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On the Move: Transnational South Asian Dancers and the 'Flexible' Dancing Body


"On the Move" combines ethnography and political economy to explore the complex racial politics in which South Asian dancers are immersed as they move across national borders as well as on local stages. Focusing on key South Asian dancer-choreographers in the UK in the late 20th/early 21st century, including Shobana Jeyasingh, Nina Rajarani, Subathra Subramaniam, Mayuri Boonham, and Akram Khan, as well as the transnational dancers they employ, I examine the way in which race, citizenship, and labor intersect in globalization in often conflicting and paradoxical ways. My research is propelled by an interest in the personal and professional lives of South Asian dancers, the effects of globalization on their dance practices, work, careers, and bodies, and how they negotiate the contradictions between the global, the national, and the local in and through dance.

I argue that South Asian dancers have developed an array of flexible practices in order to navigate the tensions between global capital and the nation-state, and that such flexible practices have been important in negotiating the contradictions between race and citizenship, reconfiguring social identities, and re-defining the contours of both South Asianness and Britishness. While I am critical of globalization, in particular its impact on labor flows and its toll on the body, I am also attentive to the power, creativity, strength, and flexibility of the dancing body to adapt to the inequalities and volatility of global capitalism. I suggest that late capitalism has created not just `flexible citizens' but also flexible bodies. Despite efforts to regulate the transnational movements of racialized labor, South Asian dancers continue to make dance, and make dance work as a career; they continue to perform locally, nationally, and globally; and they continue to move in unruly and unpredictable ways. Thus the South Asian dancing body reveals not only the friction of bodily encounters in globalization but also the flexible corporeal tactics used by transnational dancers to move with, through, and against the often uneven and unequal flows of global capital.

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