“Dance is the purest expression of every emotion, earthly and spiritual” – Anna Pavlova

I dance as a form of expression, a creative outlet that comes with little external pressure to produce a perfect product. Even as Bharatanatyam, like many other classical dance forms, emphasizes the perfect body posture and pristine execution of the many adavus, jatis, nrittahastas, and abhinaya, I have adopted this fine tuning as a part and parcel of being a dancer. Yet it does not bring me stress.

The external world is full of stressors, but once I begin to dance, my mind becomes the canvas on which my body can paint stories. Arms and legs move in perfect tandem as I lose myself to the music. Sometimes, I dance to the beat of the mridangam, focusing on striking my feet to the rigorous talam, while at other times, I prefer a slower, sentimental composition where the lyrics flow over me like honey. Sweet, worth savouring.

Even in this journey of growth as a dancer, it is important to task one’s mind with the theory of the dance form. My uncle gifted me a series of dance texts when I began dancing at the age of 13. I was gawky and unsure of how far I would travel down the path of classical dance training, but I accepted the books eagerly. In those early years, I focused more on the physicality of the dance form, and it was only later that I cracked the spine on those slender volumes. In the year leading up to my arangetram (“ascending the stage,” the equivalent of a dancer’s debut on the stage as a solo performer), I read voraciously. I went through the English translation of the Natya Shastra (I learnt that an ability to read Devnagari script does not ensure a proper understanding of Sanskrit) and Abhinaya Darpan, the main texts for Indian classical dance forms.

One of my favourite texts is the Essence and Essentials of Dance, compiled by S. Divyasena. This book includes the basic shlokas (prayers) that a dancer must learn, the different head (Shirobhedas), neck (Greevabhedas), eye (Dhrishtibhedas), and eyebrow (Bruhbhedas) movements, the single- and double-hand gestures (Asamyukta and Samyukta hastas), a list of items in a Bharatanatyam repertoire, including descriptions, and the history of the dance form and other Indian classical dance forms. It is comprehensive and yet easy for the novice to follow. Another enjoyable text is The Ganges in Myth and History by Steven G. Darian. This book follows the significance of the Ganga – the goddess river that waters most of northern India. The Ganga is significant in Bharatanatyam as she was captured in the matted locks of Lord Shiva, the lord of dance, during her descent from heaven to the earth.

While learning more about this dance form gives me joy, practicing the basics and choreographing my own pieces is exhilarating! I particularly enjoy creating Krishna pieces, as the antics of young Krishna and, later, the love shared by Radha and Krishna, are always full of emotion and zest. Lately, I have been delving more into translating stories of Hindu mythology through dance. Some of the lesser-known stories are a joy to work with, as they offer plentiful scope for emoting. Choosing instrumental music that fits the mood of the story is also exciting, and I have learnt a lot about the many moods of instrumental music during this lockdown while searching for the perfect track.

Yes, dance is freedom, and allows me to express my emotions in a way that most other activities do not. Through dance, I can pour out my excessive energy, my anxiety, and my joy and meld them into a nuanced and novel output that others can connect to. In dance, we seek a connection – with the audience, with the spiritual, and with the self. Bharatanatyam has given me this outlet to connect with myself in ways that I never imagined.

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