A development initiative for South Asian Dance in the North West

Bisakha Sarker - Footsteps and Fingerprints

An introduction by Bisakha Sarker based on her conference presentation, which comprised a spoken delivery integrated with dance performance by herself and poetry performance by Levi Tafari, accompanied by musician Chris Davies playing flute and other instruments.

‘The mind appears to be because of what the mind appears to think of’ said the poet Robert Bringhurst [1]. When a life is split between two continents, the mind finds a wide range of thoughts to dwell on. Some of these thoughts came naturally, some were deliberate choices and others emerged from the practical need to adjust to a new environment. With every displacement, one looses some freedom. Some certainties are lost. One misses the comfort of familiarity. At the same time a change can mark the beginning of a process of liberation. The discovery of new meanings can bring fresh energy and excitement to life.

In India I undertook my formal academic studies in Statistics at the University of Calcutta, and dance lessons from different private establishments to embellish my life. However in Britain I chose to developed my career as an Indian dance artist. Some of my thoughts come from an innate understanding of Eastern philosophy received through my training in dance and some because of the acquired knowledge of a Western scientific discipline. They cannot be isolated. Like the tributaries of a river, they flow into one single stream.

In the process of practicing an Eastern art-form within a Western society many of my preconceptions changed. When I first came from India, my notion of home and abroad, near and far suddenly reversed. The boundaries of intellectual and emotional ownership was questioned. New meanings replaced old ones.

Once, while giving me a hug, a six year old boy from an infant school asked me ‘Bisakha is India better than Ellesmere Port?’ Looking into his eyes, I discovered a different meaning of patriotism. On another occasion after a performance at a day centre in Toxteth, Liverpool, a senior citizen remarked ‘You have made death easier for me’. She gave me a priceless gift, I found a new aspiration for dancing.

What the mind appears to think of may change from one situation to another. However the way the mind deals with this maze of often complementary and sometimes contradictory thoughts, reveals the traces of the knowledge and memories from the past. I grew up in a joint family, amongst close relations, surrounded by a familiar community, in a country that I have learned to love from birth and called home without any hesitation. I nurture a desire to own and to belong. This has motivated me to work in a certain way. Once during the Edinburgh Festival as I was walking down the streets, I heard someone call me by my name. It was a black dancer from Liverpool 8. Suddenly I felt a sense of belonging. I was no longer a foreigner in a strange surrounding. All the people who touch me through my dance become my extended family.

Making connection has been a primary source of motivation for me. It has inspired me to value and enjoy community dance initiatives. That is a place where dance emerges from the soul of the people. Finding the common ground between the participant’s aspirations and the cannons of aesthetics set out by the conventional arts practice can be a daunting task. It is also an exciting and rewarding one.

I learnt the Udayshankar [2] style of creative dance from one of the pioneers of the style, Amala Shankar [3]. She has taught me to see light through darkness, to find movement in the stillness. Above all she showed me how to turn an action into a dance. My later association with Manjsuree Chaki-Sircar [4], a contemporary Indian dance artist with a brilliant creative mind, further broadened my vision of dance. These memories are my constant source of strength and inspiration.

Becoming the first Asian dance animateur of Merseyside gave me the real opportunity to make my dream come true. An imaginative Asian art project based at Abercromby Nursery School, Liverpool 8 introduced me to the world of educational and community dance. An effective partnership between the artists, teachers, parents, the members of the community and the funders made a hard task easy and successful. It was a kind of success that can not be assessed in terms of statistical measures. It changed attitudes. It radically transformed the lives of some of those who took part in it.

One of the developments of the project was the emergence of a mothers group who came together to learn Indian dance and produced a dance-play for the children. Rita, one of the mothers, wrote a poem about it saying ‘I grow through the light lotus foot steps of your eternal dance of life’. Much later, I met Cresta; she insisted on giving me the present of a massage, saying that she could not have made her career as a masseur without the dance project at the Nursery. Sheila met me when one of her daughters was at Abercromby Nursery and the other child was seriously ill, in and out of the hospital. A short film Roots & Wings [5] tells the story of her brave journey. She believes that the dancing at the Nursery saved her daughter’s life.

Through my work as a dance artist I have met many wonderful people in Liverpool. They walk with me side by side. Collaborating with poets, musicians, painters, sculptors, textile artists, actors, theatre directors and video makers has opened many doors for me. It has revealed new horizons that would have otherwise remained unknown to me. I am eager to cross the boundaries and merge the dividing lines. l long to inhabit the shared territory, where all art-forms meet. I like shades of colours, fusion music and twilight zones. My confidence for stepping out comes from my perception of the world that I have inherited from my life in India.


[1] Baizhang Huaihai from Pieces of Map, Pieces of Music by Robert Bringhurst , 1987, Copper Canyon Press, p 31

[2] Udayshankar [1900-1977], the pioneer of Indian Creative Dance.

[3] Amalashankar, the leading practitioner and teacher of Udayshankar’s style of creative dance, based in Calcutta.

[4] Manjusri Chaki Sircar [1938-2000], dance artist, choreographer and the founder of Navanritya, her own distinctive style of creative dance.

[5] Roots & Wings,1997, a video made by Paul Kelly, Bisakha Sarker and Sheila Kennedy, about a chance encounter between two women from Liverpool, which brought positive changes in their lives. The video was made with a bursary from Merseyside Film and Video.


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