Rutgers Staffer Balances Academic Responsibilities with Life of a Performer
Director of the Global Village at Douglass finds her voice in all genres of dance
The word “fusion” might have been invented for Ariana DasGupta.
The director of the Douglass Residential College Global Village grew up weaving colorful strands of her parents’ Northeast Indian heritage and émigré experience in Louisiana with her own thoroughly New Jersey childhood.
DasGupta remembers sitting through Hindu religious festivals as a youngster, then sneaking outside the temple with her brother and sister and her Bengali friends to play football. She remembers the food on the table at home: Indian favorites, of course, but also a fair share of spaghetti and meatballs.
No surprise, then, that the Rutgers graduate is performing a similar kind of alchemy in her professional life: balancing the responsibilities of academic life with the world of a performer – specifically, that of a dancer with her own troupe and a devoted following.
“These realms are not as far apart as you might think,” says DasGupta. “I’m always encouraging people to communicate, to find the spaces where they connect, rather than where they remain apart. You find that in dance, and you find it on the Douglass campus, where the goal is to have all our students become global citizens, to understand that how whatever you do on a local level has an impact on the global level.”
The Global Village living-learning community that DasGupta oversees encompasses eight separate houses whose areas of concentration include language (French and Spanish), cultural studies (Africana and East Asian) and special interest (human rights, creativity, women in business and leadership).
This diverse collection of residences offers students the opportunity to pursue their academic interests beyond the walls of the classroom, interacting socially with classmates who share their passions and commitments. She lived in the Global Village for all four years of her undergraduate education at Rutgers, where she earned a bachelor in arts degree in history and political science in 2008, followed by a master’s in women and gender studies two years later.
She chose the Africana, Spanish and Human Rights Houses to connect her interest in social justice with a diverse range of communities and issues.
DasGupta has been sharing her commitment to international affairs on campus in tandem with her passion for dance. Trained in classical ballet from the age of 3, she believes ballet provides a solid foundation for many genres of dance, with its emphasis on athleticism holistic body movement.
She has explored Capoeira and other Afro-Brazilian dance forms, as well as Flamenco. More recently, the New Jersey native has focused on classical Indian and creative dance, enticed by the ways hand gestures and facial expressions embellish a story for the audience. The dance troupe she founded in 2009 – she and collaborator Malabika Brinda Guha named it Kalamandir, or “art house” – has performed throughout the United States and India.
“In both spheres – in my work at Rutgers and as a dancer – my main mantra is collaboration,” notes DasGupta, whose dance company curates the Mosaic Dance Festival at the FUNKtion Dance Complex in Monmouth Junction every fall.
Organizers encourage participants to try their hands (and their feet) at dance forms that are unfamiliar to them: Western dancers experimenting with Indian modes, for example, and vice versa.
Kalamandir bases its movements on many different forms of Indian dance, including the Bhaaratanatyam style, which DasGupta describes as a beautifully rigid, devotional and sculpture-esque temple dance of South Indian origin.
In January, the program coordinator will don yet another hat, that of tour director. She’ll accompany 22 residents of the Global Village’s East Asian House to Thailand for two weeks, where they will meet up with Douglass alumnae Suchistra Hiranprueck and Natalie Jesionka; both women are active in the fields of women’s and refugees issues, and human trafficking.“We hope that this trip will allow the students to further understand their place in the world in order to become responsible and educated agents of social change,” DasGupta says.