I was always a cute but chubby kid, and one of the many attempts by mom to check my weight gain was this dance class. Yes, it was out of nil interest/passion; the only motivation to go there was to learn a creative form of exercise. At that time, my elder cousin, Mudra, was also learning Bharatnatyam in the same academy. It was my Guru, Mrs Behnaz Todiwala, who introduced me to the actual world of awe and magic. Her expressiveness and crispness caught me.
I started off by becoming the most sincere student, obeying all what the teachers said (because it was and is how I casually am). But with no stamina nor any flexibility, getting my legs to move around in the classical fashion seemed a task well beyond this world. At the end of a mere 1 hour class, I was no more than a dump of flesh. What clung on in my head was my Guru’s
expertise...well, I knew my goal. So after returning home, I used to revise all the dance moves of the day, the theory taught (in that I was quite strong from the start, but still) and then do another round of stretching exercises. Slowly, all the banging around of legs, constantly keeping knees in a half-sitting stance, knocking knees on the floor became commonplace and reflex. As years moved on, my body had started toning up and was well under my control. The teachers used to praise the stability with which I danced, which pushed me to get better in the dance form which was now so undetachable from my life. With advanced years came more complex dance pieces,
and the nrutya part (i.e. abhinaya or expressions) started entering. Now, I was expressive in daily matters but drama, bringing expressions out at will, no. I just couldn’t do it; I was too shy to deliberately show emotions then. They just wouldn’t come. So I adopted the technique of copying my teacher’s expressions, and believe me, it worked! When this copying turned into auto-expression is still debatable. But by any means, it came, and the feeling of feeling my feelings coming out on my face filled me with delight unexplainable.
Before we start dancing, we recite 2 shlokas: one for Lord Nataraj (the God of Dance), and second for our personal God of dance, our Guru. Then we ask mother Earth to allow us to be harsh on her with our feet with the mere purpose of getting on the spiritual union of the mortal and the immortal. We also deeply apologize for the pain inflicted. All this may sound trivial to a non-believer, but such things promoted our hearts to literally come out of the real world into the world of artistic speculations and novel creations. Though I am not a literal atheist, dancing gives me the confidence that there exists some power that keeps me elated when I dance. The classical music on which we perform fills the hollowness of the soul, gives satisfaction.
Our Guru is rather a strict one, but that has always benefitted me, so no harm :-)
This is how I completed my 6 years of classical dance training, with year-end theory and practical exams. I qualified all of them with either a distinction or a first class.
Then came my Arangetram, those days in life that can never come back in any measure whatsoever. Arangetram is the first official stage show of a classical dancer after completing full margam (a set of 7 categories of dance pieces). Through this the Guru is said to be granting permission for future stage performances. The dance, with all the history it carries, is still deeply fastened to its root values. Hence these fascinating rituals. With three other girls who all were elder to me (one of them was that cousin of mine), I accomplished this 3 hour stage show. Ask me how, and the answer will be “red-bull”! On that day as the tinkling of our ghunghroos filled
the hall, my hidden sweaty beads made me recall of the daily practice of 4 hours (weekend 6 hours min.), the bad cramps, the rehearsals, the photo shoots, the perfecting-of-poses sessions, the final day make-up and alighting the stage where I was. Also, all the ice-creams we had had during all this. And then again catching up with the music, the exact beat in that moment. At the end I felt like I could dance for another 3 hours, but mom recalled me of the exam in school the next day.
What accompanied this was my first and only official Bharatnatyam costume (the orange and green one, patriotic right?!) and the jewellery set, my most treasured possessions till this day.
Alongside my official dance training, I have participated in numerous in-school and extra-school
dances, most of which are self-choreographed. May it be in school assemblies, annual functions, teaching new dances to seniors, organizing perfect-practice sessions, drama fest, inter-house dance competitions and so on, I was the natural name to be taken off. I enjoyed this position and lived up to people’s expectations. Unfortunately, most of the dances used to go un-recorded and hence I have a void of memories to live upon for those times.
I was selected for the state level of the Balshree Award by the Govt. of India, and was deeply
applauded on my performance (again fully self-choreographed) on the theme- Save Girl Child. Unfortunately again, I was only with my mom, who says she was so mesmerized by my dance that she completely forgot to capture it in her camera. Unfortunately squared, that year the government changed and so did all the policies leading to the cancellation of that year's Balashree award.
My journey with this passion will continue, always.