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Monica Shah : dancing stillness

Choreographer / Performer

Seconded by: Jaya Srivastava-Chawla

Monica Shah


  • Explore concept of Stillness as an expressive force for movement.

  • Create self-solo

  • Examine the ways that the body impacts the space when moving through space including emotional and mental energies (as well as physical)

  • Build a bridge between performer and audience to allow for exchange and vulnerability.

Beginning with:

  • 4 sections of choreographed movement based in Bharatnatyam.

  • 3 transitional sections with movement that were simplified versions of the previous section.


  • To discover the essential aspects of the dance (different from formal constructs and/or presentational conventions).

  • To experience performing with full presence.

  • To further understand my personal connection to and artistic expression through Bharatnatyam.


  • When we take away the dance’s mask, what is left?

  • Where is the blessing in the dance?

  • How can I give myself permission to just forge ahead.

  • Stillness is not just going slowly- how to have stillness even when moving vigorously?

Challenges: (for choreographer, for performer)

  • The codes of Bharatnatyam can both inspire and block creativity.

  • Stillness in movement is absence of movement. Stillness in philosophy is more complex. How to dance both the philosophical and the physical?

  • To accept Monkey-mind (trickster) as a positive mind-set that can flip attention and intention into uncharted directions. (Follow the monkey. See where he takes you)

  • Stillness is not “locking” or “blocking” of energy.

  • To trust that the goals are possible to achieve.

Strategies used during CM to generate and develop material:

  • Explore stillness in the space/time between the movements.

  • Work with contrasts to reveal the characteristics of what you are doing and what you are not doing.

  • Deconstruct known repertoire in search of aspects that are essential for that piece to be itself. Then attempt to assemble a new piece with just the essentials.

  • Use Key Words to trigger postures (e.g. sadness, frustration, regret, peace). Dance the postures to sense the inner performance.

  • Dance the repertoire with degrees of “slow”.

  • Find the moments when all aspects of the dance feel in sync and complete with each other. Remember the internal sensations of the moment. Try to re-enter the sensation on self-command.

  • Use symmetry in the environment and symmetry in physical form as purposeful choices, especially when building the architecture of the whole piece.

  • free writing exercise where I wrote feeling/experience words related to my morning’s and current state


  • Stillness is an inherent essential quality in Bharatnatyam.

  • Stillness can be an internal experience not just represented through movement.

  • Moved from thinking of it as stillness vs. action to outward energy vs. inward energy

  • How one receives something has to do with what came before in the dance action and what it comes from (in immediate and historic/inherited experience)

Development and Skill building:

  • Notice the difference between “pause” and “stillness”.

  • Simultaneously dance the technique and the intent.

  • Timing- how does flow of movement sit in the time/rhythm structure of the dance? attend to cyclical aspects of the music, not only square rhythms like 4/4 or 3/6 times.

  • Shift from performance space being temporal (where you actually are) to being representative of the universe by conscious projection of energy inward and outward.

General Observations:

  • Stillness is not a slow version or pause in faster material. It is its own time frame.

  • Many time fames can co-exist in the same dance.

  • Energy exists in the container of “body moving in dance”. The container (body) can be porous, therefore the energy can move in and out. When moving outward the body is often described as a vessel, being open, releasing, flowing, receiving. When the container (body) is not porous the energy builds up within, charging the body to be a potent instrument.

A discussion point:

  • In Monica’s exploration, is the movement word “stillness” really the existential experience of “mindfulness”?

  • RE: money-mind (trickster), somewhere in that moment of the trick is stillness.

To Practice:

  • Practice contrasting the dance material in regards to time, energy, force, form.

  • Practice dancing repertoire at its set speed, then dance many complete sets each a little slower until the external dance seems to be still, yet the internal dance is active.

  • Continue practicing deconstructing repertoire with the goal of deepened understanding of the form. Continue practicing regenerating the dance thereby drawing out personal connections to the form.

Follow-up Challenges:

  • Stillness in her dancing already exists but how to make it a main feature? Look at the tangible structural elements as stepping stones to finding where stillness exists.

  • A key could be Musicality and the underlying meter. When she works in the circular musical form it may give her more answers about stillness.

  • There are ways she holds her torso in order to do all that fast foot and gestural work. Examining what she is doing then, may help her find the kernel she is looking for.

What next:

  • Further research! and dance.

"I’d like to apply the ideas in the 'To Practice' section, and I like the notion of examining what I am doing when holding my torso still during elaborate footwork and gestures. I'd like to explore these things further for movement material, as well as start to consider what would fit the piece in terms of sound (or no sound). what I am doing when holding my torso still during elaborate footwork and gestures. I'd like to explore these things further for movement material, as well as start to consider what would fit the piece in terms of sound (or no sound).”

Monica Shah

Monica Shah (2018 New York City, Toronto) performs in both classical and contemporary Indian styles. She has trained in Bharatanatyam for over 25 years with complimentary work in diverse movement forms. Monica toured nationally as a senior member of the Menaka Thakkar Dance Company, has been selected for national and international residencies for emerging artists in South Asian dance, and now performs primarily as a soloist. Most recently she performed in a shared evening of Indian contemporary dance with Natasha Bakht for the Ottawa Dance Directive, which included the premiere of her first solo choreography. She has also performed solo works for the Dancing on the Edge Festival, 12 Minutes Max, Pop-Up Dances, Sampradaya Dance Creations, Dance All-Sorts, Mandala Arts and Culture, and XBA Dance Co. While committed to deepening her classical vocabulary, Monica explores a contemporary aesthetic that is a distinct and unique expression of her training.

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