Rina Mehta Awarded Prestigious Fulbright Scholars Grant

Mehta to travel to India to research the impact of Kathak dance on the empowerment of marginalized young women in Mumbai, India

The Chitresh Das Dance Company is pleased to announce that principal dancer Rina Mehta has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholars Grant. Mehta will travel to Mumbai in February 2013 for four months to research how Kathak dance can empower marginalized young girls and women and transform their lives for the better.

Mehta is a disciple of the internationally renowned Kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das, one of the most dynamic and far-reaching artists to emerge from modern India. A committed guru, Das is the founder of the Chitresh Das Dance Company, a company celebrated for its mastery of the technical and dramatic aspects of Kathak dance.  Das is also the founder of the Chhandam School of Kathak dance, one of the largest Indian classical dance institutions in the world with nine branches throughout the US as well as schools in Kolkata and Mumbai. A creative force and an award-winning performer, choreographer and composer, Das is also a foremost advocate of arts as a vehicle for service to society, having founded several programs worldwide that bring Kathak dance into the lives of underprivileged youth.

While in India Mehta will work in partnership with Chhandam Nritya Bharati, Das’ Mumbai-based school, to explore how Kathak dance, taught in the Guru-Shishya Parampara (tradition), can facilitate the awakening of one’s consciousness and for women, the awakening of Shakti, that divine and creative feminine power which according to Hinduism moves through the universe. Mehta will look at how this awakening can subsequently impact psychosocial indicators such as self-esteem, body image, confidence and social integration.

A student of women’s health at UC Berkeley, Mehta spent more than a decade working in reproductive health clinics and women’s organizations in an effort to understand and facilitate women’s empowerment. But it was her experience as a student and performer of Kathak dance, under the mentorship and guidance of Pandit Das that led Mehta to discover her own power. “As his disciple, I am pushed everyday – physically, emotionally, spiritually to achieve those things that might’ve seemed impossible, to shed those self-concepts and mental pitfalls that limit learning, growth and evolution, to awaken my consciousness and realize my potential to the fullest,” said Mehta.

In one of her early trips to India with Pandit Das, Mehta accompanied and assisted him in teaching Kathak dance to daughters of sex workers in the red light districts of Kolkata. Mehta says, “I began to see in these young women a fundamental shift in consciousness. I would describe it as an awakening. At first this shift was visible on the dance floor. And then, they became increasingly eager to stay after class and share their stories.  They began to speak of their lives in the red light district – of the sexual abuse and violence that they live with everyday and of their hopes of getting out.  They spoke of their dreams to be teachers, doctors and now dancers.”

These are among the many experiences that have inspired Mehta to pursue this research perfectly situated at the nexus of public health, development, feminism, dance, art and spirituality.  The ultimate goal is that Mehta’s research will lay the groundwork for the development of replicable programmatic models that utilize dance and the arts along with mentorship as a strategy for empowering marginalized young women.

About the Fulbright Program

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” With this goal as a starting point, the Fulbright Program has provided almost 310,000 participants—chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential — with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends approximately 1,100 American scholars and professionals per year to approximately 125 countries, where they lecture and/or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.

About the Chitresh Das Dance Company

The Chitresh Das Dance Company is comprised of dancers whose abilities exemplify Chitresh Das’ emphasis on the technical, graceful and dramatic aspects of Kathak dance. Principal Company members have become established artists in their own right, performing internationally to great acclaim. Through the choreographic vision of Chitresh Das comes work that is evocative and powerful, bringing both the richness of ancient India and a fiery, contemporary sensibility.

Dancer Rina Mehta began her study of Kathak under Pandit Chitresh Das in 2000. Since joining the Chitresh Das Dance Company (CDDC) in 2006 she has performed in such critically acclaimed productions as Pancha Jati, Shabd & Sita Haran. She received the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant and twice been nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award for Company performance as a part of the Chitresh Das Dance Company. She has performed at such prestigious venues as REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater), Meany Hall for Performing Arts (University of Washington), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, UCLA’s World Festival of Sacred Music, Tata Theater/NCPA in Mumbai, and the Shaniwarwada Dance Festival in Pune. Her original repertoire works include Moghul Court and Chandanbala.

Rina is founder and director of Chhandam’s newest branch in Los Angeles, California and Executive Producer of UPAJ, a documentary on Pt. Chitresh Das’ groundbreaking collaboration with tap star Jason Samuels Smith, India Jazz Suites.  She received her Master’s in Pubic Health from the University in California, Berkeley with a specialization in Women’s Health.

Photo by Margo Moritz