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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Ms Jamila Dorner


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Ms Jamila Dorner
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Thesis title:
Enskilment in a South Indian classical dance form Knowledge transmission and improvisation skills in Bharatanatyam
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PhD Research

With reference to other studies on apprenticeship and embodied cognition (Downey, 2010; Marchand, 2001, 2010; Wacquant, 2004), I am interested in knowledge transmission and improvisation skills in Bharatanatyam. A South Indian Classical dance, Bharatanatyam originated in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. A particular feature of Bharatanatyam pertains to its apprenticeship: movements are learnt as a form of grammar, which enables its memorisation; gestures have names and are accompanied by rhythms, lyrics, music and syllables that provide a significant context to learn, interpret and memorize the choreographies. Another specificity lies in its combination of dancing and acting. I wish to focus on the apprenticeship of hands gestures or hasta mudra. Through stylized hands gestures and facial expressions, which constitute both abhinaya, dancers convey meanings and tell stories (Lusti-Narasimhan, 2001; Puri, 2004). With experience and mastery, dancers are expected to develop improvisation skills, as the knowledge of technique and theme is not per se sufficient (Coomaraswamy, 1917). I would like to study – with an apprentice style field method – how these skills are “grown” (Ingold, 2000) owing to practice and training in an environment, which enables enskilment (Lave and Wenger, 1991) namely learning as a process of understanding in practice.