Seeta Patel Blog

A space where Seeta shares her reflections on the dance world and beyond.

March 20th 2023:

It’s been a week since I presented the biggest work of my life. My new solo: Shree, and the large scale The Rite of Spring accompanied by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on the Sadler’s Wells main stage.

I’m still in shock from how it all came together, and along with my exhaustion, I haven’t been able to compose the words for this post until now.

For the first time in my career I felt I did something seminal. Something that shifted our sector from deep within. That I hope will open more doors for more people. Something that brought even the naysayers together and brought tears to the eyes of grown men. ‘Life changing’, ‘mind blowing’, ‘a triumph’. These are some of the words of people I’ve never met who saw the work and reached out to me.

Art is subjective. Yet somehow there was something collective in the experience of last Monday and Tuesday that I could never have fathomed would be of my doing. A coming together of artists, a team, an audience, and something bigger I hope. It was a feeling, electric, as I sat in the crowd after the final dancer sacrificed themselves to the Chosen One, my breath held for an unending moment. And then joy that I couldn’t imagine I could feel.

This whole project, which has been growing since it’s inception in 2017, has been made possible by a tribe of powerful, diverse and incredible women.

There have been some brilliant men supporting me throughout this journey, in particular my best friend Julien Kottukapally, who has been there for me (and many others) every step of the way, and the creatives including warren letton, Wayne sables, Kirill Karabits and of course the unerring support and trust in me by the Chief Executive of the BSO, Dougie Scarfe.

However, I want to make it abundantly clear that this whole endeavour, and so many things leading up to it has been due to the work of women. Truly diverse women - socioeconomically, ethnically, culturally, with varying access needs, single mothers…. We have shown what magic can happen when given the chance to thrive, when given the opportunities we deserve.

However, we have also had to swim upstream. Defend ourselves against disrespect, patronising attitudes, gaslighting, abuse and more. And like Phoenixes we have risen to bring something amazing to people.

I have so many people to thank, and so much to be grateful for, so by no means is this post meant to diminish any of the joy and value of what has happened in the last few weeks and long before that.
But it would be remiss of me to not speak openly about the challenges faced in order to bring what we did to people last week.

As a woman of colour, even more is asked of me, and many members of my team, than many men and non global majority people will never have to experience.

More was asked of us than has been asked of from bigger more established companies and choreographers.

A team of diverse women, managing egos, being asked for more of everything, being spoken to with rudeness and disrespect.

As a woman of colour, my authority is always in question, often by men, sometimes without intent, but always without compassion, or true understanding of what it does to bring us down time and time again. It hurts my heart.

Yet we absorb it and continue to do what needs to be done. Because we strive for and fight for something better. Not only in words. But in actions and the way we live our lives. Even that is not good enough for some.

Of course we make mistakes. We are fallible as is everyone. This was something new. A huge undertaking never before been done at this scale by such a new company.
New for each one of us because we rarely if ever get these opportunities. We had to bring artists from all over the world together, with different experiences/expectations, backgrounds, visa issues, travel upheavals and more. The team was bigger than anything we’ve had to manage. We had to learn in a baptism of fire. We did our best.

I have been and am a freelance artist. I have fought and championed for better working conditions for dancers. I have challenged bad practise. And spoken truth to power in many situations of exploitation (often at the risk of my own well being).

As a Bharatanatyam dancer I come from a background of dance pedagogy that is a primed for and a hot bed of abuse. Emotional, psychological, and sometimes even physical.
We are told to shut up and never question. Just ‘submit’ to the art, which only means submitting to the teacher, a fallible human being like any other.
I chose to walk away from this, and that has allowed me to be the artist that I am today.

I have chosen to not teach dance in the traditional sense. I love sharing what knowledge I have, but I have no interest in being a ‘guru’. I have no interest in taking ownership of young hearts and minds trying to explore dance. I have no interest in having someone touching my feet in reverence. I only want to be shown respect. Mutual respect. As a human being.

It makes me sad to say this. I am of course very grateful for what I have learned, and all those who have genuinely supported me, but am also deeply scarred by those that have only had an interest in taking ownership of me, my hard work, my talent. Those who have despised my growth and successes. I am not a commodity. We are not commodities.

I have tried to lead by example. I have tried to cultivate fairness and good work ethic. To be different to those before me who have exploited and trodden us down. Those who have tried to reduce us to caricatures of Indian-ness, patronise, exotify and water us down to be more palatable.

As I embark on a new part of my journey as the artistic director of an npo (a regularly funded organisation and in a salaried role for the first time ever), I hope I can demonstrate a new way of being a leader. Someone that is respectful and respected. Someone that is allowed to be visionary and show that we can be better.

Resource is always limited, but I hope we can set a good example (especially to those million pound plus organisations who pay below equity rates, no childcare, no subsistence, etc) in how to work equitably and with integrity.

When I presented this work, and the work I have done in the past, it is not only the art I shared, it is myself, my politics, my struggle. Many don’t want to hear it. But I will never stop shouting as long as it needs to be heard.

Thank you:
Sarah Shead, Spin Arts
Grace Okereke, Uprise Rebel
Nassy Konan
Georgia Gerson
Helen Mugridge
Nicki Barry
Bethany Gupwell
Heather Duncan
Annie de Grey
Robyn Cabaret
Avatara Ayuso
Swati Seshadri
Sam Allen
Caroline Anstey
Eloise Tong
Yen Pei Chen
Isobel Hawson
Hasu (mum) Patel

Arts Council England
Sadler's Wells
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

June 2020


(Please take the time to read to the end - we need to stop only reading the headlines)

In my little part of the world (and let’s face it, dance is a tiny part of this giant world), I’m in conversations with a lot of future leaders.

There are difficult conversations being had.

There is a lot of defensiveness, fear, silence, hopelessness, self-preservation and more happening.

I don’t want to say apathy, but more a build up of inaction that so desperately wants to be action, but doesn’t know how to manifest.

The outcome of this is not inaction. It is COMPLICITY in a system that is broken.

Step by step I’m learning what my superpowers are in this situation.

My superpower feels like throwing myself in to lots of fires. Some tiny. Some huge.

The purpose for doing this is to try and incite change. I do it knowingly. I’m absolutely terrified. And now I’m ready to deal with the consequences.

For a long time now, I’ve felt guilty that this was my superpower. That it was too aggressive, it was ‘intense’, that I’m full on, I should watch my tone and delivery, that the way I do things isn’t coming from a place of love.

I have actually been told these things, and I internalised them.

But I know it is coming from a place of deep love. And love isn’t always gentle. Sometimes love is fierce and wants to burn everything down because no one is listening and nothing is changing.

But I don’t feel guilty anymore.

What I am noticing is that there are many out their who don’t realise what their superpower is. Or how to use it for good.

Gentleness is a superpower.

The ability to charm and convince charismatically is a super power (trust me I wish I had it).

Calmness is a superpower.

I could go on but you get my drift.

So what we need now is not to feel impotent and powerless.

It’s time to look deeply and see what your superpower is.

And ask how it be used to push things forward in these difficult times.

I completely understand people need to ‘heal’ and look after their mental health, I would never ever say not to do that first and foremost.

But that can’t be the never ending default.

I’m sorry but it’s not good enough.

Especially if you are in a position of power and influence and leadership.

What is the plan after the space of healing you may need?

How can you do something amazing with your superpower?

Once you face the ugly bits of yourself, they parts that you know make you complicit in the problems we are facing, what’s the next part?

It doesn’t have to be plastered on social media (unless is helps you into action to do that).

It doesn’t need to be huge and grandiose.

The fears I’m seeing out there in the defensive responses to challenges are deep. Tiny but powerful seeds.

They need deep and powerful and maybe quiet weed killer.

If you feel the need to justify your silence/your reasons for not taking action/the need to step away. Anything. Then ask yourself what will happen after this self justification.

What was the purpose of this self justification (other than to make yourself feel less guilty)?

How can I move forward from my guilt and frustration and use my superpower.

Might it be that you can have a more fruitful conversation that challenges someone in a way they don’t feel threatened?

Be brave and do it.


Is it that you know someone struggles to be called out by a person of colour but maybe they will hear a white person.

This may feel totally ridiculous but trust me it is happening.


Now it’s just time to use it for change and for good.

Take the time you need to be silent/heal/think/learn etc. But don’t let it linger forever.


People like me need your help. I have a voice that many will never be able to hear.

But they may hear yours instead.


PS. Leaders and future leaders. LEAD. Take the LEAD. PLEASE don’t let it always be the minority voices, the people on the receiving end of the discrimination that have to do the calling out.

You can bring it up so we don’t have to all the time.

It makes us the bad guy whether you agree with that or not.

And it also makes us tired.

May 6th 2018

This blog is for me a response to approaching a dance organisation/venue programmer about presenting my latest work Not Today’s Yesterday(NTY). It’s a piece which is looking at modes of seduction and cherry picking the whitewashed stories employed to seduce people and, I believe, has impacted upon the rise of right wing ideologies and nostalgic rhetoric that appears to be a major contributing factor for Brexit, Trumpmania and other anti-immigration stand points.

So, when discussing the possibility of presenting my work as part of a season looking at post-Brexit dialogue, I of course felt NTY would be a good fit. That’s genuinely, and not just me trying to shoehorn the work into a season by tenuously linking it to the subject matter in the desperate hope of securing another vital tour date. No. To me this season sounds exciting and one which I feel NTY would contribute to meaningfully.

Now we come to the subject form. So, NTY is unashamedly a narrative work. It uses the seduction and ease of a fairytale opening to lure in the audience. Of course, this is not to suggest that people are gullible or need spoon feeding in anyway. I like to think the narrative is layered and works on several levels…. like (but of course not as accomplished as, the Simpsons or South Park) by its ability to access a variety of audiences with a range of background and experience in watching live performance. Including, and I feel importantly, those who may feel alienated by a perception of elite, abstract (and dare I say it, pseudo-intellectual) work, as well as those who can read into the deeper layers my creative team has tried to excavate in the making of this show – none of us wanted the concept to be handled in a watered down or simplified manner.

However, the response from the organisation in question was: “Narrative work spoon feeds the audience and is just bad work that shouldn’t be programmed”

Now, coming from an art form whose foundation is storytelling through extremely nuanced and developed use of hands, face, body, poetry and music (Bharatanatyam in case anyone was wondering), I was of course dismayed that an entire mode of presenting work was being dismissed under this description of narrative work.

But let’s put aside this extremely white, middle-class, Western, Euro-centric measure of what is good or bad art and look at the other issue of this organisation’s opinion of narrative work being ‘bad’ work.

There is currently a lot of focus on trying to distinguish between what is entertainment and what is art in Arts Council England and it’s ever striving search to create diversity in the sector. In addition, there is as always pressure on all sides to reach new (and diverse) audiences, especially those that would normally not see dance.

And here is where I am interested in this organisation’s feeling on narrative work and its subsequent decision to programme it or not.

(Of course there would, I assume, be an appropriate look at each individual work when deciding to programme it or not. And for the proposes of this post, I’m not suggesting the organisation in question is doing anything other than this… however, let’s face it, organisations are made up of people, and the buck stops with someone – someone who is not always accountable for allowing personal opinion and taste to get in the way of their decision making).

But let’s for a second take into consideration a certain blanket opinion that excludes a certain type of work, and in this example that would be narrative work. What happens when a work has the potential to reach new audiences, but that its accessibility in itself brands the work as falling into the realms of entertainment, over simplified, spoon feeding work (in the opinion of the programmer)(?).

Given that when dance is considered within the category of ‘art’ and maybe even ‘high art’, it may well not bring in a wider audience. And as an artist who is classically trained in an art form that is still relatively unfamiliar to many, I equally know that I don’t appreciate being expected to water down my work in the name of accessibility. So is there a way elitism and accessibility can co-exist in a piece of art work, or do they at once contradict and annihilate each other?

Is there a question of class and education that needs to be considered in this potential impasse?

Is the need to feel ‘clever’ enough to decipher, understand and appreciate whatever it is we call ‘high art’ something that fuels a conscious/subconscious need to maintain an intellectual hierarchy in the world of art vs entertainment?

In other words does it have to be difficult to be ‘good’ art? Does it have to have a white middle class aesthetic to be ‘good’ art?

And if there is room for other aesthetics that are more diverse, are these diverse art forms allowed a political space and voice that is not inherently seen through the lens of a very white middle class, or do we from diverse art forms have to tick the brown box, be easy to digest, be non-offensive work in order to be programmed?

It is a strange rock and hard place I find myself in – not Indian enough, too hard for our audiences (by being too Indian/classical), too intense, too narrative, ‘what can this work tell our (predominantly white liberal) audiences what they don’t already know (of the immigrant experience)?’, ‘why can’t you just pretend to be from india?’. Yes, I’ve been told and asked these exact things!

If I can be spoken to this way, and be expected to adjust my work accordingly, can we as artists challenge organisations, venues, programmers and tell them their choices are limiting, their programming is too homogenous, too white, too middle class, too tokenistic (?) – and would there be a will to change?

Jan 22nd 2016

I thought I was the only one who encounters euphemistic but quite outrageous comments and suggestions about my work. As a “South Asian” “Indian” “Traditional” “Non-White” “not Indian enough” dance artist in the UK I have had my fair share of subtly racist conversations with the powers that decide our fate, and on some level the ones that are possibly the true architects of our work. With their helpful suggestions of adding a demi plié or hand gesture, or using more brown people in the work, so that audiences will understand where we are from… Or rather where we were twice, thrice etc removed from, and things can be neatly wrapped up in a package with a saree border bow.

Anyway going back to outrageous comments, I really did think I was the only one who was unlucky enough to be spoken to in this ludicrous way. Or rather the only one disturbed and crazy enough to talk about it out loud without a worry of being blacklisted

But I met a colleague of mine in Bangalore this Christmas. An experienced artist and teacher within the world of improvisation. And he related a story to me when he was invited to join a dance company in the UK. I shall not name the company in an effort to add some dignity to this otherwise rather undignified story.

My colleague, who had absolutely no training in any Indian classical dance form, was asked to dance Kathak. Of course he said he was not trained in that. To which the artistic director said it doesn’t matter – these people in the UK won’t know the difference.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or explode upon hearing this. But on many levels it did not surprise me at all.

I can’t speak with any authority about the bygone days of the British Empire and India. Of puppet kings placed in faux positions of power, whilst they appeased the real raj – the British Raj.

People, including myself, often talk about postcolonial guilt. The effects of which many of us still feel today.

It is an affliction of both those who are appeasing, maybe in order to fit in and be accepted, maybe to seek success at any cost and a hundred other possible reasons both mercenary and for survival and those being appeased who sit in fear of being inadvertently racist, looking stupid, maybe even atoning for their own perceived guilt of a time they had no part in.

Sadly, none of this is an open, honest conversation confronting the consequences of postcolonial guilt in such a multicultural society.

Ultimately, in the arts at least, the things that suffer most are the art and the audience.

Some artists can fall into the trap of believing they are holding onto and championing their Indian-ness and uniqueness in the diaspora. However, this can become a confused choice when expectations of what Indian-ness means to people is added to the mix.

And there seems also to be a fear of having the more truthful approach of actually equipping audiences to understand the depth and range of what being Indian, and/or making work rooted in something Indian, can be. It feels as though offering people the chance to be more knowledgeable will allow them to critique and have valid opinions on the art and craftsmanship within the form. God forbid people became empowered to do this(!).

Of course this is a natural fear. But in a world where risk-taking is encouraged, especially in the arts, surely the most rewarding risk would be to raise the bar of quality and equip audiences to appreciate the art at its best?

Or would this be too big a step in disturbing the calm, post-colonial sea of guilt we seem so comfortable to float in?