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Indian spirituality in Western modern dancing
- Pallavi Verma

June 20, 2018

India is a land of ancient wisdom and spirituality. While the west is a golden gate to technology and prosperity, today, Yoga in the west is all over the place just like their fast food. It has 20 million practitioners in the U.S alone. The number of high profile people involved in yoga, their adapted trendy gypsy dresses, popular henna tattoos, the display on a magazine or album covers, the culture has taken a fancy to Indian spirituality and fashion, the hot pursuit of a body beautiful. This cross-culture fertilization between two cultures has been like a long distance affair, caught in their blush of infatuation. Yoga has thus been led to its watershed version. We can see some of the catalyst events in the past.

The Beatles

Beatles' visit to Rishikesh in 1968 is said to have brought them the spiritual reawakening through meditation, vegetarian food and the gentle beauty of the foothills of the Himalayas. No fans, no press, no rushing around the busy schedule, giving up their drugs. The trip proved to be one of their most creative period - they wrote 48 songs. The media covered them in their Indian attire described as "embroidered over blouses, fanciful brass pendants, cotton pajamas broadly stripped in bright colors. They look liked gypsies with their angular faces framed in long dark hair." People all over the world fancied it all and their album during this time 'The White Album' became a major hit in the market.


Another such event to be noted was Madonna's cut arm. Madonna was an icon with the new standard of feminine appeal. In 1998, she announced that she was done with gym and had become a convert to yoga. She speaks of the spiritual and mental benefits of her yoga practice, how it was a metaphor for life. But sadly, most people were just obsessed with her physique.

Yoga has been complementing modern dancing in West and its technique since the first generation of its pioneers. There is a correlation of some of the basic floor work of Martha Graham to the seated asanas of Hath Yoga (see the similarity between pretzel sit in the Graham technique and the spinal twist in yoga). A ritualistic similarity indeed. Dancers in the west have been drawn to the Indian aesthetics, yoga as a union of body, mind, and soul, its spirituality. But why is it so?

Physical training in the west is more athletic in nature. Hours of rigorous training bring physical as well as mental exhaustion. It even sometimes tends to get negatively influenced by the competition, over-working obsessive nature, and the stressful company dynamics. This creates an imbalance not only in body but also in mind. A dancer definitely needs a balance for the endless hours, years and even decades of efforts and dedicated practice that is required for training, seeking/creating jobs, as well as performing and the numerous other hats that he/she wears as choreographer/fundraiser/producer. Indian spirituality through yoga gives them a counterbalance to this imbalance. It is healthy, rooted and a fresh medium to look into dance techniques. It seems a neutral technique in terms of style to develop inner awareness. Yoga helps them surrender to the moment, regaining focus and perspective. In contrast to the degenerative force in their training, Yoga comes as a regenerative force and a beacon of hope. The concept of approaching physicality through a softer, more compassionate approach lead them to deep internal listening. It created a flexibility and stability in mind, a relaxed state of emotional level. It is a wonder for them to see how yoga is helping them to heal their injuries. It aids them in the ability to rehearse and train injury free. Eventually, it also helps dancers to take away their performance anxiety through the skills of mindfulness. Growing old in the world of dance encompasses a tremendous struggle to find first and then maintain your potential for as long as possible. Yoga has remained a positive guide in this regard for the dancers. A new means to organise effort and enhance creativity.

It's interesting to see how Indian aesthetics of yoga are influencing western aesthetics and it getting recognization as an International Day to celebrate healthy body, a stable mind, and peaceful soul.

Pallavi Verma, is a contemporary dancer researching on interdisciplinary dance and creative projects. .

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