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A dancer's success quotient - the flip side
- Dr. Kanakam Devaguptapu

March 19, 2012

The dance extravaganza showcasing celebrities for Rukmini Devi's birthday celebrations came to an end. All the artistes, with legendary track records that put them on the pedestal that they are, left the audiences in an awe filled mood. Every evening, as my husband and I left Rukmini Arangam after witnessing two shows of sheer mastery in craft and creation, we felt that we were leaving the place of eternal bliss and returning to a chaotic order of trials and tribulations. Such was the atmosphere that the artistes created with their par excellent depth of research and understanding of their presentations, excellent choreography and unique ways of staging them, in the ambience of Kalakshetra, an epitome of serenity.

As I watched in wonder, their skilled work of movement and mime, subtleties of thought and emotion that found expression in far reaching abhinaya and exhilarating and lilting movement, my amazement and reflection slowly widened its vistas, through which I tried to delve into the realms of the artiste's journey, juxtaposing it against all that the artiste achieved and all that he or she is today. What a journey it would have been! What would have been the pains, pangs and frustrations that the artiste faced in the process of the metamorphosis from an ordinary dance student to a superbly crafted artiste delivering exalted thoughts with utmost ease!

I am sure the path to the goal that they reached has never been as smooth or as inviting as it looks to be now; especially with the background of the available supporting resources for classical arts in comparison to academics or sports, in terms of funding, sponsorships, publicity, media and organizational and audience support, etc. The fiery passion for the art form and the self supporting approach may become the driving force for a 'do or die' artiste to reach the pinnacle. But to keep the fire continuously blazing, it is definitely the artiste's own inner fervour and endeavour that is at work, which has nothing to do with the support system it needs/deserves. As I contemplated further, I realised that this is just one part of the rubric.

The dancer fuses his/her moods, emotions and experiences and brings out artistic models in his/her choreography and presents poignant creative concepts to the audiences. However, only if the audiences are ready/willing to experience and savour them can the whole experience be considered 'the joy of the artistic tryst' that made the giver and the beholder experience it. This rendezvous helps get the artiste the desired appreciation and applause, for which he/she worked tirelessly for months and years! I remember attending a talk session where an artiste mentioned that she performed during a Madras music season when she had the least audiences which even made her think if her choice of career is right! As she spoke about her frustrations of those days when she has toiled endlessly for her concerts with not much of recognition, the reflective pain in her voice as she went down the memory lane was so evident that made my mood pensive, sitting in the audience. Thus the audiences' willingness to watch an artiste not so very popular but who is wanting to deliver her best after enormous effort is, I guess, the luck quotient or another aspect of the rubric!

In this age of commercialization of every aspect of life, for a dancer to reach this stage of exhibiting 'TRUE' artistic endeavour (as we witnessed in the sublime precincts of Rukmini Arangam) and his/her worth being accepted and acknowledged, it goes without saying that the artiste needs massive support from the state or talent recognizing organizations. 'Organizations are only a few and artistes are many' is the hearsay. Well, taking a cue from this statement it can well be said that time has come to look for avenues that can support the artistes in writing their success stories. As all of us want our children to learn music or dance in order to appreciate and retain our treasured culture, there will definitely emerge more highly talented and enthusiastic performers. It goes without saying that any learning gets meaningful when it relates to life, more so for an artiste in the making. When children of many families are potential artistes and are being trained to become so, they are disappearing from the arts scene saying that their future could be more secure with a BBA, etc. degree than 15 or many more years of arts training. A closer observation reveals that even though the passion is strong within them, it is the support system that is deterring many from making arts a career.

Pursuing arts for a living has not been every artiste's instant choice unless financially not constrained. Even those who ventured into making dance a career is unable to find many options of steady income. In the current scenario, the two main avenues that artistes are looking at are performing or teaching for immediate remuneration. Many dancers, at least till they are visible and accepted are only asked to spend for their shows and don't receive much. They are in an anomalous situation where the supporting musicians get paid by the dancer as they are professionals but the dancers per se satisfy themselves with performing! This leaves them only with teaching options where the income is highly controlled by 'No Work No Pay' policy. 'If these avenues are not really securing the financial needs of the artistes, will they still be able to bring out the best and the sublime in them?' is a thought provoking question. Will the creative and artistic fire in him/her be as zealous as it should be, bringing out the exquisite and the subtle, the sublime and the sincere? It is a contemplative question indeed...

The journey for a dancer is long...stumbling blocks are many... deserving appreciation may not be available when it is most needed... the rugged path may lead one to roads never traversed...a frustrated dancer may want to find more lucrative avenues, making one true artiste extinct to the dancing fraternity. How can we save our dancers to carry the culture torch? I wonder.

Dr. Kanakam Devaguptapu is an English and Business Communications Consultant and a music teacher. 'Classical dance forms (Arts) and dancers' has been a very dear subject for her since her childhood. The need of the hour for Arts and artistes' interests, motivates and directs her to share her thoughts.

Exactly so: the supporting musicians get paid by the dancer as they are professionals. The dancers are not.

Merely "wanting to deliver her best after enormous effort" is not enough: an ant cannot lift a tree. Merely the ambition ("inner fervour and endeavour") does not deserve the support system they want.

If they really had the "far reaching abhinaya", they could literally hypnotize everyone. If they can only hypnotize their moms and dads, they see the results.

As to the "exhilarating and lilting movement", if my 82-year-old hopelessly obese auntie Amu can perform it in her wheelchair, does she too deserve the support system?

Funding is available to sports because in sports there is a well-defined set of parameters by which everyone (not just a few bribed judges) can see who is the best. In classical dance, these parameters - though far more sophisticated - exist too, but if my auntie Amu were to compete, she would make sure that these parameters were removed from the list, the judges were properly bribed/persuaded and auntie Amu's review were published in the Friday Review. She would become a celebrity.

But... Were my auntie Amu to give a recital during the December season, would the auditorium be fully packed? Having the least audiences could even made her think if her choice of career is right! Poor auntie Amu...

If some are disappearing from the arts scene saying that their future could be more secure with a BBA, etc. degree than 15 or many more years of some mediocre arts training, it means that the art is not their priority. And if it is not, they do not deserve anything at all.

Ranjani (March 20, 2012)

Excellent article! It is very ironic that learning and perfecting an art form involves a lot of hard work and dedication but the rewards are not the same as the other professions. I hope the future generations of Indians are encouraged to not only learn but also appreciate the art forms like music and dance.

Hope to see more articles from you, great work!
- Divya (March 24, 2012)

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