As kids, we don’t have any inhibitions of dancing, it’s only when we grow up that we develop reservations.
When we all are born, we all move and dance without fear, and also fall without fear. Then over the years we create and build walls around us and soon we hear the same child who would excitedly move to music say ‘I am not a good dancer’, or ‘I can't dance' or 'I am shy to dance’. Why is this so? Have you ever given it a thought as to how these walls are built?
Some who do get comfortable with their dancing skills, have several questions in their minds, even before they turn into a complete so-called professional dancer.
I would like to answer some questions that my students always ask me. If you have been dancing for a while now, it is very important for you to know more about your world and its people. Many a times, students ask me facts about dance and dancers. Here, I have brought some of those answers.
Are dancers athletes?
Yes. Dancers are elite athletes as well as artists. They follow a rigorous training regime and must stay in top condition, just like professional athletes such as basketball or hockey players. Dancers have extraordinary flexibility, muscular strength and both physical and mental endurance. Professional dancers train and practice every day for an average of six hours. Many also cross-train with cardio, weight lifting, yoga and/or Pilates to improve their physical fitness and technique. Especially dances like the Ballroom and Latin dances are a part of Asian Games and Olympics too and to reach that level one has to be an athlete.
How long can dancers continue performing?
While some dancers continue to perform into their 50s or longer but most dancers stop performing by their mid-30s because of the physical demands on their bodies. Many dancers continue to work in the field as choreographers, dance teachers, coaches or artistic directors. But there are some dancing legends in India like Padma Vibhushan Dr Sonal Mansingh, who even till date performs and teaches. I remember Sonal Maa once telling me ‘If a dancer knows the importance of fitness and diet, he or she can dance till the last breadth.’
The world's oldest dancer Ms Tao Porchon Lynch who will be 99 years young this year once told me, ‘Dance is the best form of fitness, it rejuvenates not juts the body but also the mind. I will never stop dancing. I am a born dancer and when it is time for me to go, I will dance my way to another planet.’
Why do modern dancers and many other Indian classical and folk dancer dance bare feet?
Modern dance values a weighted use of the body in relation to the earth - as opposed to ballet, which is more concerned with resisting gravity. Dancing bare feet enables the dancer to connect directly with the floor. After dancing bare feet for a long time, generally the soles of a dancer’s feet adjust and toughen. Some modern dancers put tape on their toes and the balls of their feet to make it easier to turn and slide. Some traditions and cultures too don’t allow dancers to wear footwear so most dancers dance bare feet. Though there are exceptions for sure in all cases.
How did the phrase ‘Dance till you drop!’ come around?
Mr Mike Ritof and Ms Edith Boudreaux both Americans hold the world record of dancing from August 29th, 1930 to April 1st, 1931, they danced for 5,154 hours and 48 minutes — that is 214 days and finally dropped on the floor after making a record. Therefore the dance lovers came up with this very popular phrase
Why do people say 'break a leg' before a dancer goes on stage?
The dance world is full of superstitions. Evil eye, Jaado Tona, is very popular in the world of entertainment. By saying, ‘break a leg’ before a show, people are saying the exact opposite of what they hope will happen on stage. Some dancers have very precise routines for doing their hair or make-up. Others wear certain clothes before a show or keep lucky charms in their dressing rooms or backstage. Following ones belief to feel comfortable is what important so that mind is relaxed from worries while on stage.
Is the Green Room really green?
Well, Sometimes it is, but not always. The Green Room is a quiet, comfortable room backstage where performers can rest and relax before, after and between shows. It's also the place where the performers receive their families and friends. No one knows exactly why it's called a Green Room, but it has been part of the theatre tradition for centuries. Some people believe it is a reference to the days when theatre was performed outside in the open air ‘on the green’. Another alternative to saying ‘Good luck’ before a show is to say, ‘See you on the green’, which is a reference to getting through the show and to the Green Room without incident.
Why aren't there more men and boys in dance?
In India, Natraj is the god of dance and Krishna is also known to be a fantastic dancer, Padma Vibhushan Birju Maharaj, Uday Shankar, Gopi Kishan all legends of dance have been men. Internationally, Fred Astaire was the biggest name in dance, yet fewer boys learn dance. It is strange but true. Many people say that this is because western culture traditionally views dance, and especially ballet, as primarily 'feminine' pursuits. Some parents discourage their sons from taking dance classes even when they show potential and aptitude. Yet some of the world’s great dancers have been and are men and are admired for their strength, grace, agility and musicality, as well as their masculinity. No one would say that being the only boy in a dance class is easy, but following one’s passion, regardless of what other people say or think, is important in developing a rich and satisfying life.
Can performing really be addictive?
While dancing, the body releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for positive moods. Endorphins also act like natural painkillers, so even after hours of gruelling rehearsal dancers don't necessarily feel their aching muscles and joints when they're on stage. Once they start dancing, many people find it hard to quit because the enjoyment factor is so compelling. It's hard to find something else to take its place since few other activities make them feel so connected and alive.
I hope that with these few questions, I have cleared few doubts for those who wish to not only make dance as part of their lives but make dance their life. I always tell my students ‘Dance to Dance and don't think too much about it, because dance has immense magical powers and each question that comes to our mind slowly but surely finds its own answers. So come what may always keep dancing.’
Sandip Soparrkar is a world-renowned ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement Award and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on email@example.com