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Why do I dance?
- Anita R Ratnam, Chennai

August 10, 2008

The answer cannot be a rational one. Do not expect that of me. To dance and to continue to dance is to move first and to think later. Corporeal intelligence is so profound that it negates the mind's interventions - as it should.

What makes me dance? What is my reason to dance?

Dance has saved me from myself. From the grief of my father's passing when I was too far away rehearsing for THE INNER WORLD in snowbound Minneapolis; to the performance of FRAMING FIVE in Hyderabad about the five elements as my mother was turning fire to water, water to earth and all into air and beyond - dance has supported, sustained and challenged me.

Through the final moments of my parents' lives, I was dancing full out, unaware of their blessings in the last burst of breath but fully present in the moment under the lights. I live my life as a dancer, antennae up for the texts and subtexts that is the script of life.

I could not return in time to see my father's inert body, but saw my mother as she lay prone, swathed in a radiant silk sari, eyes closed and breath stilled. So many million moments of dance poured through her life. Denied the opportunity to learn by her strict father and the conservative times of her youth, she poured all her unspoken passion into me. She motivated me, watched me rehearse, planned, researched, produced, presented and shaped my dance world. She was my reason to dance.

Amma wisely disengaged herself from my dance life 18 years ago, urging me to turn completely professional. "Let go of my pallu and face the world," she ordered sternly. She was my first and most voracious critic. She disapproved of most of my new directions and often refused to attend some of my experimental shows. "You are not sugar or salt to melt in the rain," she would retort after a scathing newspaper review. "Go out into the storm, face it with courage and dignity." To her, dance was about beauty and harmony. Life was not about that and my dance was about life - fractured and ruptured as mine was - and is.

Dance has helped me heal the festering wounds of anger within me against people and incidents I could not control. When I dance, I reveal myself. I cannot dance out of the sides of my mouth. In life, I am a recluse. On stage I am all passion, stillness and focused energy. I can do many things besides dance but it is dance that anchors and defines me.

To dance is to experience a sense of freedom. A freedom that is not granted by real life. To dance is to believe in being useless at times. To dance is to know beauty in the bones. To dance is to believe. To dance is to make myself vulnerable willingly.

"Be drunk," French poet Baudelaire said. "Just dance... to ease the pain as Time's dreaded burden weights down upon your shoulders and crushes you to the earth, you must dance without respite. Just dance, nothing else matters."

(This article was written on July 30, 2008, six days after the passing of my mother Leela Ratnam)

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