© 2023 Gold Futures Challenge. All Rights Reserved.
Ragamala Dance Company
Ragamala Dance Company
Ragamala Dance Company
Ragamala Dance Company is the vision of mother-daughter, South Indian American artists Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy. By creating multi-disciplinary dance works for the stage, engaging the community, and educating the next generation, Ragamala epitomizes intercultural and immigrant narratives that evoke a shared sense of humanity. Now celebrating our 30th anniversary, Ragamala is a highly recognized performing arts and community-serving institution. We have created 100+ original works in radical collaboration across genre and culture, done pioneering work to advance artistic excellence, and nurtured an enduring and visionary commitment to our home community of Minneapolis/St. Paul and beyond. Ranee Ramaswamy emigrated from India to Minnesota with Aparna (age 3) in 1978. After 14 years as an independent Bharatanatyam artist, Ranee founded Ragamala in 1992. She was later joined in the company’s leadership by her creative partners (and daughters) Aparna (in 2002) and Ashwini (in 2017). As creative artists and culture bearers, we hold a unique and important place in our diaspora and a vital voice in our pluralistic society. Our art is centered around the power of ancestral wisdom to extend tradition and expand creativity, and our work reflects on immigrant experiences and global citizenry. We feel a great responsibility to advance a complex understanding of the diverse contributions of Indian American traditions. Through extensive and lasting community and educational initiatives, we underscore the urgent need to embolden artists of color to be at the center of creating change around issues of equity, reckoning, cultural stories, resilience, and renewal.
About the Organization:
$500,000 - $1 MILLION
For thousands of years, South Asian culture has been preserved and continually renewed through traditional artistic practices. These traditional practices, exemplified by the multi-disciplinary art form known as Bharatanatyam dance, have the potential to make an enormous, positive impact on American society today – helping all of us to harness a deeper wisdom that can help build communal connections, repair social divides, and restore our relationship to the natural world. But there is a problem: young people in the South Asian immigrant community are increasingly opting out of pursuing artistic practices, in favor of “safer” career pathways in other fields. This disconnects them from their own extraordinarily rich history, and represents a great loss for American society and culture as a whole. Recent studies (including a 2019 report from Duke University and a 2021 report from UT Austin ) have shown that students such as ours, from 1st-generation and South Asian backgrounds, start 9th grade with high expectations for pursuing careers in the arts. But during high school these expectations plunge by more than 50%, due to a host of factors – including the influence of family, teachers and peers, broader cultural perceptions, and a lack of role models to look up to. By the time they reach college, these same students are 85% more likely than their peers to enroll in and complete a STEM-specific major instead of a degree in the arts. Over time this has resulted in a self-fulfilling cycle, reducing South Asian representation in artistic and performance-based fields and making it ever harder for South Asian students to see themselves as creative leaders and professionals. And recent changes to US immigration policy that select for STEM-related skills over artistic disciplines promise to further exacerbate this trend. While recent movements have successfully raised the critical issue of representation for various social & ethnic groups in the U.S. creative economy, South Asians have been largely left out of the conversation. Our next generation is now at risk of losing not only their rich cultural heritage, but also a future of creative engagement and inspiration for American society writ large.
Since our founding in 1992, Ragamala has proudly served the community of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Throughout our history we have been committed to building engagement programs across the U.S. that make our work accessible to diverse audiences without compromising rigor, depth, and complexity. In 2021, we moved into a new facility at the Center for Performing Arts (CFPA) in Minneapolis – a vibrant, artist-driven space where we have established a permanent physical home for our educational programming. Here, at the Ragamala Training Center, we pass on our unique Bharatanatyam dance lineage to the next generation. Through rigorous training, we serve over 100 students each year, approximately 80% of whom are South Asian American girls growing up interculturally. These students are challenged to navigate a world distinct from where their parents and grandparents were raised, while still maintaining a connection to their heritage. Many are biracial and are living in communities where they have limited contact with other South Asians. We offer live and virtual classes 32 weeks/year (Sept-May), providing full and partial work-study options, and inviting select students to join Ragamala’s Youth Ensemble, which performs regularly in venues throughout Minneapolis & St. Paul. And in 2024, we will launch a Youth Leadership Program as a featured component of our forthcoming Children of Dharma Community Engagement Series. Children of Dharma is a multi-year, multi-dimensional performance project, and will be the largest-scale production in our history, reaching over 10,000 audience members nationwide. The project includes a groundbreaking Community Engagement Series that will explore issues of immigration, decision-making, and community participation in order to transform communities and work towards the common good. The COD Community Engagement Series – comprising public art installations, storytelling seminars, movement workshops, cooking demonstrations, participatory events, artist talks and more – will showcase traditional South Asian artistic practices, and will be co-developed and co-facilitated by a team of Youth Leaders from the Ragamala Training Center. Through unique initiatives such as this, our students can become creative leaders, decision-makers and cultural ambassadors, helping to contextualize and celebrate the rich, complex lives of South Asian immigrants in the U.S.