‘A dancer peaks only around the age of 40'

Bharathanatyam artiste Dakshina talks about what it requires to be a full-time dancer

Dakshina Vaidyanathan Baghel

By the time she was three, Dakshina Vaidyanathan Baghel had decided that she wanted to be a dancer. She continues the formidable legacy of her grandmother, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awardee Dr Saroja Vaidyanathan, and mother, Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee Rama Vaidyanathan. 

Dakshina has done Electronics and Communication Engineering from Vellore Institute of Technology and is now a professional dancer based in Delhi. Recently in Bengaluru for a performance with her mother, she talked to Metrolife about a life steeped in the arts. 

What made you decide to pursue dance professionally?

My family background has a large role to play in this. Learning to dance was as basic as learning to read or write. It was an integral part of my everyday life. It is also my passion, something which lets me express myself the best and makes me happy.

What is the atmosphere like at home? 

We all have a dual relationship- at home we are family and in the dance class, we are teacher and student. You have to know how to keep your personal and professional lives separate as it is all too easy for differences to creep in when you work together.  

Do you have a dance group of your own? 

I am a freelancer and a solo artist, as Indian classical dance forms are essentially solo art forms. I am a part of my mother and my grandmother’s troupes and as and when there are group productions, I participate in them. I also choreograph my own group productions and involve my mother and grandmother’s students in the same.

Are youngsters still interested in classical dance?  

Contrary to what many think, classical dance is gaining popularity — people are becoming culturally inclined, are coming to watch performances and are enrolling their children in classes. 

Our Indian culture is our USP. Whether it is the Taj Mahal or bharathanatyam or Madhubani paintings, our culture attracts people from all over the world and it is our responsibility to promote and propagate this.

A common misconception about classical dance?

A lot of people think that artistes are people who didn’t make it academically. But people in this field need to be very well-read and disciplined. Just to be able to choreograph a small piece of art requires almost months of research. 

Who are the dancers you look up to?

Many, at different levels. There are senior gurus like my grandmother, above the age of 70, who have been wonderful performers and now teach, choreograph or perform ‘abhinaya’ (expressional) pieces.

Then there are people in my mother’s category, between the ages of 40-60 years, who are star performers. I believe that a dancer peaks only around the age of 40 as Indian classical dance requires a high degree of emotional maturity which comes with age and practice. 

You have such long hair. Isn’t it too much of a bother?

Dealing with my hair is a daily ordeal. I sweat a lot during performances, my hair takes forever to dry and gets stuck everywhere if I leave it open. But I like long hair and I don’t mind the effort it takes to handle it, especially since I am used to the routine for ten years now.

I know it will fall off soon but till I have it, I am keeping it (laughs). 

Dakshina has choreographed many group and solo productions like:

Nakshatra: a group production about the 12 zodiac signs, their traits and characteristics. It questioned whether astrology is a science or a play of the supernatural.

From zero to infinity: Explored the interdependence between science and philosophy.

Newton’s law of Karma: About the concept and meaning of Karma through the imagery of Newton’s third law of motion.

Shoorpanakha: A solo production which shows a different view of the Ramayana. The entire epic is seen as Shoorpanakha’s plan to kill Ravana, as revenge for killing her husband.

Treem Trishoolaaya: A production which describes the esoteric significance of the ‘Trishoola’ weapon in the goddess’s hand.


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