The second week of August this year goes down in the book of my life as a week of awesomeness! One that had me feeling incredibly blessed and in a state of bliss. Read on if you are interested in knowing why.
If you are a Bharatanatyam dancer, Dr.Chandrashekar needs no introduction. He is a legend who is known for his precision in executing nrittas. That he is second to none in the abhinaya aspect of the dance is something I witnessed firsthand.
My dance teacher organized a six-day workshop led by Chandrashekhar anna, as she affectionately and respectfully addresses him, during the summer. While I signed up for the workshop in the blink of an eye, come the day of workshop, I was a bundle of nerves – to be dancing for three hours every evening for the next five days? Really, what was I thinking? Not to mention how much of a strain the work life balance is going to be for Da this week. So on and so forth went the stories in my head.
For better or worse, a commitment is a commitment. So I had no choice, but to muster up the courage and show up the first evening. Believe it or not, that was all that was needed. The energy and the spirit of the class melted my apprehensions and nervousness into oblivion. It didn’t matter, whether you were good, better, or best. What counted was you participated, and gave it your personal best.
The classes began with a warm up. Anna took a adavu set, showed variations to it, played with the different permutation and combinations of the beats, and explained the nuances of executing the jathis. Following the warm up, he taught us two pieces over the course of the workshop – pushpanjali that extended to misra alarippu, and a small thillana dedicated to Dwaraka Krishna, which was also set to misram.
Apart from these dance items, he also shared with us bits of his choreographies and gave us a glimpse of what goes into the making of a dance item, which in my mind was the ultimate cherry on the cake! For instance, he showed how he used the four speeds of the first thattu adavu to portray the marching of an army. As the speed increased, it gave the sense that the army was marching closer. Then, he described how he would play with the shadows to come up with different ,mudras –the peacock transformed into a turkey with small change in the mudras. He also showed how he used the different kudhithu adavus and sarrikal advaus to depict street games of India. A fun item to watch as a rasika, but one that involved a lot of rigor and incorporating intricacies while choreographing. He showed us how he narrated Ramayana in passive voice, through the eyes of Sita. He also taught us how the adavu – thath thai thaa haa – is versatile. It is used in all dance forms – Bharthanatyam, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Kathakali, Mohinattam and others – with variations in stance and postures. He also explained how one can choreograph creatively for non-traditional topics such as the theory of evolution within the framework of the traditional dance form.
It was very challenging to keep up with the workshop given that my commitments at work left me with practically no time to practice at home. I drenched in the experience as much as I could, grabbing on to every word that fell out of anna’s mouth. Learning not only dance, but some of life’s valuable lessons as well. There is something to be said about the value of hard work and discipline. While talent and flair for dance helps, it is amazing how much one can achieve from sheer hard work, discipline, and mindful practice. Some pearls of wisdom from anna – keep your mind open to new styles without compromising yours, practice, practice and practice, increase your dance vocabulary, and constantly evaluate yourself as a dancer.
I will confess that there was part of me that wished that I was younger, and could grasp all the new pieces like a sponge. I was processing the items intellectually, that’s how my grown up mind absorbed it, instead of going with the flow with great elan. Thankfully, there was another part of me that wisely infused the much needed perspective – there was no reason why dancing should have continued to be part of my life. There was every reason to let this opportunity pass – too much going on at work, the kids need me, or for that matter I will not have the stamina to keep up. Da could have easily said that this is too ambitious for us as a family and that the day to day rhythm of our lives would go off beat. Instead, like always, and like everything else in life, he asked me to do it if that’s something I truly want to do.
As I write this post, I feel gratitude from the depths of my heart. For this opportunity. For being part of something extraordinary. And to have been in the company of greatness. To know what it takes. For all of life’s enablers – parents who nurtured the spark, fantastic gurus who took the spark to the next level, a supportive spouse and well adjusted kids, and finally the financial wherewithal that allowed and continues to allow me to pursue the art form.
I feel blessed that dancing has been such an integral part of my life, at different stages, with different intensities. And because of that I am a better person today!