The Evolution of Jazz in India

Interview with Arjun Menon

On his personal journey through jazz:

Despite being an accomplished jazz dancer now, Arjun Menon says that when he first joined dance classes he did not even know of the existence of jazz. Coming from Allahabad, his exposure to dance was mostly Bollywood. The internet and Youtube came in much later. After joining The Danceworx and discovering jazz, there was still a slight hesitation for Arjun as the dance form seemed to be hugely popular with women more than with men. This was both in the style itself and its practitioners. There were only four male instructors at the Academy and two men in a class of 45. He decided not go back after two classes. “One of the male instructors in Delhi, they called me up and said, Ok Arjun, come to class, I’m teaching class today and I said, ok, cool. I went and saw him dance.” Arjun realised then that jazz was not restricted to women. He also understood that he needed to put in his own personality to the form and bring in his style.   

On the evolution of jazz in India:

Arjun remarks that the situation in better in larger cities. People want to come and watch art performances. Ballet and jazz have a wider reach in India today, although still to not the extent that other forms do. He says that the momentum for musicals has grown, but there is still a lack of dancers. Bollywood, for example, still seems to be more popular than forms like jazz. He adds however, that there have been more requests to learn online. Online classes have more outreach and provide more exposure. There is the added advantage that classes online are cheaper even for high quality training, as the teachers don’t have to pay for studios.

On the approach of the next generation in India to jazz, and the influence of media:

Today, Gen Z is looking forward to making jazz (or dancing, in general) a viable career. They have a clear standard of professionalism that they aim to achieve, a lot thanks to the exposure to these forms (from social media and access via internet to dancers and schools all over the world) that may have been more limited for previous generations. Arjun observes that today, parents specifically want their children to learn ballet and jazz, as there is a discipline that comes through these forms. The children themselves are attracted by the hyper flexibility in ballet. However, the influence of media is sometimes limited – it only shows attractive choreography and the “looking-sexy” aspects of these dance forms but not how many hours of training are needed to look that way. To make dance a viable career and to attain the vision of professionalism that the younger students have, they need to put in the hours of training that the professionals do.

On the viability of dance as a career:

As with any career, one needs to be willing to work for it if you want to take up dance as a career. Arjun adds that any career requires hard work and consistency, whether it’s an MBA or dance. “As much as this is still an untapped industry, I encourage aspiring dancers to stand their ground and continue making the effort needed for a career that is definitely rewarding in its own way.”

On change in perceptions of dance/performing arts as a career over the years:

Arjun remarks that the image of the performing arts has definitely come a long way. There are more musicals being staged now. Even in Bollywood, there is a variety of dance forms being used now, more hip hop, dancehall, jazz, and ballet. If you look across the domain of dance, there is so much and so many people to be inspired by. Arjun says he found his niche and saw an opportunity in this field because the stage gave him that pride and happiness. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but he says that he had to ensure that he come up at a pace at which he could remain aspirational and at the same time, guide his peers. He says, “Dance as a career is definitely lucrative, especially if one feels that this is the right calling and is willing to do whatever it takes to be the best. I am always on the lookout to meet such people”. He ends the interview on a hopeful note, saying that the situation will becomes easier for artists despite the pandemic. When everything is open again, people will want to go out and consume art. Even as the situation stands right now, people are consuming so much art within their houses, through online classes and performances. Arjun quips that he knows so many people who have joined classes for music, dance, painting and in one instance, even for the mouth organ!

Editorial Desk

Editorial Desk