BEYOND TOKENISM - MAINSTREAMING DANCE
by Geeta Chandran, New Delhi
e-mail: geetachandran@hotmail.com
Apr 29, 2002

Today is World Dance Day. Over two decades have passed since 1982 when UNESCO declared April 29th as World Dance Day. The ostensible purpose was to focus on dance as important aspect of cultural heritage and to build bridges between dance communities across the world.

India is of course home to many of the world's most ancient and fascinating dance forms - folk and classical/neo-aesthetic. Yet dance as a bonafide mainstream cultural tradition eludes us. Dance flourishes only in isolated ghettos.

Even though it is the image of a traditional dancer that decorates major tourism conference promos (the recent PATA is a case in point!), dwindling opportunities for dance, lesser money for the art form and less serious dance criticism are some of the problems that confront the community today. And, of course, vanishing audiences!

Can dance in India be relevant in the time of mega-sports entertainment, television soaps and Bollywood mega-films? What is the relationship between a single individual body's efforts at creation versus the mega-corp approach to entertainment? Can the dance David take the globalised Goliath head-on?

The crucial problem for dance in the new environment is that there is no product that can be marketed by the dancer apart from the moment of creativity. A live audience, a live interaction with limited spectators is the real challenge of a dancer. Unlike tapes, CDs, DVDs, paintings, sculptures, buildings or books, the creative work of a dancer cannot join the commercial race of marketable culture commodities.

Thus it is that this most sacred of all creative pursuits has to be encouraged and protected both by the state and the corporate world as a unique and fragile facet of India's traditions. Dance stares a globalised
world squarely in the face and says that we matter - as individuals, as people, as creative thinkers. Our bodies communicate. We don't need keyboards, batteries and chargers!

Mainstreaming dance will make for good policy. As the world becomes more and more unidimensional in its culture, it is cultural differences that will yield tourism dividends. It is these unique selling points that can draw interest from a pizza-burger-fizz fatigued world.

Policy makers and corporate financiers need to understand that supporting dance can make a big difference to themselves.

We await their verdict! Meanwhile, let me dance.....

Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran runs her dance school Natya Vriksha in New Delhi.