Vedaaranya Heritage Arts and Healing Festival 2016

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Dr. Siri Rama

 Kanaka sabha,
130. Grange Road Singapore 249605

Words in movement: translating for Indian dance across borders

Indian dance has always been supported by lyrics whether it is traditional classical styles like Bharata Natyam or more modern versions of cinematic or the now popular Bollywood/film dancing. Dance training and performance has been subject to the transformations in the music world which ranges from classical Indian music systems (like Carnatic and Hindustani music), to the new age music called either contemporary music or jazz music or fusion music. In dance training instructors are now largely teaching in English and have to translate the lyrics which may be in different languages.

Many dance instructors /gurus are training students in languages present in the music system, without the teacher or student having any working knowledge of the Indian languages. What are issues that arise in these situations? Does the dance become less meaningful or do the languages either English or the native language ‘suffer’ due to nuances being missed? What are the various methods being used by dance instructors to find ‘meaning in translation’. With the new pan- Indian interest in dance and the spread of Indian dance beyond borders to other countries what has happened to the language or poetry in music. How much is lost or found in translation? This paper raises issues in translating for dance based on my own personal experiences as performer, choreographer and teacher in Mumbai, Hong Kong and Singapore. With examples based on classroom interactions and performances the paper illustrates many cross border questions that make translating for Indian dance a! special case study.


Dr. Siri Rama is a Bharata Natyam and Kuchipudi dancer, teacher and choreographer based in Singapore.  She is also the founder-director of the twenty-five year old dance institution in Mumbai, the Kanaka Sabha Performing Arts Centre. She holds a PhD in the Fine Arts from the University of Hong Kong.  She has trained under acclaimed gurus Komalavalli, K. Vijayalakshmi, Ramaswami Bhagavathar, T V Sounderarajan, T. Kadirvelu in the Bharata Natyam style and trained under maestro C R Acharyulu, in the Kuchipudi style

Siri has performed to critical acclaim, presented group performances, and lectured, in many different cities of India and in many parts of the world including the USA, Singapore, Germany, the Middle East, Hong Kong and Thailand.  

Siri has also trained a large number of young dancers in Mumbai, Hong Kong and Singapore.  Several of Siri’s students have performed arangetrams (or graduating performances) and many of them have won competitions at national levels in India, have performed solos in India and abroad, and have become graded artistes on national television.   She has choreographed and presented several solo and group dance performances to traditional as well as contemporary themes.  She has collaborated with musicians and dancers from many other genres including Hindustani music, Chinese and Malay dance, and computer musicians.  Siri is the founder-editor of, a worldwide website devoted to the appreciation of the Indian classical dance forms.

Siri has been invited to present group and solo performances at several international conferences including the premiere of Buddha Charita (“The Story of the Buddha”) in Hong Kong, a collaborative performance with noted composer Pandit Vijay Raghav Rao in New Delhi, a Jataka tale enactment “Maya Dhwani” in Murdeshwar, Karnataka, and a solo presentation at a Sanskrit conference in Bangkok.  She has also been invited to lecture and conduct workshops at leading Universities in the USA, including Duke University, University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California. She has also made presentations for dance and fine arts departments at George Washington University, the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. 

Siri has taught full-length University courses, “Dance: East and West” and “Introduction to Indian Dance” as an adjunct faculty member at the Singapore Management University, and at the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad respectively. She has recently lectured and taught the Asian Dance course at Nanyang Institute of Fine Arts- Singapore, and conducted an Ásian Dance workshop at the Institute.

Siri has presented academic papers at conferences on dance, Sanskrit, South East Asian art in India, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore.   She has also served on conference juries for an International Computer Music Conference in Hong Kong, and two international Dance conferences organized by the World Dance Alliance in Singapore.  She currently serves as Vice President of the Singapore chapter of the World Dance Alliance.