Dance and V -1

Lavs wanted to know about V’s dance classes. So here we go.

Ladies and gentlemen, the next post is “dance and V” presented by V, set to her own ragam and thalam.

Where do I start? Dance has been a part of my life forever. My first formal dance classes were at the Trichy, a huge hall with its asbestos roofing, divided into sections. I was 5 years old when I first started learning Bharatnatyam. I knew nothing about the dance but it was just taking and learning one step at a time. I learnt for nearly 9 years with Mrs.Shanti Rammohan in Trichy and during this period, I danced at school and other occasions around town and ofcourse at my uncle’s wedding. I did do my share of filmi dances as they are called, jatkas and all. Slowly other priorities started creeping up and dance took a step back and stopped dance classes. To be truthful, I really don’t remember much from those days, I remember few steps, the kurathi item I performed so often.

Ten years later, I wanted to learn again and now it was not for being on stage or for fun but it was for knowing the technique and how the dance evolved. This is the older and wiser chapter in my Bharatnatyam learning book. For those of you, who have not lived in a US city filled with Indians like Houston, let me tell a few words about the Indian cultural scene here. There are numerous schools and teachers each competing with the next. They want to have the maximum number of students and it is always about the quantity than the quality. And ofcourse they perform religiously and regularly for every Indian event in town that is like 2 performances every weekend. Most dances are fusion of Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam, Odissi, Kathak and folk dances mixed with liberal amounts of Bollywood style jatkas and presented under a single name called ‘Bharatnatyam’ (I guess it is because many people have heard of the word Bharatnatyam and ofcourse they are either unaware of what Bharatnatyam actually is or that they like to add masala to traditional dances) Coming back to the teachers, if you live in a decent sized city, you must ofcourse have an ex-film star run dance school, an established 25+ year old dance school, the new H4 wife’s classes at home and so on. Parents dream of their daughter being the Padma Subramanium of US in addition to being the American Idol, the Math whiz, the SAT topper, the spelling bee winner, the opera pianist and the list is endless so you can imagine the kind of students that end up in most of these dance classes. And the students there are some who learn to love dance and stick to it and then there are others who come to class crying coz they have been forced to. Parents tend to think that the best colored costume and wonderful jewelry will transform their daughter into the best dancer on stage. They fight to see whose daughter is better, who is in the center stage and for how long. It is like watching a soap opera, dancers in the background with exquisite costumes of all colors dancing or rather moving their hands and legs with no sense of nritta or abinaya and mothers and fathers in the foreground battling.

This is the scene in virtually any city in US and definitely in Houston. It was at this stage I started hunting for a dance teacher who would teach me Bharatnatyam as it is, without masala and also teach me more about the history, the past, the present and the future of this dance. And I found my teacher in Ms.Sunanda Nair and no I am not writing about my teacher here. I am writing about my experiences with dance.

Well I started learning again in late 2005, little more than a year ago. And today I took a minute to ponder why I have really not written about my dance classes and the answer is not just one. There were number of reasons and here they are. Firstly, I feel quite inadequate to write about my experiences in the class. What I learn is not just movement of feet and hands but something more sublime and more spiritual and something I really cannot explain and I am not even going to try doing it. And then there are times when my whole body feels like it is on fire, exhausting, tiring and makes me question why on earth do I go through this ritual of self-torture? And the worst is the time when I feel positively ancient and old-maidish when I dance with the 15-16 year olds who are quick, nimble and graceful. And there you go I said it! With all my secrets out let me go ahead.

My typical dance classes range anywhere from one hour to three hours. I usually meet with a bunch of other gals for classes on Sundays. We are the so-called senior class, mostly because of our age and our previous exposure to Bharatnatyam in some form or the other in some corner of the world. We warm up, get our old joints cracking and start with the basics. We always spend around an hour doing simple but basic adavus and believe me till date I get a big list of corrections for whatever adavu I do! It is during this time, I learn a lot about the technique, the way the same step is done in other dance forms like Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi etc. I also learn when and how to fit in the step I do into a complex set of steps called jathi.

There is a big connection between classical carnatic music and dance and unfortunately I cannot differentiate one raga from the other. Well I do listen to lot of songs but without having formally studied music, my sense of raga, thala and laya are totally off. To choreograph a jathi in Bharatnatyam, above all one should be able add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers with ease! Dance and Music is all mathematics. How do you fit in 3 steps into a count of 8 in different speeds? It is mathematics, a sense of dance and music is all you need. It is fascinating and involves a lot of study and I am no expert. I barely know the basics. It is something I learn and want to learn more.

Bharatnatyam itself is a lot of math especially the nritta – the leg movements. But Bharatnatyam also involves a lot of geometry – angles, line and arcs. If you look at the picture of a good Bharatnatyam dancer, you’ll be able to notice the symmetry, hands and legs in perfect sharp angles. Every moment of a Bharatnatyam dancer is also meant to be crisp, precise and geometrical. This is not true about other Indian dance forms and they ofcourse have their own specialties. This is what I am working towards improving, my posture, crispness and sharpness of movement. And as always this is a learning process.

This post is getting quite long and there is so much more I can talk about dance. I hate leaving it abruptly but I will now wrap this up and do a part 2 soon. And thanks to Lavs for setting me think and write about what I feel about dance.


Vichika said...

Lately.. I got introduced to Classical music thru SPICMACAY.. and the math aspect of it.. its very interesting...have not yet deciphered the basics!! let me know if you know of any good teachers in San Antonio :)

Lavs said...

Loved your post....Though I do not remember anything in bharatnatyam from what i learnt earlier, i have always been attracted to this art...because of my early association.

Kavi said...

Fascinating ! Absolutely fascinating. I never saw dance as maths. Perhaps becuase math eluded my grasp ( dance kept me in awe )

Maybe there is a connection that i see, after reading your post, about why perhaps am not able to dance in synchrony like many others.

This was a lovely post. And i got to understand the Houston side of Bharathnatyam ! :)

Anonymous said...

I was just browsing to see what happened to my dance teacher and came across this post....very impressive...i learned under Shanti Rammohan and did arengetram...she is a wonderful teacher....