UofL Professor Wins Dance/USA fellowship For Her Indian Classical Dance Work

UofL professor and statistician Dr. Prathiba Natesan Batley has been named one of 30 Dance/USA Artist Fellows. The fellowship includes a $30,167 grant to be used at the artist’s discretion. The fellowship is made possible with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Dance/USA’s mission is supported by the belief that “dance can inspire a more just and humane world, Dance/USA will amplify the power of dance to inform and inspire a nation where creativity and the field thrive.”

Photo by Nathan Cornetet/Fusion Photography

In case you didn’t know, Louisville has a thriving Indian Classical Dance community and Dr. Natesan Batley is an award-winning dancer and choreographer trained in the style of Bharatanatyam dance. She is a three-time Indian national champion for this dance style and has performed in over 300 performances. In 2012, she started the Eyakkam (Movement) Dance Company–a nonprofit dance company now based in Louisville. Her training is in the Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam by Guru Preethi Menon, in Kathakali by Kalamandalam Udayakumar Ashaan, and in facial expressions by Kalamandalam Prasanthi Jayaraj.

Dr. Natesan Batley’s works highlight her passions regarding social justice, gender and equity issues, while sharing the intricate qualities of classical Indian literature.

In the Dance/USA fellowship group, Dr. Natesan Batley is joined by 29 other artists from across the country. According to the press release they represent  “an array of modalities rooted at the intersection of social and embodied practices.”

The release also says, “These artists work in a wide range of dance and movement-based forms including African Diasporic, Afro-contemporary, Ballet, Bharatanātyam, Black Social/Social Dance, Burlesque, Butoh, Chicago Footwork,  Contemporary, Dance Theater, Disability Dance, Embodied Memory Mapping, Fancy Shawl Dance, Flamenco, Folklórico, Funk/Family Kitchen Dances, Freestyle, Hip-Hop, House, Hula, Improvisation, Indigenous-Based Dance, Jazz, Kathakali, Mindanao Indigenous Forms, Modern, Native American Hoop Dance, Neo-traditional Ghanaian, New Orleans Vernacular, P’urhépecha Bailes, Pan Afro-urban, Physically Integrated Dance, Poetic Audio Description/Audio Description for Dance, Poppin, Queer/Feminist Movement Art, Salsa, Somatic, Traditional Congolese Dance, Vocal Kinesthetics, West African, and more.”

LEO asked Dr. Natesan Batley about the award. 

Photo by Rajesh Jyotiswaran

LEO: What was the process like for winning the fellowship and what do you hope to do with your fellowship? 

Dr. Prathiba Natesan Batley: It was almost a year long process with two rounds. I think there were close to 500 applicants and several of us were chosen based on the body of work we have done to address issues within our community. I focused my application materials on my work addressing caste, gender and religious hegemonies in Indian classical dance. I was thrilled that I was selected for my first round. 

In fact, it took so long that I thought I had not been shortlisted and eventually forgot about my application. I was sick with COVID when I got a call saying that they had not heard back from me regarding the shortlisting. I have no idea what happened to that email and I now had two days to submit my second set of materials. Bedridden and completely sick, I put together the materials and resigned myself to potential rejection. 

In September, I received an email confirming my selection. For decades, I have been rejected by the mainstream Bharatanatyam community despite my body of work and talent just because of my caste. 

It feels great to be accepted in my new country of citizenship by an acclaimed organization such as Dance/USA. This acceptance is not just a success to me but an acknowledgement of the human rights violation that is casteism which plagues our societies even to this day (and continues in the Indian diasporas outside of India). 

I am planning on shooting a dance short film called ‘Dirty Secrets.’ The film is autobiographical and is about sexual abuse and harassment. It is very close to my heart and I have spent years trying to make this film. It is finally happening and I am ecstatic and nervous about it. 

I am working with a team of dancers from Indiana University-Bloomington, a composer from Malaysia called Rekha Raveenderen, and 8UP productions for cinematography. I am also hoping to invest part of the fellowship money in teaching a student from a marginalized community. I think I have found that person. I will make an announcement soon about this. 

Do you have any upcoming dance performances?

The dance short film called ‘Dirty Secrets’ will be shot in Louisville in January, and I am hoping to screen it in and around the area. I am still looking for venues to screen the film. I have partnered with UP – a shelter for homeless women and children. We are hoping to have conversations surrounding women’s safety and dignity as part of the film screening. I would love the support of the Louisville community in making this effort a success. And by success, I do not mean likes and comments, but actions.

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