SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Jamila Dorner

MSc Educational Sciences (University of Geneva), MA Social Anthropology (SOAS)
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Jamila Dorner
Ms Jamila Dorner
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Thesis title:
Learning Bharatanatyam: Bodily, Sensory and Social Enskilment in South Indian Dance.
Year of Study:
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PhD Research

This research examines the transmission of embodied knowledge in the apprenticeship of the South Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam with a focus on the learning of gestures and facial expressions. To move beyond a reification of knowledge transmitted as cognitive schema, this project builds on the concept of “enskilment” to explore with a phenomenological approach the processes through which dancers develop their bodily, sensory and social skills by being part of a community of practice in a given environment. Previous research on Bharatanatyam has focused on the politics of its post-colonial revival, on its aesthetics, and on its meaning. However, the learning process is scarcely explored and the dancers, as individuals, are often missing from the framework. Using a methodological approach that combines apprentice-style and visual methods, this research explores dance as an embodied and sensuous practice in order to investigate the learning body and local ways of learning and knowing from the perspective of South Indian dancers. My driving questions are: In what ways does Bharatanatyam constitute a specific way of knowing, involving minds, bodies and environment? What specific senses are developed in Indian dancers? How are sensory perceptions educated and honed in the making of knowledge? How does sensory perception and knowledge dialogue with motor skills to reproduce gestures and facial expressions that embody qualities of daily life, emotions, and the narratives of classical Indian stories? How do changes in tradition affect ways of knowing and embodied knowledge, and vice versa? In what ways does apprenticeship in Indian dance serve to craft bodies and identities? By exploring embodiment in Indian context with an interdisciplinary approach, this study aims to contribute to literatures in the anthropologies of knowledge, South Asia, and embodied cognition.