and confined to his bed to becoming an actor and a model.

His journey of personal transformation began when most other models were well into their retirement. It started at 53.

“It is easy to change on the outside by wearing clothes and makeup but on the inside, if you are defeated, nothing can save you.” Says Dinesh who at 62 says he feels 26. 

But it wasn’t always like this. Far from it.

I ask Dinesh why he described himself not long ago as‘ fat and sick’ – was he being unfairly harsh on himself?

“I indulge in no age shaming of any kind but in my case, I was eating to punish myself and the result was that for 5-7 years I needed assistance even to walk, and was fully bedridden for 10 months. So in my case, I was being brutally honest.”

How did he go from being unable to walk to walking runways, modeling, and then acting in movies as if to the role born?

“ It might sound like a cliché but it was spirituality that really helped and I told myself why not give myself a chance at life. I had given up in front of the negative circumstances around me, forced to retire from a comfortable government job. But then it was a choice between living like this for ever or giving life a chance. I started by going out with great courage, even though some people would look at me and laugh. Then I joined a gym and started swimming again. Doing all this while being seen by  judgmental people made me very strong.”

With a local newspaper carrying his ‘before and after’ journey, Dinesh was spotted and soon appeared in some big ads including one for BMW, where while taking a break during the shoot, his signature look was captured and went viral. He is now also known for his own brand of insta-swag and a mass following.

“I live on social media,” says Dinesh. “I love observing people, stepping out, going out for coffee and watching the world go by. There was so much I couldn’t do that I can do now. The first step on the ramp and people went crazy. So yes, I guess I am an exception in the fashion world.”

The world is hungry for more exceptions. It’s the kind of inspiration everybody needs. Dinesh is both exception and inspiration with style and heart.

“I am so grateful to all the negative circumstances and people I met. It is because of them that I am where I am today.”


Amrita Gandhi is a Lifestyle TV host who interviews inspiring personalities on her show ‘So, What’s It Really Like‘ on her Instagram

South Asian Sex Workers’ COVID Struggle For Survival

Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.

Covid-19 has impacted many but the sex workers across the globe have been the worst affected. The entire industry has come to a standstill amidst the protocol, with their livelihoods at stake. Most of them are on the verge of starvation and struggling to make their ends meet.

Alarmingly, there are over 800,00 sex workers in India. Spread across eight large red light areas and over 16 small clusters scattered across the country. The lockdown and covid norms have made thousands of them penniless prone to deplorable conditions. The social stigma and discrimination deny them basic moral support or cooperation from the nearby communities.

With no proper government documents or basic identity records, like adhaar card and ration card, the community does not qualify for any of the government subsidies released during the pandemic. Majority have failed to pay rent for months and are threatened with eviction by rowdy landlords. With school going kids and family to support at their hometown, the plight is daunting, leaving them helpless.  

Abandoned at the mercy of various non-governmental organizations, their ordeal for basic needs is horrifying to note.

In Oct 2020, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) proposed to recognize sex workers as ‘informal workers’. However, many organizations came forward citing the risk of decriminalization of prostitution. After a month-long legal battle, the NHRC advisory, which was issued by a panel to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the human rights of women sex workers, included them under the section – ‘women at work’. But whether the provisions under the government scheme would reach them in time remains a question to ponder.

Not just in India, the sex workers worldwide are among the hardest hit in pandemic and continue to suffer destitution. Unknown to many, March 3rd was the International Sex Workers Rights Day.

In 2001, over 30,000 sex workers in India staged a protest to raise awareness of their rights. Organized by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, they gathered in Calcutta for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who wanted to revoke their permit. The event had a huge impact globally and since then sex workers across the world commemorate the day every year. Programs are organized to spread awareness about the abuses sex workers face and the violation of their human rights.

This year, unfortunately, it’s a fight for survival. In the wake of International Sex Workers Rights Day 2021, Tell-A-Story unveils the appalling story of Indian sex workers, the hidden truth, and the harsh reality behind the red light areas of India.


Suchithra Pillai comes with over 15 years of experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India and the United States.

For more such intriguing stories, subscribe to the channel. You can also follow the stories on Facebook @tellastory2020 and Instagram @tell_a_story2020

The Power of Visualization: A South Asian Dream

Are you ready to achieve your goals and ideal life? 2021 is the year to renew, refresh, revitalize and move towards achieving your goals. Visualization is a tool you can use to realize your goals and attract what you desire. I use this tool regularly and would like to tell you more about it.

A Vision Board is a tool that is used to represent your intentions and goals to create your ideal life with images, pictures, symbols, numbers, positive words, and affirmations. It helps you clarify your goals.

Define your goals in your relationships, work, family, finance, or more by writing them down. To make it simple and more effective, let’s build yourself a Vision Board. Choose pictures and images that bring forth objects and experiences that you want to attract in your life. Take a board, or if you prefer things online, you could also use an online tool like a ‘Pinterest’ board. You can cut out pictures from the newspaper, magazines, and the internet which may speak to you about your goals, ideas, vision, and success. 

Add a happy picture of yourself to this collection! 

Try to organize your pictures to make them appealing to yourself. Bring forth your creative juices while working on your vision board. You can use markers or metallic pens to write quotes, positive words, and affirmations. 

Your vision board could be oriented towards a short-term or long-term goal or a specific area. I tend to create different boards for the various aspects of my life; relationships, health, job goals, finance, travel.

Place your vision board in a place that is easily visible to you. You may like it on your nightstand, worktable, fridge, or even on the lock screen of your phone.

I have learned that seeing it for 5 minutes when you awaken and just before sleeping are the most powerful times of the day. Seeing the images the first thing in the morning helps in creating what you want to happen or have. In addition, seeing these images one hour before bedtime keeps these images running through your subconscious mind at night in a replay mode.

What is Creative Visualization? You start to create mental images vividly and repeatedly in your mind of what you want to happen, in order to help that event come about in real life.

We have all heard the quote, “ A picture is worth a thousand words.”

We picture the images we want as IT HAS HAPPENED. Our brain and subconscious receive the message of what it is we desire and set the wheels in motion to make that wish come true. When we learn how to visualize correctly, the images we generate become a reality.  

Image from www.berries.com

Once you have created your Vision Board you can select and focus on one image. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, where you won’t be interrupted, and begin picturing in your mind what it is that you want. It could be an event you want to occur, a goal you want to achieve, or a personality trait, such as self-confidence or compassion, that you want to develop more fully. It may also be that you want to improve your health, relationships, or work life. 

See it clearly in your mind’s eye and really get into the experience. Give your imagination free reign, Imagine all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations you would expect to be there when your dream finally manifests as reality. Picture yourself inside the story, not outside looking in

Feel as it has happened, not happening. 

If, for example, you wish for your children to be healthy and well-balanced. Picture them in front of you – laughing, happy, caring, and loving. Listen to the sounds of laughter, the smell of the scent of the soap after the kids have showered, and the aroma of a home-cooked meal. Feel the joy of reaching out and hugging your children and the bonds of being together. 

For instance, a Bharatnatyam dancer who wants to achieve her goal to be an accomplished dancer has to have ambition, dedication, and a want to achieve her dream. While closing her eyes she imagines herself on stage in front of people, dancing with confidence and grace. The dancer can hear her heartbeat and the elation of the crowd. She feels the swish of her colorful attire against her skin. Her ‘abhinaya’ or the expression in motion should be felt like a warm feeling coursing through her body. In the ‘tilana’, she explodes into leaps and jumps, moving in all directions with the fast tempo of the music. The Bharatnatyam dancer hears the three clangs of the cymbals and knows that she has given it all. The more she visualizes this with all her senses, the more she will be able to achieve her goal. 

Athletes use visualization to help them achieve peak performance By picturing themselves flawlessly executing a difficult maneuver, they are more likely to execute the maneuver flawlessly when the time comes to actually do it. Speakers visualize in order to stay calm during speeches. 

The more real and detailed the experience is in your imagination, the more powerful the visualization will be and the sooner it will happen in your life as a reality. Repeat this a few times during the day. For extra oomph, try combining an affirmation with each visualization. The practice of visualization will help you achieve your goal. Have patience, focus on this powerful tool, and learn to enjoy the beauty of this magical resource. Go on to try building your Vision Board and using Creative Visualization and see the results!


Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is the author of ‘You Are The Cake’.