We’re pumped to introduce you to Roshni Desai and Riti Singh – the brilliant and talented team that makes up Stories Told Through Movement (STTM).
Roshni & Riti, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us! Before we get into specific questions about STTM, perhaps you can each introduce yourselves and your personal stories of how you got to where you are today, both personally and professionally?
Riti: My parents immigrated from India to the United States a few years before I was born and settled in a suburb of Detroit, MI where my older sister and I were raised for most of our life. I began training in the Indian classical style of Bharatanatyam at the age of four under Guru Radhika Acharya at Nupur Academy of Dance and developed a strong love for the art form as I continued to practice and perform. I then went on to attend Michigan State University studying Neuroscience and continued dancing through various clubs as well as joining a Bollywood Fusion dance team, Spartan Zaariya. This is actually where Roshni and I became very good friends and co-captains! We then proceeded to start Stories Told Through Movement and have been working as a team ever since! After graduating, I moved to New York for work as well as to continue my dance training but have now relocated back home due to the pandemic. Currently I am dancing full-time, continuing my training in Bharatanatyam and Kathak along with learning from a school based out of New York, Broadway Dance Center, in western styles such as Contemporary and Jazz as well as working on new pieces weekly for STTM!
Roshni: Similarly to Riti, my parents immigrated from India to the metro-Detroit area. I grew up with two older sisters, learning many Indian traditions from my parents and creating new American traditions from school. Starting from the age of four, I was part of Chauladevi Institute of Dance and Yoga training in bharatanatyam and yoga under the guidance of my guru Chaula Thacker. I continued studying this art form for 14 years, completing my arangetram (a two hour debut solo performance) in 2016. I attended Michigan State University, where I got a degree in neuroscience and completed my minor in dance studying Western dance styles including jazz, tap, hip-hop and ballet under the guidance of Bradley Willcuts and local professors proficient in these various styles. In 2017 I joined Spartan Zaariya, MSU’s co-Ed Bollywood fusion dance team. I became co-captains with Riti in the 2018 dance cycle, like she mentioned above! During college I founded Stories Told Through Movement (STTM) along with Riti! I am currently continuing to train in Western styles of dance movement through Broadway Dance Center, a commercial dance studio based out of New York City as well as creating content for STTM.
Can you give us some background on STTM – for folks who aren’t familiar with you yet, what are some of the basics they should know right off the bat?
STTM is a dance platform that consists of two artists who believe in the individuality of every dancer and in the power of storytelling through any form of dance. We want to create a safe dance space where artists from all backgrounds can come together and learn new ways of movement. We aim to teach storytelling and how to create emotion through any choreography by collaborating with, teaching to, and learning from other artists. In doing so, we bring together arts and activism to create awareness of important social justice issues in our communities. As identifying first generation, South Asian, female artists, we have experienced and witnessed our own hardships in various ways and we believe in the power of advocacy through dance.
As we do this, we are navigating the Indian American diaspora to normalize Indian dance forms in the American dance industry. We want to teach fusion styles of dance, such as Indian Contemporary and Indian Hip-Hop, to highlight the intricacies of both Western and South Asian dance styles. We want to change the landscape of the American dance industry by spreading Indian culture and styles of dance through creating accessible classes and choreographies for dancers who may or may not have prior experience with these forms of movement.
What inspires your pieces?
Often time, what usually inspires our pieces are events happening in our lives. We often incorporate our own feelings and life experiences into our choreographies because that is how we feel we can most connect and be the most authentic with our audience. Being able to express shared experiences through dance is a powerful tool and often, therapeutic. This is why some of our pieces also have a message of advocacy to them because we believe in the role the arts has to play in activism and raising awareness for a variety of social issues in our community. Art inspires, changes, and impacts people in so many different ways and we hope that when someone is watching one of our pieces, they are able to sit with those feelings that are trying to be conveyed, even if it makes them feel slightly uncomfortable, because sitting with the uncomfortable is where growth begins.
How do you choreograph? What is your process?
So this differs slightly for the two of us!
Roshni: Many times choreographing starts with freestyling to the song for me. I find that mentally bringing myself to the story I am trying to convey and moving to the music is a great way to start. I record myself and see what beats my body naturally moves to. After watching recordings of my freestyle, I re-work the choreography to ensure I am hitting beats I want and the dance fits with the lyrics of the music. Freestyling, re-working and re-choreographing is a constant process until I feel satisfied with the end product.
Riti: Often it starts out with a song that I come across that I really really like, whether it’s the beats or the lyrics, but something about it just inspires a vision in my head. I’ll listen to it a bunch of times before actually starting choreography, just so I can get an idea in my head of what I’m really seeing. Bharatanaytaym, the style I am most trained in, was created as a way to pass down stories through music and dance and this has really influenced my artistry. No matter what style of dance I am performing, I very often use the lyrics in songs and translate them into non-verbal movement while choreographing.
Choreographing together is also a slightly different process! Often one of us will come to the other with a concept, and from there we’re always bouncing ideas off of each other, sending each other music, choreographing and then re-choreographing counts. We always record ourselves and let the choreography sit with us for a few days, knowing that we can do better or change something that just isn’t sitting right with us. For our pieces that are very heavy in production with elements including costumes, venue, lighting, videography, etc. it can take anywhere between 3-6 months to finish it. For our pieces that are more casual and don’t have as many variables, it can take about a week or two to complete. Lastly, of course we always find inspiration from our mentors and other amazing dancers in the industry. Both of our Bharatanatyam Gurus – Radhika Acharya and Chaula Thacker, are huge role models for us. We also love the work of dancers such as Ishita Mili, Amit Patel, Brinda Guha, Swarali Karulkar, Jainil Mehta, Janelle Ginestra and Galen Hooks.
What is the meaning behind your name, Stories Told Through Movement?
The idea behind the name “Stories Told Through Movement” comes from our belief that every dance style and piece we create has a story to tell. Through dance, we hope to convey a certain feeling or theme to the audience. With every video we create, we are always trying to think of the bigger picture – what do we want the audience to feel from the piece? How can we intentionally choreograph certain movements, pick out certain costumes, and find specific sets that emote the story we are trying to tell?
How can folks check out more of your work and how can they show love and support the work you both are doing?
We always appreciate the support! If you’d like to follow our personal profiles on Instagram you can find us at @ritisingh27
During the pandemic, the arts industry has been suffering immensely, you can show your support by continuing to take classes, watching livestream shows, or donating to organizations such as The Actors Fund or Artist Relief to help provide relief for arts workers! Thank you so much.