A photograph found loose in a binder of Indian classical dance terms and definitions; although the photograph is unmarked, the dancer is believed to be Gina Blau.One needs to only glance at the papers of Gina Blau (also known as the performer Srimathi Gina) to see that her study of Indian classical dance was truly her life's passion. From the highly detailed (and copious) writings in her many notebooks, to the intricate drawings of various hand positions—or 'mudras'—of Indian classical dance, there is a thoroughness and sense of enthusiasm that comes with true dedication.
I was intrigued to process this collection, in part because I took an Indian classical dance course during my college years and have retained a latent interest ever since. I was also especially curious what I would find after reading Blau's obituary. The announcement identified her as a Jewish-American woman who was one of only two females to graduate from St. John's Law School in 1929, only to then leave her law practice in the 1930s to study Indian classical dance. Clearly, something about the dance form and the Indian culture spoke to her on a level profound enough to cause her to change her life's direction. Insight into this can be found on the first page of her journal/memoir, from her 1954-1955 trip to India:
"Aboard the Queen Mary October 6, 1954: Jehovah was not a 'dancing god'… Lord Shiva, dancing created the world. From my first contact with Indian dance, the religious yearning within me found the perfect medium of expression… the erotic, the sensuous, the poetic, the divine, all in one, combined with music and rhythm, elaborately costumed and employing the physical body at its highest peak of sensitive awareness, so complete, so all embracing, marred by no puritanical connotations relating to the worship of God. All this was revealed to me thru India and to India I was destined to go."
Mudras: each hand position is not only decorative, but also has a specific meaning; the movements of the hands help to tell a story.Additionally, in a grant application for her trip to India, Blau wrote that she not only hoped to pursue her studies for her own sake but also so that she might then choreograph, perform, and teach the dance form to the highest degree of authenticity possible. She wrote of her belief that the epic and religious literature of India (which is the basis for the stories told through the movements of Indian classical dance) contained a "wealth of human wisdom and poetic charm," which she hoped to convey to American audiences.
An illustration, likely created by Blau, showing some sequences of Indian classical dance poses and the accompanying rhythms.The rich detail and breadth of information about Indian classical dance contained within her papers indicate that Blau was indeed serious in her endeavor towards authenticity and quality, and we are fortunate that she diligently recorded everything that she learned and created over her decades-long career. Despite being an improbable candidate to whole-heartedly embrace this style of movement, it is no wonder that Blau was given the title of Natyakala Bushanam (Jewel of the Dance) by the Indian Institute of Fine Arts.
To learn more about Gina Blau, check out the Srimathi Gina papers in the Jerome Robbins Dance Division.