My research focuses on embodied culture in South Asian contexts and includes work on gender in Mohini Attam dance, Odissi dance in America, women's modern dance in Kerala India, the Bayaderes (the first group of Indian dancers to tour Europe in the 19th century) and American yoga cultures. I hold a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from UC Riverside. I also hold a Master's degree in Dance Ethnography from Mills College, a Master's degree in Anthropology from UC Riverside and a B.A. in World Dance from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. From 2003-2004 I had a Fulbright Grant in India where I researched the politics of gender as manifest in the sub-culture of classical Indian Mohini Attam (also transliterated as Mohiniyattam or Mohiniattam) dance. During that time I studied at the prestigious Kerala Kalamandalam in India. I returned to India to continue my studies in Malayalam language and Mohini Attam dance in 2005 and then again as a recipient of the American Institute for Indian Studies dissertation award fellowship from 2007-2008. during this tenure I studied the Kalyannikutty Amma style of Mohini Attam dance at Nrythashetra and also collaborated with Padma Menon and women from the Mudra Dance Collective. I was an American Association for University Women dissertation writing fellow for the 2008-2009 year. Since completing my PhD I have worked as an independent scholar, presenting papers, lectures and performances at conferences and a variety of colleges and universities. I also teach World Dance at Mira Costa College in addition to owning and directing at One yOga and Nataraj West Performing Arts.

In addition to being a cultural anthropologist I am also a professional dancer. I have received training from Guru Ranjanaa Devi in classical Indian Odissi dance since 1996 and have performed as a principle dancer with Nataraj Dance Company at many venues with in the United States, India, Japan and elsewhere. I have also studied Balinese Legong dance in Bali, Indonesia and Chauu dance in New Delhi, India and Mohini Attam in Kerala at Kalamandalam and at Nrythrashetra. I am a long-time yoga practitioner and am certified as a yoga teacher at the 500-hour level from Yoga Alliance.

justine_lemos_india_067.jpg

My current book project is an experientially based study of a women's (sub)-culture in Kerala, India, as it is manifest in the processes of choreography, learning, and performing Mohini Attam dance. A prime interest for the project is to understand how and why Mohini Attam forms a (self)-enforced femininity for dancers in Kerala. To this end the dissertation studies the lasya (Sanskrit: feminine) quality of Mohini Attam dance from several ethnographic perspectives: historical, phenomenological, and semeiotic. Because of its emphasis on long-term fieldwork, “deep-embodiment,” participant-observation, and extensive interviews the study is, more than anything else, an attempt to provide ethnographic description and analysis of human life as it manifests in the particular (sub)-culture of Mohini Attam dance in Kerala.

 

My research focuses on embodied culture in South Asian contexts and includes work on gender in Mohini Attam dance, Odissi dance in America, women's modern dance in Kerala India, the Bayaderes (the first group of Indian dancers to tour Europe in the 19th century) and American yoga cultures. I hold a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from UC Riverside. I also hold a Master's degree in Dance Ethnography from Mills College, a Master's degree in Anthropology from UC Riverside and a B.A. in World Dance from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. From 2003-2004 I had a Fulbright Grant in India where I researched the politics of gender as manifest in the sub-culture of classical Indian Mohini Attam (also transliterated as Mohiniyattam or Mohiniattam) dance. During that time I studied at the prestigious Kerala Kalamandalam in India. I returned to India to continue my studies in Malayalam language and Mohini Attam dance in 2005 and then again as a recipient of the American Institute for Indian Studies dissertation award fellowship from 2007-2008. during this tenure I studied the Kalyannikutty Amma style of Mohini Attam dance at Nrythashetra and also collaborated with Padma Menon and women from the Mudra Dance Collective. I was an American Association for University Women dissertation writing fellow for the 2008-2009 year. Since completing my PhD I have worked as an independent scholar, presenting papers, lectures and performances at conferences and a variety of colleges and universities. I also teach World Dance at Mira Costa College in addition to owning and directing at One yOga and Nataraj West Performing Arts.

In addition to being a cultural anthropologist I am also a professional dancer. I have received training from Guru Ranjanaa Devi in classical Indian Odissi dance since 1996 and have performed as a principle dancer with Nataraj Dance Company at many venues with in the United States, India, Japan and elsewhere. I have also studied Balinese Legong dance in Bali, Indonesia and Chauu dance in New Delhi, India and Mohini Attam in Kerala at Kalamandalam and at Nrythrashetra. I am a long-time yoga practitioner and am certified as a yoga teacher at the 500-hour level from Yoga Alliance.

My current book project is an experientially based study of a women's (sub)-culture in Kerala, India, as it is manifest in the processes of choreography, learning, and performing Mohini Attam dance. A prime interest for the project is to understand how and why Mohini Attam forms a (self)-enforced femininity for dancers in Kerala. To this end the dissertation studies the lasya (Sanskrit: feminine) quality of Mohini Attam dance from several ethnographic perspectives: historical, phenomenological, and semeiotic. Because of its emphasis on long-term fieldwork, “deep-embodiment,” participant-observation, and extensive interviews the study is, more than anything else, an attempt to provide ethnographic description and analysis of human life as it manifests in the particular (sub)-culture of Mohini Attam dance in Kerala.

 

Justine Lemos is the owner and director of at One yOga, Fort Bragg, CA's only space dedicated to yoga and yogic arts. at One yOga is located in the historic Union Lumber Company Store in Fort Bragg, CA, also home to Living Light Raw Food Institute, Zappa's Organic Coffee and Bamboo Garden Spa. at One yOga, featuring classes in Hatha, Kundalini and Restorative Yoga as well as Toddler and Baby Yoga and Prenatal Yoga, is a favorite with locals and visitors to the beautiful Mendocino Coast. at One yOga also conducts granted yoga programs at our local schools. Contact justine@at1yoga.com for more information.

Justine Lemos has practiced yoga since she was a young child. She is a Yoga Alliance Certified yoga teacher. Her practice focuses on Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga (as taught by Yogi Bhajan). While living in India for nearly three years, she studied yoga and yoga philosophy with reputed teachers. She has extensive knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology and uses this knowledge to teach yoga asanas (postures) safely and with compassion. As an instructor, Justine uses yoga and yogic philosophy as imparted through texts and her Teachers to impart an experience of self-awareness, deep relaxation, and inner calm. View at1yOga.com

Performed with Nataraj Dance Company in Spring of 2012.

Poems of Mirabai composed in collaboration with Guru Ranjanaa Devi

Mohiniyattam Chollekettu as taught at Nrityashetra. Hair style is not consistent with Kalyanikutty Amma style of Mohiniyattam.

http://youtu.be/AWKi6sDzq4M

 

My current book project, "Transforming Lasya: Women Dancing Culture in Kerala," is a study of women's culture in Kerala, India, as it is manifest in the semeiotic processes of choreography, learning, and performing dance. Using data from over two years of fieldwork at three main sites in Kerala, the book has four main questions:

1) How is embodied culture emerging, changing, and adapting in contemporary Kerala? 2) How do gender-constructs, religious values, and the politics of globalization manifest through the semeiotics of embodiment, movement, and choreography?

3) What is the utility of embodied, experiential, inquiry for ethnographic research?

4) Since humans have the potential to move their bodies in manifold ways, why/how is movement developed, maintained, and practiced in a particular style?

Chapter Summaries:

The book has five chapters as well as an Introduction, Literature Review and Conclusion.

Chapter 1: "Dancing Decadence," is a feminist-genealogical-ethnography of Mohini Attam dance. Using evidence collected from interviews and archives, I examine the history of Mohini Attam within the history of colonialism, dress, and marriage reform in Kerala from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. In particular, I examine the reconstruction of Mohini Attam from a stigmatized art into a classical art form. I examine the changes in its movement palette from the late 19th century to the present.

Chapter 2: "What's Inside the Brackets: The Phenomenological Semeiotics of Lasya," incorporates experiential evidence to examine the phenomenology and semeiotics of Mohini Attam technique. In this chapter, I examine the semeiotic construction of the lasya aesthetic and its significance to contemporary Keralite culture. In particular, I examine the lasya aesthetic in relationship to cultural practices concerning gender, religious practices, and everyday life. I analyze iconic gestures (mudras) and movements used in dance to denote Hindu Gods, familial relationships, flora, and fauna. I also analyze "pure dance" (nritta) movements to demonstrate that even "meaningless" motion is a semeiotic system into itself. The goal in analyzing nritta and mudra (dance and gesture) is to understand the utility of phenomenological and semeiotic approaches for understanding embodied culture.

Chapter 3: "Temples, Tourism, and Fine Arts," examines the presentation of women's dance in a variety of contemporary venues including temples, school festivals, and tourist performances. This Chapter explores the reception and presentation of women's dance, particularly Mohini Attam, Kaikottikali, and contemporary choreography within Kerala. In this Chapter, I examine the resiliency of stylized dance forms.

Chapter 4: "Globalizing Classicism" examines my ethnographic work with international choreographer Padma Menon and her dance company in Kerala. In this Chapter, I examine dance and globalization within the space of metropolitan Kochi- a city moving towards cosmopolitanism with its tremendous growth in the information technology sector. I also explore how Padma Menon's dancers negotiate, reject, refine, and redefine "traditional" aesthetics in their contemporary work, and compare the "gendering of movement" in contemporary Keralite choreography in comparison to more traditional idioms such as Mohini Attam and Kaikottikali. I also examine the politics of globalization in contemporary works of Mohini Attam by choreographer Kalamandalam Hemalata, who has created classical dance choreography based on cartoon characters such as "Tom and Jerry."

Chapter 5: "Transforming Lasya" examines the ways in which a movement technique is economically, personally, and religiously transformative for its practitioners. I explore dance as a means through which certain lower-class and jati (caste) women have attained high standing in Kerala's quasi-Communist society. I specifically concentrate on the case of a low-caste (jati) woman who trained at Kalamandalam, who is now a highly successful dance teacher. In this Chapter, I also explore the relationship of Hindu, Christian, and Muslim women to dance forms that have explicitly Hindu content. I also explore the languages of spirituality and Hindu philosophies that women use to speak about dance, demonstrating how, for many women, dance practice is personality, economically, and/or spiritually transformative.

"Transforming Lasya," will serve to demonstrate how women negotiate and construct meaning through movement practices in Kerala. The book features the voices and testimonies of women from several age, caste, and class backgrounds regarding their experiences as movers, dancers, and ritual participants. The project works to expand the space available for researchers of semeiotics, demonstrating that movement is an important site of cultural information and that embodiment is a useful model for ethnographic research.