Interview: Deepa Liegel
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Q: How did you begin dancing?

I was adopted from India and was raised in Seattle, Washington. I got into dance through a cultural perspective. My parents wanted me to have a way to connect to my roots so I enrolled in classical Indian Kathak dance. They also put me in sports because I was a very active child. Sports went away and dance stuck. I did Irish step for many years. I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer in middle school and went to many summer intensives. I attended Southern Methodist University for a BFA in dance and a minor in arts management. When I was at SMU, we did a performance with the Limon dance company. Afterwards, I auditioned and got an apprenticeship with Limon. I moved to NYC a few months after I graduated to be with the company. I did “Broadway Bares” for Broadway Cares and it was amazing. It re-invigorated my love for musical theater so I decided I would switch to focus more on that. I auditioned for Mark Morris and got in. I did a year and a half with them, then left to do more freelance work. Finally, I did “Leg Up on Life”, and then COVID-19 happened. It put everything on pause. 

Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?

My senior year I wanted to showcase my Indian dance training. I did a classical Indian solo that had a mix of modern and classical Indian movement. It ended with a Bollywood finale. It didn’t really utilize the ballet or modern training that I’d done the past four years. I wanted to show that I could also do this dance. But it was interesting talking to my mom. Other moms had asked her, “Are you upset that she did Indian dance for her final project?” My mom had said “Absolutely not! This is her owning her heritage.” Even when I joined Mark Morris - Mark is such a fan of Indian culture - it was interesting talking to him. He would be like, “What kind of Indian food do you like to cook?” I’d have to be like, “I’m adopted, sorry.” I don’t cook at all, I don’t make Indian food. It’s an interesting balance between my born culture and how I grew up. It’s a struggle, growing up in a different culture than you appear. It has also been very empowering to claim it as my own. To be like, yes, I am Indian. I am proud. I also did freelance jobs for Bollywood. I did a touring production called Bollywood Boulevard. There was always this weird divide because I come in and look Indian, but I don’t speak Hindi or Bengali. In rehearsals, not in a mean way, someone might ask, “Have you seen the latest Indian movie?” and I will be like, “No, I haven’t.” They’ll say, “My mom is making some Indian dish tonight,” and I will have no idea what that is. There are those moments where they realize I was raised by white people. There’s also the feeling that I have to prove that I am Indian. “I like chai just as much as you! I grew up dancing Indian classical!” It’s that feeling that I need to validate my heritage.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance that influence and inspire your artistry?

I think nature is probably a big one. I grew up hiking. My dad is a conservation lawyer. We would visit places he would help protect. Music is obviously the most important thing when dancing. What story are you trying to tell? I think that also comes from Indian classical dance, trying to find the pocket where your movement lies in the music. I get it if you want to dance to silence but that is so not me. I love listening to all types of music, I don’t have a favorite. Dance for me has always been about what I am giving to the audience, about the people around me and the relationships around me. Even just observing other people is very intriguing to me, watching people interact with others in the space around them.

Q: How can dance be a platform for social justice issues?

Limon’s works are so grounded in the humanity of people. “Missa Brevis” was inspired by the people of Poland rebuilding after World War II. I think it is important to tell stories that make people think. Dance is a medium which requires the audience to be affected by the dance in front of them. Dance doesn’t spoon-feed the story. I think modern and ballet are elitist in how they were conceived. The age of COVID-19 is a great equalizer in dance. Anyone can dance in their kitchen or living room. I think it’s something we can all benefit from. It’s something that can be very intimidating, but also very freeing. It has the ability to connect people. You don’t have to understand the message of dance to enjoy it. I think dance has the power to connect us all.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist? (community, financially, initial reactions, company shift, online class, emotions, initial cancellation reaction)

I’ve been doing more drawing and graphic art. It’s something I haven’t done since I was a kid. I love re-discovering that and trying something new without having to produce anything. I was trying to read 26 books before I turned 26 and I’ve been able to do that. I’m planning on getting my certification for Pilates because many places are doing that remotely. I’ve also been able to have breakfast at home every morning which is nice. Not having to have breakfast in an audition line or running to the train is great.

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic? Do you think the pandemic will make us a more socially conscious society?

I live in a residential and business area. We are on a commercial street surrounded by residential buildings. I see people walking without masks. My roommate and I did a big grocery shopping trip to last for a few weeks. We’ve only been going out for essentials. When we go out, we have gloves and masks. We’re trying to stay six feet away from one another. We wipe everything that comes into the house. We could be carriers. We could have it. We could be asymptomatic. I feel a responsibility to stay away from people. We have many elderly people in our building and it’s our responsibility to stay inside for those who are more at risk. I’ve been staying inside as much as I can. It’s been very weird. I didn’t go home because both my parents are over 60 and the idea of self isolation for two weeks would drive me insane. I chose to stay in NYC and not go to Seattle. The smartest thing for me to do was stay put. I also didn’t want to get on a plane.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

Hopefully, people will realize how vital the arts are and how much they miss being able to go see live performing arts. I hope there’s greater support for the arts by non-artists. People are realizing the arts are essential, that we need the arts to survive. They carry our culture. Coming back, we will need extra support to help rebuild the arts communities. I want to see people saying that we need the arts to survive. I want people to support new work and new voices, a greater diversity in storytelling and diversity in performers. I want them to not be satisfied with the same old stuff being produced. We should ask ourselves what we need to do for each other to make diverse voices a larger presence on and off stage.

Transcription courtesy of