Where's the dance?

How come we don't have classical dance reality shows?

Since 1982, every April 29 is celebrated as International Dance Day to commemorate the birth anniversary of Jean-Georges Noverre, the creator of modern ballet. The day, created by the International Theatre Institute, the main partner for performing arts of UNESCO, encourages every nation to promote its own style of dance as an art form.

Own style of dance? Does the current crop of Indian youth know what Indian style of dancing is? According to the shows currently on air in India, our style of dance is following the international pop culture. So, we get to see young boys and girls jumping, somersaulting, turning and twisting their bodies, standing on their heads, hands and doing every style that we earlier would only see either in a circus or on the gymnasium floors.

I still remember in my childhood returning from picture halls, trying to be like a Vyjayanthimala (‘Kaise Samjhaoon’), Sadhana (‘Jhumka Gira Re’), Hema Malini (‘O Ghata Sanwari’), etc, trying to recreate those magical steps by humming the songs, or trying to copy steps after watching live performances of dancers like Padmini, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Gopi Krishna, Jhaveri sisters and others.

Where has the graceful, soft, highly expressive and emotive Indian dance vanished to? We have fast beat steps in Bharatnatyam, Kathak, high drama in Kathakali, soft and soothing movements in Manipuri, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi and many others. Plus, every state and region has its own folk dances like Maharashtra’s lavani, Punjab’s bhangra, Assam’s Bihu and others. When asked, Saroj Khan, veteran Bollywood choreographer, says, “The present-day dance does resemble a circus! That is popular amongst the youngsters and the TV channels highlight it. But, very slowly, the classical art form of India is trickling back. The show I am a guest judge on (High Fever Dance Ka Naya Tevar) has a couple of women performing kathak on Bollywood songs. I am hopeful that our Indian dance forms will get back on the popularity list.”

The popularity quotient of Indian classical dance form has taken a serious beating. According to Bengaluru-based break-dancer Johanna Rodrigues (aka b-girl Jo of Black Ice crew), “Indian classical dance is good but is too rigid. We have to allocate nearly five to seven years to master it.”

This apprehension of youth needs to be addressed by the senior classical dancers. The youth has to be told that the current style of dance comes with a cut-off age, while classical or folk dances are ageless. Maybe with less frequency, but Vyjayanthimala, at the age of 82, Birju Maharaj, at the age of 80, still perform.

Padmashri awardee Alarmel Valli in one of her speeches at TEDx Sairam narrated an incident when she was invited to address the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun. “After my dance demonstration-lecture, one of the cadets came up to me and said, ‘Madam, I didn’t know that Bharatanatyam is as exciting to watch as Michael Jackson’s performance. I always thought that it was quite boring and dull!’” She admitted that this misconception amongst youth has to be cleared. The youth has to be informed about the eternal beauty of classical dance forms.

We need TV programmes and dance performers to woo the youth back to our classical dance form. Just as film songs are prevalent but classical music hasn’t taken a back seat, even the hip-hop culture can stay, but the Indian classical dance form has to climb up the popularity chart.

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Where's the dance?

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