Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why I Dance

(Helee Johry works and lives in Toronto.)

I started learning Bharatanatyam when I was 5 years old. I remember at that age not being interested in dance and also being very scared of my Guru. He used to scold us and I was really afraid of him. At one point in time I refused to go to class but my mother persuaded me and would come and sit in the class and watch me dance. I was never interested in anything related to dance while growing up, not even Garba. I performed my Aarangetram when I was 12 years old which was like a mini wedding. Studio recordings, costume rehearsals, photo shoots, family friends coming over in the nights to help with decorations! I did not necessarily understand what the fuss was all about. It was after I did my Aarangetram that I truly started liking dance, something changed in me. I started looking forward to Garba and also learning dance. There came a period in life when I could not learn or focus much on Bharatanatyam but did perform in university dances, garba etc.

I forgot all about Bharatanatyam but always felt that dance was an important part of my life. Any form of dance would take me to a happy place. Life happened to me where I got married, focused on my career and building a family. I was always trying to learn some form of dance – be it salsa, ballroom dancing and took lessons in Toronto.

At one point in my life I came in touch with an old contact who directed me to my current dance teacher. I decided to give Bharatanatyam a try again. I was very rusty with no grace, had forgotten almost everything about Bharatanatyam and it would be embarrassing sometimes to have to struggle so much to dance! Luckily I had a patient teacher who did not run away and I loved my rusty dance. Slowly but steadily I came to a point where it was not embarrassing to dance anymore and I noticed that every time I dance (right or wrong), it made me very happy. Dancing took me to a point where it was just about me and my dance. At that time I was not a mom, a career professional or a wife – it was me and my dance.

Dance now means a lot to me – any form actually. I never realized these things but I gravitated towards anything dance related - Zumba which is a dance based exercise, ballroom dancing (where my teacher called me a natural!), Bharatanatyam, Garba. I guess I did not choose to start again but it has been more like dance has come back into my life or it never left my life but was a bit dormant and is now active again.

- Helee Johry

Monday, November 18, 2013

Joy of Expression

I remember stalwarts reminisce about their early experiences with their great gurus, saying, “We were asked to practice ‘sa-pa-sa’ for one entire year” or “Till this day, my rehearsals start with a half an hour of tatta adavu”. And why not? This is the reason why they are nationally and internationally acclaimed, full time performers. They have dedicated their entire life to practicing and promoting their art forms.

On the other hand, after six or seven years of basic training, how many aspirants continue to learn or pursue full time / part time performing career? Not even 0.5% of the lot i.e. more than 99% deprive themselves of the ‘joy of expression’ that they found while learning the art forms.

When this is the scenario with trained aspirants, what about those who just want to ‘stay in touch’ with dance, not in its physical capacity of displaying the excellence, or ‘perfection’ as they put it, but to experience the psychological and spiritual experience and display to enhance their capacity as a better human being?

This thought came to me when I approached the sixth decade of my ‘staying in touch’ with Bharatanatyam and two and a half decades of being completely into it.

The ideology of rigorous training got challenged on receiving an invitation to perform ‘Savitri- The Saga of Eternity’, one of Rasadhwani’s prestigious performances on April 1st 2012. To stage this show, we required 10 to11 trained mature dancers. But for 3 to 4 trained dancers, who also were out of touch for few years, the rest had been with the institute for less than a year and had good training in basics.
They came together. Their team spirit, maturity, sincerity, dedication and hard work encouraged me to trust them and I agreed to present the production. Those who have seen this particular ‘Savitri’ production have repeatedly said that it was one of the best performances by Rasadhwani team. I still wonder, this was made possible maybe because of the trust, my instruction to ‘just enjoy and be true to the self’, and/or some  miraculous divine grace!

I had all the reasons to get encouraged again when, in October 2013, a dedicated team of 10 recently joined adult beginners sincerely performed for 13 minutes, the ‘Ekshloki Ramayana’ on live music, choreographed using few basic adavu-s. The purpose was very simple - to experience the joy of expression through classical dance.

I am thankful to my students for the demystification process that I underwent; teaching, learning and above all, expressing through Indian classical dance, is a task that demands a very special ability. But above all, it demands space, freedom and mutual trust.

- Dr. Uma Anantani

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Why do I feel what I feel

(Manoj Venugopal works at Kotak Mahindra Bank and is based in Ahmedabad.)

ART for me is an expression of oneself more strongly, than just words.

My understanding of the meaning of this word has changed drastically over the last 3 decades since I first heard it. From a normal period in school, whereby we used to sketch, scratch and pour colours on paper or for a few who used to hone their skills by singing (which we could never relate to). Just as years passed by I realized that there is more to this small 3-lettered word than what I have been able to understand and absorb.

The facets of this word slowly and steadily started making themselves known to me. It stretched its wings from plain papers, strings of the various instruments in my dad’s bhajan mandalis to street plays, various musical events, stage shows, dance performances, live life like sketches etc. People found so many avenues to express themselves so strongly. I felt lucky and unlucky at the same time, lucky because over a period of time I could get affiliated to lots of talented people who could express themselves through various forms of art. And unlucky because I was still stuck to the old tried and tested style of expression – writing.

My first brush with a third genre of art was in the summer vacations of 10th standard wherein I met a couple of friends of my eldest cousin who were thoroughly into Carnatic classicals. Their daily rehearsals, couple of stage shows were good enough to ignite the passion for following arts more diligently. Then what followed over the years was absolute bliss. I started learning Carnatic classicals for a few years, but fate had a better word to say and I had to leave it. One thing that drives art is discipline to follow your dreams with absolute focus. I didn’t have it in me, but there wasn’t any dearth for this all around. My friend excelled in instruments, another friend did her masters in dance forms, singing etc. I felt honoured to be associated with them. They did not only feel the need to share but make me a part of each of their achievements.

Yes, admittedly I didn’t understand much about everything. But the keenness to learn hasn’t stopped and the focus to cling on anything that remotely attaches me to this expression of oneself – art - I would always jump into. This for me is the way to relieve oneself from all that binds us like shackles and doesn’t let us touch ourselves, feel ourselves. It helps me find new meaning to everything that I have seen, understood, touched and felt. This is an ode to all those who have helped me remain in search of myself through this form of expression.

- Manoj Venugopal

Monday, November 4, 2013

Listen to your body

More than a year after delivering my child, I got back to my personal practice. I think it is the most challenging thing that I have done till now. You get into such a comfort zone; the whole idea of shedding the visible weight off your body and the invisible burden off your shoulders sounds daunting. (Crazy, if I may say so!). Initially dancing a two minute tatta adavu felt like a punishment. Slowly and steadily, I was able build up only as much stamina needed for a 15 min performance. I wasn’t putting in as much time as I should but then I was also full time into rearing a 12 month old!!

Then one fine day, I developed excruciating pain in my right knee. I postponed visiting the doctor until the pain started hindering my practice. When I visited my physiotherapist, he gave me a couple of exercises and advised me to stop dancing for 3-4 days and cautioned me. “It’s the beginning of arthritis”, he said.

That was quite a scare so I took his advice and rested for a couple of days. What followed was worse! I would feel sudden spasms of pain in my lower back and ankles and my legs became so heavy as if made of lead. Doing even daily chores became tiresome. I started to think the worse of my future as a dancer.

I had no option but to start dancing again as I had a solo event coming up in a month’s time. I did the warm ups with a little less fervour and dreaded doing the first piece. But what I felt during and after the session was absolute bliss. The pain just vanished and I felt very energized and fresh and my body felt flexible! So far, the pain has not worsened.

We go to doctors for help and they are blessings in disguise. But had I heeded my physiotherapist’s advice, I would still be reeling in negativity both mentally and physically. Instead, I decided to listen to myself, my body and just go with the flow.

Your doctor may understand your physical anatomy, but YOUR body and YOUR mind belong to you alone. So get rest, eat properly, exercise sufficiently and just go with it!

- Shivangee Vikram