I have been dancing ever since I was born. Back then what I presented was a far cry from the codified style I practice today.
I remember my mother recalling happy instances when she had to control her laughter over the phone while my teacher from nursery called to complain that I was instructing the other girls in the steps of Karishma Kapoor’s latest Bollywood number. Or when my mother was sprouting tears of happiness as I led my kindergarten class in the Michael Jackson ‘Black and White’ song. These things seemed like mere anecdotes until, some 18 years later, I put aside my notions of responsibility and duty to do what made me truly happy.
For the longest time dance remained a hobby – one that I was very good at and which I enjoyed doing – but a hobby nonetheless. It wasn’t until the last year of college, when I felt the reins of decision thrust into my hands, that I sat down to think about what I wanted to do. I had got a job at Pricewater House, admission into Narsee Monji and SP Jain business schools. I was a star kid – school topper, did well in college. But I wanted independence, not just financially but creatively and mentally, I wanted a job that kept me on my toes and gave me flexibility to do different things. I had done my professional debut as a Bharatanatyam dancer a year ago and badly wanted to devote more time and effort into learning it. I wanted to get better and not have the regret of letting Bharatanatyam slip through my fingers (as anyone who dances will tell you – it’s a fickle thing and needs constant devotion). I decided to give myself time to learn more and three years hence find myself neck deep on the thrushes of a professional career in Bharatanatyam.
It has been a journey, in the real sense of the word. Reality hits you hard when you try to pursue a passion as a career. Reality is struggling financially, and getting used to the idea that you may never earn as much as your peers would in a corporate job. However perfection in dance demands time, effort and energy. If you don’t devote time and thinking to it one cannot grow. It’s a balancing act which every Indian Classical dancer learns in time and one that I am still working on.
There’s not a lot of money in dance and for the foreseeable future I doubt that will change. This is not just hard on you mentally but the physical reality of it, performing in small makeshift stages, budget hotels, long train journeys to remote parts of India – it comes with the territory. But for all the physical financial and mental struggles (of the am I good enough kind?) the worst is the toll it sometimes take on your friends and family. There is no regularity in timings and one travels a lot. Opportunities come up last minute leading to cancellations of family events, rebooking tickets, etc. You need the strongest of support systems, people around you who are always understanding and willing to adjust and offer support – financial, mental and emotional. I have been blessed to have this support system in my family and my friends, especially my mother.
Art at the end of the day is a process. It is a process of creation and it takes a lot from you to create something unique and special, which means something to you. But that is why we dance, no? For the joy of it, for the freedom of it, the unconstrained sense of being alive and beautiful and free when you do. The brilliant thing about what I do is that as practised today, Bharatanatyam is a performance art. The dancer(s) create a mood, a scenario, a rasa or feeling in the audience. It’s a shared experience created which vanishes when the dance ends. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do that. Its a beautiful thing to be moved by another’s presentation. It’s a beautiful thing to be constantly challenged, facing the enormity of centuries of wisdom. When you dance you are always learning; you continuously evolve – body, mind and soul. This feeling, of being inspired, of always learning, of continuously pushing myself, is what keeps the flame of dance alive.