By Shweta Prachande
Over the years, as I’ve had the opportunity to constantly engage with fitness through various mediums. From rugby and kalaripayattu to simply working out at the gym, I’ve continually found myself in awe of the way the body adapts and responds to the various learnings from each of these mediums. As my guru, Smt. Priyadarsini Govind, guided my application and knowledge of numerous cross-training exercises and principles of practice, I have come to realise that in order to effectively create the intangible from the tangible, it is important to understand the body first. In this process, what I have learned from each chapter of this fitness journey becomes more effective in taking that path of discovery further.
In my understanding, cross-training has much to do with being cognizant of the instrument, fine tuning it so as to allow it to play the piece at hand most effectively. In the case of dance, adapting the body to do justice to the choreographic vision as well as avoiding strain and injury, is one way for me to imbibe the design of the craft, and create an external foundation to take the next steps on the journey inward.
As I continue to discover how to oil my body to evidence the ethereality of motion, I share here some of my learnings that I’ve found most helpful along the way. My opinions are defined by the knowledge I have accrued to date and by no means support the one-size-fits-all methodology. Yet, I hope my two cents may serve to encourage anyone who is working to find their own effective strategy through the fitness trajectory, to realise that with a conscious commitment to the process, the revelations will surely arise.
A few years ago, I attended a talk by renowned Bharatyanatyam artist, Ms. Malavika Sarukkai, who explained alignment as finding thesruti within one’s own body. This led me to thinking about what exactly constitutes to being attuned with the source – is it just through being physically fit that one is able to find alignment or does it require a greater understanding of one’s structure? Are dancers, by virtue of practice, always aligned?
In my exploration of these questions, I have found that in reality, alignment starts even before one begins to dance. It has to do with having a deep awareness about one’s form through every engagement, both inside and outside the studio. Understanding one’s bodily capabilities forms the root to efficiency of movement, and it is this cognizance that then translates to an ability to exploit one’s sense of balance and line to create the intangible.
Through each of my engagements in various forms of physical exercise, I have been asked to call attention to posture, structure, center of gravity, and axis. Every instruction has led to that one underlying idea of alignment, not just externally, but finding the balance within and without.
Weight, Space, Time, and Flow
One of the most special chapters in my fitness journey thus far was in 2010, when I had the opportunity to study Contemporary Dance Studies at the Trinity Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance, London. It was through this transformative year that I was able to dive deeper into the depths of a number of aspects of dance apart from just learning non-Indian dance styles. One revelation that stands out to me is the principle of effort theory, which Rudolf Laban defines as the engagement of a movement with weight, space, time, and flow. This theory has since flashed in my mind through every practice, as I’ve attempted to negotiate the relationship of each movement with these four essential components.
In a sense, I feel that effort theory has much to do with creating a certain quality / texture to one’s own movement, where the energies of one’s own limbs may converge with weight, space, time, and flow, and ensure augmented effectiveness. While effort theory was a concept I learned during the study of contemporary dance, I have found that the process of discovering its potent applications to my practice has led to a heightened sense of understanding of the medium itself.
In the Long Run
Through my practice sessions and further contemplation of effort theory, I constantly revert to a quote shared with me during my time at the Conservatory: “The greater the economy of effort, the less apparent is the strain”. This has led me to think deeper about every movement I perform, whether any part of my body is exerting with no cause and is causing excess fatigue through its execution.
As a dancer, I am always on the quest to build that elusive stamina. However, through delving deeper into this quote, I have come to realize that I should not approach this concept only in terms of long-term energy; rather, I need think about it in terms of going from one movement to another while giving a hundred percent to each. Stamina is not only about whether I take a class for 60 minutes, perform a program for 90 minutes, or dance for 2 hours, but it is also thinking about effort in small bite-size qualities, which is what I have been taught in class. And by virtue of this definition, it requires building not only physical aptitude but also mental strength. As the act of dancing is something that requires the imbibing of the physical, emotional, and intellectual, I believe it is my responsibility to learn to endure through my inhibitions, through my hesitations, and through my limitations. Endurance has much to do with sustaining this path of artistic practice. It is a path less traveled, and I hope that endurance may become almost my own second nature so as to keep me afloat even in trying times.
Moreover, while other forms of physical activity indeed contribute to augmenting one’s dynamism, I believe holistic practice is still the need of the hour. Just because one is a marathon runner or somebody who can hike up a hill or run 10kms, one cannot say that they are a fit dancer. The effort and the stamina required to do one action repeatedly versus to dance are very different. Therefore, because dancers execute different kinds of movements, occupy space differently, and explore a plethora of geometrical designs, there is definitely an importance on certain external elements, for example, appearing physically fit. Yet, this may never go to directly enhance the dance itself nor to build stamina to allow for augmented execution. In my view, the effects of cross training can be experienced in combination with traditional practice and a commitment to taking apart and exploring each of the smaller movements individually.
When I think about fitness overall or of holistically engaging the body outside of the dance space, I think about the properties of a well-oiled machine – one that is not shocked into action but rather, has been fueled with painstaking attention to detail. It is important to me to look at the body similarly, to balance the rigor of practice and cross-training with other essential forms of body awareness including breathing and stretching. With the guidance of my guru, I have been able to apply these findings to dance. I have also come to realize that practicing to arrive at excellence has everything to do with building sensitivity, augmenting aesthetic, and focusing on the tuning. In my eyes, the key to achieving a sense of self and flow without subjecting oneself to mechanical execution is to engross oneself to various learnings that may open the mind and body to the endless scope of possibilities in movement.