Chitra Subramanian is the founder of chitra.MOVES, which she created in 2018. This collective of diverse female dancers performs a fusion of hip hop and Indian dance. Based in Washington D.C., chitra.MOVES has performed in many venues in the Northeast and presented its first evening-length work, Temple, in December 2019. Subramanian currently works as a manager at Lee Montessori Public Charter School.
Tell me about chitra.MOVES.
This collective has its roots in Cleveland. Before I moved to Cleveland, dance was a hobby – I ran a non-profit in D.C. and that occupied most of my time. In Ohio, I didn’t have a traditional job, so I focused on exploring areas that I previously didn’t have time for. I was creating and figuring out what my movement style was – drawing from those inspirations that surrounded me. I was classically trained in Bharartanatyum, an ancient Indian dance form, for most of my life and began seriously training in hip hop after college. I thought now that I have this time to focus on dance, let me go all the way. The collective started in Ohio with dancers not only from Cleveland, but from Pittsburgh, my hometown. I was also training with the street dance community in Cleveland, which has roots in krump and popping.
I had the opportunity to be considered for a global Bollywood dance competition in New York. Our work was selected and we made it to the finals! I’m still tied to those original dancers. When I came to D.C., I wanted to continue this idea of bringing dancers, specifically women, together who have different backgrounds not only in dance, but beyond.
How has COVID-19 affected your collective or your art?
Everyone is readjusting as much as possible. I work with a range of people, some of them dance full time and some juggle many things. Personally, this has been a good opportunity for me to step back, re-plan, and reflect on how I want to move forward. I’ve been thinking of ways to focus on things that I didn’t have time to before, specifically my branding, so I’m working on that.
I’ve also been taking [online] classes from different people that I respect. I’ve been grateful that I have this opportunity because I do have a flexible job. But, I know many of my dancers are teaching studio classes online and feeling overwhelmed with adjusting. I think the overall energy has been, “We just got to keep it moving,” which has been cool to see. My next goal is to explore how I can start teaching again.
Did chitra.MOVES have to cancel or postpone any performances due to COVID-19?
There were teaching opportunities in the summer that aren’t going to happen. I was really hoping to participate in something in July, but at this point, I highly doubt it’s going to happen.
I have to say, this whole thing happened at a time where nothing was formally lined up for my company. August to February was crazy busy – after February, everything was calm. That’s when [the pandemic] hit, which is weird. I was working on a second presentation of Temple at Joe’s [Movement Emporium] for November, but we might need to push that back to spring 2021.
What are you learning right now as a dancer/artist by being socially distant?
It’s a new kind of discipline we must have. My discipline is doing some kind of movement two hours daily. It may be in different sections of the day because I have two young girls [seven and five years old]. I’m pushing myself to practice the aspects I want to grow in. I’m being organized about that – so if I’m taking a class consistently, I’m being mindful in how I’m taking that information, applying, and practicing it meaningfully. Now that we’ve been home for a while, I’m back to creating again. It’s fun that we can all learn and grow together through this virtual space. It’s also nice having the ease of going to class without having to drive; of course, nothing can replace the face to face.
How do you keep yourself uplifted during this time?
Overall, I do feel a sense of gratitude – it’s like a new family adventure for us, although we do have our ups and downs. I just want to throw everyone out of the house sometimes! From a parenting perspective, I use my experience from running M.O.M.I.E.S [a non-profit social justice education organization for children] and teach my girls “The Great Person Series.” We learn about one person in history for two weeks with hands-on activities. I’m uplifted because I get to be creative and [my children] are learning interesting concepts that they wouldn’t get otherwise. We just finished learning about Nikki Giovanni.
On the dance side, being able to learn from people is uplifting. I didn’t necessarily have the time and energy for all of this before. I have Zoom dance sessions with people I respect and we play around together. There’s been no pressure. It’s not ideal, but it’s been nice.
What do you hope the dance world will acknowledge or change by the end of pandemic?
It’s important to think about what support for artists really is. [The pandemic] has hit everyone hard. Even if you were successful or just starting out, this has affected artists in a big way. I would like to see dance organizations [become] more accessible to all dance forms, specifically in what they are choosing to present in their [performance] spaces. [Dance] organizations are going to have to pay more attention to that.
Online, we’re able to get audiences that we wouldn’t touch when we were performing in a physical space, so how are we able to build on those relationships? What are some things we can put in place now so that those audiences won’t be lost?
I also think we should use this opportunity to leverage more [financial] support for continuing dance in a greater capacity when we get back to “normal.” I wonder what organizations need right now to support our future “normal”?
By Shianne Antoine
Written in conjunction with the D.C. dance journalism project.