Accepted paper:

Embodied learning in Bharatanatyam: the making of sensory knowledge


Jamila Dorner (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will explore the learning environment in which Bharatanatyam practitioners make knowledge, as they fine-tune their sensory perceptions and hone their bodily skills. It will also reflect on the production and communication of anthropological knowledge with regard to embodied learning.

Paper long abstract:

This paper will examine embodied learning in the South Indian dance Bharatanatyam. The hallmark of Bharatanatyam lies in its highly-synchronized combination of music, dance movements with hand gestures, and facial expressions that tell stories imbued with philosophical and spiritual messages. To do so, the entire body is used as a tool for "embodying" qualities of daily life and human sentiments and for representing various characters or animals. To investigate Bharatanatyam as a way of knowing, I will explore the learning environment in which practitioners come to know, thereby developing their motor, sensory and social skills. This environment is simultaneously visual, tactile, and sonic. Language and cognition also play an important role. For instance, teachers combine tactile guidance and verbal instructions to hone a skill. I will discuss and reflect on my methodology that combined apprentice-style and visual methods (photo and video) in order to experience, capture and analyse this multisensory environment. I will present some case examples of my fieldwork that took place in a local dance school of Chennai in 2014 and illustrate my observations with the use of photos and video footage during my presentation. Ultimately, this paper will argue that for 'anthropologies to come' to shed light on what it is to be human, it is necessary to examine the senses, emotions, language and cognition as an entangled ensemble. None of these can be disregarded if we are to understand how humans develop a skilled set.

panel P08
Sensational knowledge: emotional and sensory encounters as ways of knowing