Dancing in the Family: The Extraordinary Story of the First Family of Indian Classical Dance
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‘[This book] deserves to be read, not merely because it is about extraordinary women set against the changing historical backdrop of Indian classical dance, but primarily because it is a story well told.’—The Hindu
A riveting chronicle about three generations of women who profoundly impacted the revitalization of classical dance—especially Bharatanatyam and Odissi—in India and abroad.
This intimate memoir begins with Esther Luella, who in the Orientalist frenzy of 1920s America became increasingly immersed in Indian dance and changed her name to “Ragini Devi”, then eloped tumultuously to India. Here her stubborn pursuit of what she felt she had been reincarnated for resulted in an acclaimed career as a Bharatanatyam and Kathakali dancer.
Yet a gypsy fortune-teller had predicted that her daughter’s fame would eclipse her own, and indeed it was Indrani Rahman—rebellious, talented, beautiful, defying her mother by marrying aged fifteen—who truly brought Indian classical dance to the world stage; a pioneer who introduced Odissi, until then performed only by the marginalized Devadasi community, to widespread appreciation.
Sukanya Rahman, granddaughter to Ragini and daughter to Indrani, explores the truths behind their celebrated lives against the history of the dances they popularised in pre- and post-Independence India. She delves into her own life with the same unassuming candour, reflecting upon her simultaneous desire and inability to draw away from this potent inheritance of dance.
Ultimately an ode to these remarkable women so significant to Indian dance, this intergenerational memoir is recounted with a frank authenticity which makes for a compelling read. More than 50 archival family photographs, dating from 1893, contribute to making this book a gem in the history of Indian dance.
Sukanya Rahman is an Indian classical dancer and visual artist. Born in Kolkata, she studied painting at the College of Art in New Delhi and the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris on a French Government scholarship. She also studied modern dance at the Martha Graham school in New York. She later focused on Indian classical dance, and performed at various renowned global platforms. As an artist, her work has often been displayed in galleries across America and India. She currently divides her time between an island in Maine and Merida, Mexico with her husband Frank Wicks, a theatre director and playwright. The couple have two sons, Habib and Wardreath, and two grandchildren, Jake Wicks and Sarah Wicks.