Resources From Asia
Bharatanatyam is a storytelling dance tradition, originating in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s been practiced by both men and women for over one thousand years. It’s characterized by sculptural poses, rhythmic footwork, intricate hand and eye movements, and elaborate costuming. The dance is traditionally accompanied by live Carnatic musicians.
Bengali Scroll Painting is an ancient visual arts tradition associated with the Bengal region of India. There, Itinerant artists travel from place to place, carrying painted scrolls depicting current events, epics, or religious texts. The patuas, or minstrels, singing stories to audiences as they unfurl the scrolls, revealing a series of sequential illustrated panels, not unlike comic book strips.
Rangoli is an ephemeral folk art of India. Traditionally, women use pigmented flours, sands, or petals to make geometric designs, floral patterns, or to represent deities at the threshold or courtyards of their homes.
India Day Parade Mid August, 2-7 pm Madison Avenue, from 46th to 26th Streets
Deepavali India Festival First Sunday in October South Street Seaport, Manhattan
For a classic southern Indian food experience, try dosas. They’re a crepe made from seasoned rice and lentil batter, and can be filled with savory vegetables and sauces to make a satisfying meal. For a unique dosa experience, make your way to the Ganesh Temple Canteen in the basement of the Bowne Street Temple, located in Flushing Queens.
India in NYC
New York City Metropolitan Area contains the largest metropolitan Asian Indian population in the Western Hemisphere, 600,000 strong according to recent Census data. In Manhattan, Indian enclaves can be found on Lexington Avenue, between 26th and 30th Streets and are represented by the many Indian restaurants on East 6th Street,between 1st and 2nd Avenues. In Queens, there are concentrated communities in Flushing, Jackson Heights, and along Hillside Avenue in Queens.
To learn more about the beautiful Bengali scroll painting tradition, watch this lovely video produced by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Download ideas for exploring Rangoli with students, here.
There are 56 minority ethnic groups in China. Students in the Nations in Neighborhoods project learned about China’s diversity, the connections between geographical landscape and cultural expression, and dance performance by learning these traditional folk dances:
Dai Tribe Peacock Dance – The peacock is a sacred animal representing hope and happiness in the Dai tradition. In this dance, women move like a graceful flock of these regal birds.
Xingjiang Dance – In this widely performed folk dance hailing from the northwest region of China, dancers exhibit their grace and skill through controlled, flowing movements and intricate foot and wrist work.
Mongolian Dance – In traditional Mongolian dance, the movement imitate of horses and eagles, animals of special significance to the herding traditions of this vast grassland. The dances are high energy and use large arm movements.
Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival Mid August, (August 7-8, 2004) 9am – 5pm, rain or shine Meadows Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
Lunar New Year Festival Flushing, Queens February
Around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival each year, you have the opportunity to eat delicious joong. Also known as a “Chinese tamale”, savory joong may contain mung beans, Chinese sausage, pork belly, salted duck egg yolks, dried shrimp, and/or other savory delights, wrapped in glutinous rice and steamed in bamboo leaves. You can find joong enthusiasts debating the best place to find joong in NYC. It seems that informal vendors in Chinatown are the way to go, though bakeries such as Fayda (with locations in the Manhattan and Flushing Chinatowns), sometimes carry savory joong, even if it’s not listed on the menu.
China in NYC
Chinatowns are on Main Street in Flushing, Mott Street in Manhattan, and in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Newer enclaves have emerged in Bensonhurst & Homecrest in Brooklyn, and in Elmhurst, Queens.
To learn more about the minority ethnic groups of China, a good starting place is the Facts and Details website.
Shen Yun Performing Arts has very good information about China’s rich ethnic and folk dance traditions, here.
For young readers, City Lore recommends Kate Water’s Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year. The true story of 6 year old Ernie’s preparations to perform his first Lion Dance in celebration of the Lunar New Year celebration in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Photographs by City Lore’s very own Martha Cooper.
Thangkas are a devotional tradition from the Himalayas, in which deities, mandalas or spiritual scenes are painted or appliqued or embroidered onto silk.
Tibetan Festival Staten Island September 20, 2008 12 pm – 5pm Tibetan Museum, 338 Lighthouse Avenue, Staten Island
City Lore Education staff often enjoy the Tibetan delicacies offered at Cafe Himalaya at 1st Street and First Avenue, just down the street from our office in the East Village. The venue is humble but the food is a cut above. We especially recommend the momo, a plump dumpling filled with shredded cabbage, juicy beef, or creamy potato. On a chilly winter day, there’s no better remedy for the bitter cold than warm momo in your belly.
When we are out and about visiting schools we love to stop and sample the amazing food in Queens. Our two favorite Jackson heights Momo spots are Phayul and Mustang Thakali Kitchen. If you are as passionate about Momo as we are we also point you towards this Momo slideshow.
Tibet in NYC
It is estimated that there are over 5,000 Tibetans residing in NYC, making it the largest concentration of Tibetans in the United States and the western world. Woodside, Queens is home to NYC’s “Little Tibet”.
Tibet House US is a cultural center in Manhattan dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Tibetan culture and has a comprehensive resource directory. The Tibetan Community of New York & New Jersey also maintains a useful listing.
Read more about Tibet’s unique culture and national status, and about the Tibetan Diaspora, here.