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When will I break free?
- Rashika Ojha

December 10, 2015

This India's Independence Day, the Battery Dance Festival "Erasing Borders" in New York had a grand show, followed by 'Swarna Utsav' by disciples of Guru Rajee Narayan for the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Nritya Geetanjali on 16th in Mumbai and much later Ranjana Gauhar's 'Sare Jahan Se Accha' exploring ultimate freedom in Delhi. India's spirit and happiness of Independence echoes all over the world and as always multiplicity prevails.

With technology one has the privilege to be everywhere in the world at any given time. I can get a glimpse of a festival taking place in London or Tokyo or Bangalore when I am actually sitting at my place in Abu Dhabi sipping tea. Yes, the world has turned into a global village and this healthy shrink happened to the world of Indian classical dance and music. Today we see a mushrooming of Indian dance and music festivals all over the world. And these festivals touch me and also others through Facebook, Google, YouTube and many more digital mediums and bring us all together into a close network. Dwelling deep into this phenomenon especially in the sphere of Indian classical dance I felt a turbulence of queries and I wish to share this entangled state of my mind with my fellow artists and readers. This I feel is important to understand the state of Indian dance in totality.

I take pride in the fact that the number of Indian classical dancers in India and world is increasing every passing day. The thirst amongst people to see and do Indian classical dance has multiplied. And to fulfill this thirst there has been a rise in festivals and events, giving platform to upcoming artists in the country and all over the world, leading to yet another coinciding phenomenon of the rise of the Art Entrepreneur. Innovation in Indian dance has been constant, gradual yet steady. This is yet another innovation and addition. It's a heavy word "Entrepreneur", meaning one who begins a business and is ready to bear loss and expects profit. It's like the modern coinciding with the traditional.

Here, I take a silent pause. I have to think hard as to when did I make profit from my professional pursuance of Bharatanatyam in the last 6 years. Is it just me who has to ponder for long and maybe find no answer? Or there are more to join my league?

To survive with Indian classical dance in this market driven world is a big challenge. An opportunity to perform is like finding treasure for a young performer. But there is no policy or regulation for the remuneration of the performer. Most of the young performers put in full efforts to perform without any expectations. Recently I read an article published in Friday Review of The Hindu, where eminent dancer Sharon Lowen wrote, "Preparing for a career in dance is becoming a serious challenge. Arts are not on the economic scale and this has unfortunately put us in a situation where even survival can be a terrible struggle for a dedicated professional dancer."

It's so true that the only way of earning money from this profession is by teaching. Though to become a good dancer and guru, one needs to depend on good musicians and influential people. To work with good musicians and make contacts is expensive. Nothing comes on a platter, all the commitment and hard work for satiating one's internal quest. So, if one calculates, the expenditure is more than the returns.

With the rise of the Art Entrepreneur, there has been a slight change in the scene of performing arts in India. Who is an Art Entrepreneur? He/she can be an artist, art lover, critic or guru, taken to the role of an Art Entrepreneur. These are individuals who are connoisseurs and promoters of the art and want to contribute to the field of arts by giving a stage to all the creative endeavours. The thought is noble and has helped many youngsters establish themselves. At least one milestone achieved .i.e. opportunity to present. Some of these cultural facilitators are also honouring and giving awards to the performers. This definitely boosts the confidence of the artists and inspires them to keep working on their skills.

Well, there are some latent problems even in this module of promotion. Firstly, the process of selection from the many number of applications and the criteria of selection. Secondly, we are once again just promoting the practice of solo dance and also giving the artists just the opportunity of performing the pieces learnt from their teachers. As an organiser, the entrepreneur wants to accommodate many artists and in this effort is unable to generate money enough to commission the young choreographers to create something new.

"Dancers and choreographers in India today sense and complain about the ever decreasing audiences for their solo classical dance performances. They also feel the need to express their own ideas in addition to, or in opposition to, the repertoire taught to them during their dance training," as rightly summed by Dr. Urmimala Sarkar in her article 'Boundaries and Beyond.' Thirdly, most of the organisers don't remunerate the artists for a performance. And the funds available with government institutions for any creative work is limited and is mostly granted to established and senior artists or institutions.

So, is Indian classical dance in the true sense independent? Are we celebrating the independence of our country every year with practices which are still dependent? In the world of great pace is the system of Indian classical dance still lagging behind?

The Indian classical forms have evolved post-independence but the norms and beliefs haven't. We don't want to associate livelihood with the practice of Indian classical dance and that's when the conflict happens and complicates the life of an artist. "Yet, to dance is very expensive. The government selects and patronizes only the most recognised, who by teaching and touring make a good living. The rest can only continue to dance with family support, which is either financial or in the form of connections."

The revival and restoration of the Indian classical dance forms has given life to the old forms but yet they are to breathe free. "Dancers in India have fought for and won their independence, but its costs remains the same as it always was."

To sum up the thought and the idea, I would like to share one quote which is used out of its original context...

How are you
I am alright
my joints
- Chandralekha, '68 Poems

Rashika Ojha Abrol is a Bharatanatyam exponent trained under the tutelage of Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan. She has her Bachelors in English Literature, Hindu College and Masters in Arts and Aesthetics, JNU. Rashika is interested in research on all kinds of arts especially performing arts. She is a freelance writer.


It is a very candid and thought provoking writeup. It is indeed a great challenge to make a serious profession out of this extremely dedicated and specialised field of art. Thanx for sharing your thoughts so honestly and with a passion only a true artiste can feel!
- Kool Kat, Dec 14, 2015

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