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Famine in floods

July 30, 2019

So, with so many dancers that abound, especially in popular forms like Bharatanatyam, one would think the dance field is flooded with talents and finding a teacher would be easy? No way.

Guru Purnima symbolism

Guru Shloka

In July, Guru Purnima messages became more inventive and innovative, with new trend that most were assuming they were great gurus at 30! Some super-imposed their own photos on ancient looking sages and flooded WhatsApp with their promotional materials.

So when a well established institution in Gujarat said KUCHCH DIN TOU PADHARO HAMARE GUJARAT MEIN! tag line, I asked about 30 close people in dance if they would be interested in going to Gir lion land. Out of 30, only 3 showed interest. One may ultimately qualify.

So, what are our dance factories and schools churning out really? Unemployable talents, all who wish to be stars first then dance? Or, it is all who wish to indulge in dance art, not really engage?

Shifting from say, Chennai to Baroda or Bangalore to Bharuch is no one's dream job. Say Boston or Bangkok and 100s will flock. Why? Comfort level. Then, most midstream talents get established in a place after 20 years of learning after 10 of practicing. To thus leave that for some employment in a far flung place would mean dislocation and worse, disenfranchisement.

Which brings us to dance as a profession. If it is to be so, where is the standardization in say, teaching? One very good and highly recommended candidate knew no Sanskrit or Tamil; another knew no Carnatic music or choreography. If an institution were to employ such, then from where to get overall trained talents? Big schools like Kalakshetra train in allied arts. Do small dance shops that palm off as gurukul do that?

Acharya Brahaspati's seminal work Parvatilasyam was presented by Bangalore’s group of Vidya Rao and Padmini Shreedhar

Then comes one big time promoter of Indian dance from abroad and asks: "Name 5 best solo one in each form. 3 best groups, one modern, one folk, one classical." I get thinking. What works in Paris may not work in Philippines. Whom to send? Not just a name but a dealable, honest name that will do India proud and keep our reputation intact. Difficult choice. Substance, suitability, schedules. Add, staying power (tours can be tough) and stamina to deal with musicians, officials, press. So a successful dancer today is a multi tasker. A master planner, a gifted manager. Gone are the days when dancers had only to dance. Famine in floods of July?

Bharatamuni at IGNCA main building

July saw Bharatamuni trudge in a truck all the way from South to IGNCA, Delhi. Bharatamuni in stone, as envisaged by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, got majestically situated at a strategic place in IGNCA, with a grand function and all. Trust Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam to do everything with élan, aplomb and finesse. Fellow trustee of IGNCA, Dr. Sonal Mansingh, did the honours and many benefitted from scholarly inputs of erudite Member Secretary, Dr Sachchidanand Joshi and IGNCA President Ram Bahadur Rai.

July end saw another trustee Dr. Bharat Gupt ably organise through Kala Darshan division of the IGNCA, the centenary of acharya Brahaspati, the reputed musicologist. I recall going to his house in Munirka in 1978 when I was with Sahitya Kala Parishad to inform him that Lifetime Achievement Award was to be conferred on him. He was a big man, temperamental to boot and through his big, beady eyes looked at me, a midget then just 25 years old and bellowed: "Award? Why me? What have I done?! My life is not over and I have not achieved much."

Often, many award committees are fixed with favourites, when not cajoled. Each member has his or her pet or agenda. Sad. For art. Those who don't deserve and still get are lucky and smiling. I'm sure those who don't get but deserve feel better because they can live in hope. And so it goes....

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed author, arts administrator, historian, critic with many published books and edits India's only yearbook attenDance. He is now helping the IGNCA, Delhi, set up the Mohan Khokar Dance Archives-cum-Museum.

I don't agree with certain things mentioned in the article. For instance, I don't think anyone who has been trained in a particular dance form for years is completely, incapable of teaching it to others. Every trainee spends years in a institute making numerous mistakes, learning from them, rectifying techniques, getting familiar with the music and a number of compositions, which naturally builds up 40% of the teaching ability. What matters to the dancer, who is willing to teach is how to raise that bar up to 60 or at least 70% in terms of the quality of teaching, which is only possible when he/she is given the opportunity to teach to a number of students and a space to experiment different ways of teaching while keeping in mind the different pace of learning of each student. There are many institutes who do not allow a trainee to teach until and unless the course is over, so Calling dancers who are just out of dance school, unemployable talents would completely be unfair when none of them are actually even given an opportunity to prove their worth.
Practically in order to be a star in dance field, one eventually has to perform often at various sabhas and places, which certainly is not everyone's cup of tea and as most people in the field are aware of, there are many other factors which come in role in which the quality of dance is secondary, which is one such reason why the more deserving and beautiful dancers don't get an opportunity to perform.
I also think that there are many dancers who enjoy performing, be it solo or in group more than teaching and on the other hand we have dancers who are willing to teach, who may or may not be good performers on stage but certainly can mould beautiful dancers. It should be their choice in deciding and continuing with in what they have most potential and encouraged to do so.
- Gayatri Arya (Aug 12, 2019)

Thank you, Sir, for bringing up once again a very important topic. It is a serious issue when youngsters become self proclaimed Gurus. My suggestion to parents is get interested in the art form, ask questions, read on the subject. This will empower you to understand where your child will truly gain knowledge. So many times I have seen students who have learnt for a good 5 years or so, cannot progress from thah to chaugun or athgun when theka is played on the tabla.
- Sampada Pillai (July 31, 2019)

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