Celebrating International Dance Day

Happy International Dance Day to all you dancers out there! Whether you’re a professional, an amateur, whether you dance for fun or simply enjoy watching it! Dance is something that brings people together and brings out the best in each of us. This International Dance Day, we want to do more than just celebrate dance and its practitioners; we want to start a conversation about some of the difficulties dancers face. As is the case with numerous performing arts, being a full-time or professional dancer is not easy in India. Starting with the pressure from families to take up a more ‘stable career’, being asked to perform for free or for very low budgets to a lack of infrastructure and support to allow dancers to pursue this artform as a full-time career, there are a whole host of issues that come with being a professional dancer. So, we spoke to an institute that has dedicated itself to dance education as well as to people who work in the dance industry in varying capacities. Read on to find who they are and what they have to say. 

Seethalakshmi Vijay – Chartered Accountant, Consultant, Bharathanatyam Dancer, Choreographer and Dance Teacher

Auritra Ghosh – Actor, Dance practitioner, Founder of Pause and Effect

Dhiraj Bakshi – Dancer, Choreographer, Entrepreneur 

Shreya Nagarajan Singh – Entrepreneur and Arts Development Consultant

Attakkalari Centre for Performing Arts – Dance Education

Question 1 – What according to you is lacking in the Indian dance industry, and what’s the one thing that you find great about the industry?

Seetha: Good or bad – these lie in the eyes of the beholder. If one finds goodness in the industry, it will be filled with that and if one can only find flaws, so be it. Talking of the positive first, personally I feel that the industry is a place that definitely nurtures and boosts the creativity levels of the artist. It provides enough and more scope for the artist to think out of the box and prove one’s prowess.

What I feel is that in the zeal to have more fusion / contemporary styles, the art of perfecting a style or two has taken a back seat. Every style of dance has merged with the other, leading to lack of perfection in any one style. While this does induce creativity in the choreographers, what is lost is the individuality of each dance form.

Auritra: We don’t really have a singular dance industry in India. We do have the Bollywood dance industry, which is symbiotic with the Indian film industry. Classical and folk dances have their own diverse communities. Then there are professional companies/ troupes, freelance dancers and performing artists. The very fact that we don’t have a single, unified industry is both an advantage and a disadvantage. A progressive industry can bring about systematic changes to protect dancers from creative exploitation and provide a sense of belonging. A lack thereof can create huge disparities, especially for freelance dancers. Although social media has opened up a lot of opportunities, the disparity still exists, along with a lack of sense of community.

On the other hand, what’s great is diversity. A diverse culture of myriad dance forms offers countless resources to fuel our creativity and expand our repertoire! One thing I truly believe is that art doesn’t exist in isolation. Artists flourish when we share, learn, integrate and engage with other disciplines, while developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of the capabilities of our own body and that of others. 

Dhiraj: Personally, I feel what is lacking in the industry is the training one requires to become a professional dancer. Today, because of social media and the internet, people only want to be famous and that’s something that has affected our industry. The demands that students come in with now are mainly about choreography so that they can post it on social media. Of course, there are some brilliant and talented people in the industry who inspire people to dance but no one really wants to go through the process of training and understand the essence of training themselves. Most look at choreography as the end product. Professionalism is all about skill and experience, so if one has not experienced every aspect of the style then you’ll tend to look incomplete. And that is where training comes in.  So I’d suggest that educators and budding dancers push for training and get better in that aspect as well.

Coming to what is great about the industry, I feel that there are a lot of opportunities now to become a professional dancer. One can become a professional dancer with a company, or start dancing and put out content on social media, or join the Bollywood world and become a professional dancer there. There seem to be a lot more opportunities today compared to when I started. Personally, I love the training and teaching and the whole exploration of a dance style while being a part of a company. Nevertheless, I feel you can choose from the various options available today.

Shreya: What’s great about the dance world is the unabashed spirit of the dancer. No matter the challenges, physical or economical, or even the fact that the market is so saturated, the resilient spirit is what I love the most. Artists today can’t only be experts in their form, they have to be the full package! And they are problem solving, innovating and creating as they develop themselves. That is the spirit that I admire when I meet artists. 

The Indian Dance industry I think, lacks a strong framework of funders who are willing to invest in the development of talented artists. And when I say Dance, I just want to make sure we are addressing the gamut of forms – classical forms and traditional forms like Kattaikkuttu, Devar attam, Karagattam, Mayil attam and the many, many forms across TN and India. We need to create a democratic system in which patrons support dancers and their development. These are the resources that are critical at the moment. We are at a crossroads where I am not sure if the Arts can cope with another year like 2020. The need for change, patronage, encouragement and empathy is extremely crucial for the future of this sector. 

Question 2 – What is the one piece of advice you would like to give anyone who is entering this field as a beginner?

Seetha: Put your heart into dance and dance will never leave your heart. It’s never too late to begin/continue something that you are passionate about. Art is one such fire, which if you don’t let it die, will keep you going forever.

Any field will have its gestation period to begin with, and will have its share of hurdles. There might be a lot of aspects that could demoralize or demotivate you and drive you up the wall. Success is definitely compared to a bed of roses not excluding the share of thorns. Hence, despite experiencing the thorny ride, we need to have our focus on the roses. Just listen to your heart and keep going. Do what you need to do with utmost effort and sincerity. Hard work never fails. There might be a delay, but success is destined to follow.

Auritra: Be Authentic. Today there are countless dance videos on social media. While most of the dancers look remarkable and are in great form, what I miss seeing is authenticity. The flashy commercial setting takes away the history and meaning of movement. In my early years as a dancer, I also focused mostly on performance and presentation – perfecting my technique, learning steps and executing them. About 4 years into my career, I found myself questioning my veracity as a dancer and an artist. Studying Dance/Movement therapy made me realise that authenticity is paramount to every artist. Learning a dance style is not just about perfecting moves but also understanding and honoring the culture which it stems from. When you understand the intention behind movements, you’ll be able to execute them without losing their meaning. Authenticity will help you find your unique identity as a dancer. It will strengthen your work. It will hold you up and see you through the challenges of a demanding career. 

Dhiraj: If you’re in this field and want to grow or start your own company, you should first look at training yourself really well and try to explore as much as possible. Test yourself and see the level you are at before even thinking about starting your own company. A lot of people start dancing as a hobby and even though it becomes a serious hobby, you need to be very sure that this is something you want before starting a company. The process is quite a journey and I would suggest putting in time and research beforehand. Apart from that, the dedication and hard work plays a very important role. You cannot put a time limit to how much you are going to work. When you do start the company, it is something you will have to prioritize over everything else. You have to spend all your time and energy only and only into building your company, training other people that you bring on board with you and training them to have the same vision as you. From the business point of view, you have to research and study other dancers and entrepreneurs to learn and understand their journey and their struggles while starting their companies. One quote that I live by is “If you want to be successful in life, then you need to be around successful people”. As per this, I’d suggest that you need to surround yourself with people who will motivate you and inspire you and people who have the same vision or goal as you. 

Shreya: When I started my Arts Consulting business in the field of Arts Management, I faced a lot of negativity from people. They felt things would not change in the arts and that I shouldn’t try to change an antiquated system. I realised it’s important to work on 3 things:

  1. Do your research: Take all the advice you get with a pinch of salt, try and assess the advice based on the validity of their argument/opinion/information, be as objective as possible. 
  2. Build a basic understanding of healthy financial systems: Understanding financial systems (for oneself and the project one works on), planning and investment are key to the success of any business, and I firmly believe we are not doing enough with this regard in the arts world in India. 
  3. Set Goals: Get into the habit of setting short term and long term goals for yourself, both personal and professional. Assess these goals on a regular basis. In the words of Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you gonna’ know when you get there?”

Attakkalari Centre for Performing Arts : Dance Education

Education really is a continuous process of acquiring skills, knowledge, perspective and wisdom. As an artist, one has to often keenly observe the life around, at times immerse oneself in, and learn from those experiences as well. The creative processes often draw sustenance from one’s own cultural inheritance, memories, experiences and imaginations in order to create a work of art and its imagined world. As artists, information, skills, knowledge, perspective and wisdom that one gathers from school, fellow students and other channels as well as life itself should guide us in our creative endeavors. Like Albert Einstein felt “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school”. 

This excerpt, from an article written in May 2020 by Jayachandran Palazhy, Artistic Director of Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, sheds light on his approach to art, dance and dance education. He founded the institute in 1992 with a mission to demystify the art form, make it accessible to all sections of society and create an infrastructure and community that can enable dancers to develop sustainable careers in the arts.

Driven by the motto `Traditional Physical Wisdom, Innovation and Technology’,  the training at Attakkalari is unique in that it draws sustenance from the somatic knowledge of Indian physical traditions gained through years of research and practice as well as the latest knowledge from the global dance and performing arts scene.  The syllabus of the two-year full-time Diploma in Movement Arts & Mixed Media includes Bharatanatyam, Kalaripayattu, Chhau, Devarattam and Yoga along with Classical Ballet and Contemporary Dance Technique. The course also offers modules on Light Design and Stage Technology, Dance History, Arts & Aesthetics as well as Arts Management and Dance Therapy. While the first year is foundational in nature and focuses on physical training and embodiment, the second year of the course looks into each dancers artistic development by giving them the opportunity to major in one of three areas – Pedagogy, Choreography or Performance with guidance from their mentors as they continue their physical dance training.

Graduates of the diploma program often go on to begin their dance careers in different industries, or pursue higher studies in Europe, UK, USA or Asia. The students are also offered the chance to continue their training with Attakkalari through the Professional Development Program. 

Attakkalari also recognizes that there are movement enthusiasts who may not have the time or capacity to commit to a full-time program, despite having a deep desire for contemporary dance training. Sankshipta is a three-month certificate course that offers a holistic curriculum in the most concise yet effective module possible, with a schedule that is designed to suit working professionals/students. The Education Outreach Program also offers regular community classes in Contemporary Dance, Kalaripayattu, Kathak & Bharatanatyam, both for children and adults at a very nominal fee.

To read the full article titled ‘Self Transformation through Arts & Education’, you can click this link here –   https://www.facebook.com/notes/356636862060968/

Editorial Desk

Editorial Desk