Dance in India comes in different genres and means different things to different people.
My WhatsApp inbox is flooded with messages from various dance institutions and dance gurus inviting me for their celebrations of World Dance Day 2019. My thoughts go back to 2004, 15 years ago, when I approached the India International Centre to begin our annual collaboration to mark World Dance Day. Almost, no one had heard about the day then!
Eyebrows went up to ask: Do we really need a single day dedicated to dance? Isn’t this what we do every single day of our lives? Or even, gosh! Yet another foreign idea!
But today, I feel vindicated. The efforts of 15 years seem to have borne fruit, and the day is widely accepted by the dance community, organisations and most importantly, by the audiences.
Dance in India comes in different genres and means different things to different people. We have the highly evolved classical or traditional dance art forms. But there are also a huge variety of folk forms from different parts of this country. Plus, the new variants: Bollywood dance, jazz dance, hip-hop, salsa, contemporary and so on. Each form is being taught, performed and enjoyed!
That is why we all celebrate World Dance Day.
World Dance Day, observed every year on April 29th, was established in 1982 by Unesco’s International Dance Council and aims at attracting attention to the art of dance. It is celebrated by millions of dancers around the globe. On that day, dance companies, dance schools, organisations and individuals, professionals as well as amateurs, organise an activity addressing an audience different from their usual one.
The theme selected for the 2019 observance is Dance and Spirituality.
In his annual message to the global dance community, Alkis Raftis, president of the International Dance Council, CID, Unesco, Paris writes:
“When dancing, people sometimes transcend to the realm of the supernatural; music and movement combined fuse body and mind to an elevated state. This ecstatic experience liberates, extends deeper into one’s inner dimension, uniting the person with the universe.
When creating, choreographers sometimes succeed in producing in the spectator a connection with the sacred, the esoteric, the superbly unknown. Further than recreation and art, dance then becomes a vehicle of elevated conscience, a quest for the ultimate meaning. Such choreography leads beyond the observable, the experienced and the known.
Deliades — dancing nymphs on the island of Delos in ancient Greece. Devadasis — temple attendants preserving the classical traditions — Bharatanatyam and Odissi in India. Sufi Dervishes — followers of the Persian poet Rumi, with their whirling dance. Aztec priests ‘singing with the feet’ in pre-Hispanic Mexico. Spirituality has always been present in dancing.
Presently, we witness the rapid proliferation of liturgical dance, especially in the Americas. Dance returns as a practice of worship, a physical form of prayer and an expression of devotion to God. Thousands of ministers-choreographers are trained and establish their own congregations. In some places dance ministries outnumber conventional dance schools.
The theme we propose for Dance Day and for events in 2019 is Dance and Spirituality.”
While spirituality uniformly informs and inspires Indian dance, our culture of dance goes beyond such simple templates. World Dance Day gives us an opportunity to retrospect, celebrate, have a dialogue, bring together performers across generations and bring the community of dancers together, which does not happen very often.
Usually, we dancers lead lonely lives, cut off in their studios from others and tread a lonely solo path. We are fragmented geographically, across styles, genre, age groups and so on. There is a huge gap between practitioners and academics who are studying the art form. Curators are not watching enough of performances. To address these and many more issues, forums are required to weld the dance community closer and to delete these hyphens that separate us. I feel World Dance Day gives us an opportunity to share and understand the dance scene better, and offers an invaluable lifeline to budding young dancers to feel that there is a larger and caring dance community they can turn to.
From personal experience, my disciples at Natya Vriksha have gained so much from our World Dance Day observances, watching dance, listening to lectures, participating in seminars and watching films on dance. We have had Mrinalini Sarabhai, Yamini Krishnamurthi and Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan address our World Dance Day conventions. They have participated in several workshops that have opened their eyes to “other” training pedagogies.
This year too we have planned workshops on contemporary movement led by Santosh Nair and a Rhythm Workshop led by the talented young mridangam artist, Manohar Balatchandirane. Scholar/author Pavan K. Varma will address the plenary with his take on the current state of Indian culture. Dancer Rema Shrikant from Baroda will share her dance journey with a session illustrated by her students. And young dancers from various parts of India will be showcased in the Young Dancers Festival. There will also be a tribute to Guru Karaikudi P. Sivakumar, who had made seminal contributions to the evolution of tala in Bharatanatyam.
The plans and in place — the audience is awaited!
Happy World Dance Day 2019!
A celebrated artiste and a star performer, Geeta Chandran is a dance multiplier. She is also a recipient of the Padma Shri.