Deakin University

File(s) under permanent embargo

Louise Lightfoot : in search of India

conference contribution
posted on 2014-01-01, 00:00 authored by Amit Sarwal
Louise Lightfoot, a trained architect by profession and an ardent balletomane, is best known for moving away from pure Western classical Ballet to a fusion of classical technique and romantic emotion in Australia through her First Australian Ballet group and school. During late 1920s, she was impressed by the performances of Anna Pavlova and Uday Shankar and to bring more appropriateness and authenticity to her own Indian classical dance style that she was trying to experiment with, virtually unknown and unseen in Australia till then in its original form, Lightfoot took a few weeks stopover in India. This short holiday eventually stretched to months and then eight years as she travelled to Tamil Nadu and Kerala’s Kalamandalam, where she began her study of the complex traditions of Kathakali and Bharata Natyam dance. Here she also became a Stage Manager cum Artistic and Publicity director for local troupes and artistes in residence. She was so thrilled by the whole experience of learning Kathakali – involving poetry, song, acting and dance – that soon she started appealing to the British in India to not only appreciate the Indian dance but also to Indian parents to allow their sons and daughters to dance. Lightfoot, as Dance Director of Shivaram, Janaki Devi, Priyagopal Singh and Lakshman Singh, supported by an ensemble of Australian dancers including Ruth Bergner, Moya Beaver, Leona Welch, Pat Martin and Betty Russell, successfully toured and promoted a range of Indian classical dance forms, like Kathakali, Manipuri, Bharatanatyam, throughout Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. As an early image-maker, she also paved the way for many other noted Indian dancers and troupes. In spite of decades of hard work and dedication to Indian dancing and creating awareness about India in Australia her work and life is little known! Her journey is fascinating because of the workings of race relations not just in Australia but also India – existing prejudices against “Whites.” In this paper I try to chart out through Australian and Indian newspaper reports her search for India.



Asian Studies Association of Australia. Biennial Conference (20th : 2014 : Perth, W. A.)




Perth, W. A.

Place of publication

Perth W. A.

Start date


End date




Publication classification

E3 Extract of paper

Copyright notice

2014, Asian Studies Association of Australia


K Sen

Title of proceedings

ASAA 2014 : Asiascapes: contesting borders : Proceedings of the Asian Studies Association of Australia 2014 biennial conference

Usage metrics

    Research Publications


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager