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Tushna Dallas: The first Ballet teacher of India

THE ASIAN AGE. | SANDIP SOPARRKAR
Published : May 17, 2018, 2:04 am IST
Updated : May 17, 2018, 2:03 am IST

Top Western Dancers of India regard you as the epitome of dance, how do you feel?

They want to move out of the structured Ballet mould. Contemporary is also that much easier and looks fabulous when you have the Ballet technique.
 They want to move out of the structured Ballet mould. Contemporary is also that much easier and looks fabulous when you have the Ballet technique.

In India we have our own classical dances and each dance has its stalwarts, pioneers and teachers. But when it comes to Western classical dance, Ballet, there are not too many who are teaching it and performing it. But In Mumbai there is one dynamic lady who, since 1966, has been on her pointe and has been spreading the grace and beauty of Ballet through her classes at The School of Classical Ballet and Western Dance. I want you all to meet the ever so elegant, petite and soft spoken the legendary Tushna Dallas.

I have known Ms Dallas daughter Khushcheher for many years now and always had the desire to meet the legend and recently at a show when I spotted her sitting in a corner admiring all her dancers, I,  like a star struck dancer ran up to her to introduce myself. Her warmth and poise captivated me and with twinkle in my eyes I sat down to talk to the lady who Shaimak Davar, Terrence Lewis, Parizaad Zorabian, and every Western dancer in the country looks up to.

You introduced Ballet culture into India in 1966, What progress have you seen since then?

Yes, I commenced my teaching in Mumbai with four students. I set out to teach many forms of dance but later became more single-minded towards the Ballet but continued to include Limbering and European folk dances. In 1980, I pioneered the 1st Ballet exams of the Royal Academy of Dance (London) with just 18 students. My teacher Patricia Hutchinson who was vice-principal of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing London College from where I studied and graduated, later became Principal of the RAD (London) college. She spoke to the RAD to send an examiner to India, which at the time was unheard of, with her support, I took courage and pioneered the 1st set of RAD exams.  

What is the school like now?

Today my daughter Khushcheher (we call her Khooshoo) runs the school. We have and continue to maintain a high standard of work throughout the years. We usually end up with 300 entries for the exam. In 1998, Khooshoo introduced Modern Theatre exams of the ISTD (London) and later introduced Latin American exams in 2006 of the ISTD as well. The strength of our school is giving the students a strong technical foundation which culminates in their achievement in their exams as well as their technique. This helps in motivating the children towards their goals.

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Top Western Dancers of India regard you as the epitome of dance, how do you feel?

I am very appreciative, I want to thank everyone for all the love, I would say I sowed seeds, and the sprouting of those seeds are very rewarding.

Contemporary dance has its root of Ballet techniques, but is gaining more popularity world over compared to Ballet, Why?

Dance reflects the era and the time perceived in all arts, music, paintings etc. Today’s life is more free, dancers, choreographers want to express more freely their feelings and ideas. They want to move out of the structured Ballet mould. Contemporary is also that much easier and looks fabulous when you have the Ballet technique. People want to dance quickly today. Ballet today contributes to each dance form and so is viewed more as a compulsory dance form aimed at improving other dance forms, but is not directed towards the Ballet for its own sake. It is a passport to enhance the technique of other styles. It still exists of course in the professional Ballet companies world-wide. Thank God!

In India Ballet has not reached its full potential, Please comment.

Yes, I agree. Firstly we are so rich in our own culture of music and dance with so many different styles that exposure of Ballet has always been limited. Ballet is a skilful performing art. It requires a home, a centre where students are selected with the right anatomical bodies, to survive the demanding technique of ballet training.

It takes years of dedication and determination to arrive at an international height. After the training, to make Ballet a career it needs survival for the dancers as well as a platform to dance in a Ballet company. Unfortunately the lack of opportunity to perform is a deterrent and given the fast paced life today, most of the students don’t have the time to devote to a training like Ballet.

On TV today Ballet has not got its spotlight yet, Where do you think the improvement is needed?

Ballet is not the entertainment of the masses. The country as a whole is still naive about the art. It is an acquired art form and only when you are educated in this art form which is internalisation not form, you can appreciate Ballet for its hidden strength and beauty which comes across visually with effortless ease. Ballet needs an exclusive infrastructure which is still not available even in the biggest art centres of our city.

Your advice to dancers ones who wish to pursue Ballet

Ballet requires years of dedication and hardwork, only those who are passionate about this art should pursue it. Ballet gives the audience a special joy and can be heart stirring at its best. Ballet is demanding, with high standards it is not for the faint hearted.

While I spoke to the legend I realised that she was emotional, who would not be with over five decades of hard work and thousands of students it is but natural. She was lucky to have found her vocation at an early age of four, she dreamt of being a Ballerina, but destiny brought her the opportunity to share her love of Ballet as a teacher. For her even today every class is new and now. Her greatest reward is to see her ex students succeed in their line of work and take the love and discipline Ballet gave them into their lives as a way of life.

We concluded our talk when she said, “The challenges today are that Ballet needs an infrastructure, a home, studio space and most important, funding to enable it to grow as an art form, which takes years of daily training. Parents and pupils today do not view the training seriously as there is no goal at the end of the day to dance or make a career”.

The maestro feels that the reward is that students do not thank her for the Ballet, but for what Ballet has brought into their lives.

Ballet is a beautiful art form, it demands nothing less than perfection. Ballet is not just technique, but it has to have a very strong foundation in technique.

It is aesthetic, ethereal and lifts the soul of the Dancer and audience. There should be no dancer, only a dissolvement into dance.

The writer is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with two National Excellence awards and one National Achievement Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on sandip soparrkar06@gmail.com

Tags: india ballet, western dancers, royal academy of dance