Religion, dance converge in Black Box

Bharatanatyam dancer Malini Srinivasan performs an interpretive piece at “Dancing Across Religions: Embodied Yearnings for the Divine.” Photo by Brian Allenby, staff photographer.
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The Black Box Theatre was filled to capacity with students, faculty and community members as they awaited “Dancing Across Religions: Embodied Yearnings for the Divine.”

Twice a year, the Department of Religious Studies presents a crossroads of religion to the Elon community. This semester, members of the department chose to illustrate how religion intertwines with dance during a panel discussion held March 13.

Bharatanatyam dancer Malini Srinivasan performs an interpretive piece at “Dancing Across Religions: Embodied Yearnings for the Divine.” Photo by Brian Allenby, staff photographer.

“Religious Studies at the Crossroads” is a lecture series at Elon that strives to create conversations about the academic study of religion. This year’s lecture, paired with a dance performance, delved into how dance is a central point at which religion can be represented. Hinduism, Sufism — a mystical sect of Islam — and Christianity were examined at the event.

“We all have more in common than apart from each other,” said Jane Wellford, professor of performing arts. “We all have creation stories we dance, we all have dances of prayers, we all have dances of sacred stories about how to live and treat each other.”

Wellford said people tend to keep to themselves during worship, but dance can help them open up.

“We use this as our vehicle of expression as well as interpretation,” Wellford said.

Wellford said she hopes to expand students’ “tunnel vision” regarding religion, so they can see and understand other practices of faith. She said it is particularly important people discuss this now as construction continues on the Numen Lumen Pavilion, Elon University’s upcoming multi-faith center.

Wellford was a panelist at the performance, along with Malini Srinivasan, a third-generation Bharatanatyam dancer, and Katherine Zubko, assistant professor of religious studies at UNC Asheville. Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form from South India which involves very intricate footwork.

Srinivasan explained her dance as she performed it. She first demonstrated a Hindu dance item based on a Hindu myth, followed by an interpretation of a 13th century devotional Sufi poem.

Srinivasan said she enjoyed being able to share her religious expression with Elon students, faculty and staff.

“I loved performing and speaking for the Elon community,” Srinivasan said. “I felt that the audience was fully engaged with our presentation and very warm. It was a wonderful experience for me.”

Amy Allocco, assistant professor of religious studies, moderated the panel. She said she felt the event was successful in its goal of educating students about religious crossroads.

“I think it really gave students an option to really think about the intersections between religious studies and dance as a discipline,” Allocco said.

Freshman Aly Quintana said the event provided insight on an unfamiliar topic.

“I didn’t know all the background behind all of those dances and how you can embody a song and communicate with the gods and deities,” Quintana said. “I found it really interesting how into it people really get.”

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