Dance is a daunting pursuit. It demands constant practice. I remember Guru K N Dakshinamoorthy telling me a story which I truly cherish. “If a dancer does not rehearse for one day, her body will know. If she does not practice for two days, her accompanying artistes will know. And if she abandons practice for three days, her audience will know!”
I narrate this truism to emphasise the unrelenting and constant drudgery of practice. July is the month when my students return to Natya Vriksha after a break. Most of them have travelled far and wide on family vacations. They have tasted fabulous foods and enjoyed themselves to the very hilt. Meanwhile, all the hard work and discipline of the previous 11 months has simply been erased. Flaccid bodies, lost postures, struggling memories—getting them back into shape and fit for the rigour of the discipline is a monumental battle. Tempers get frayed, teachers yell, children’s eyes fill with tears. Guilty parents look pointedly at the floor seeking answers that cannot be found.
How was it when I was young? I remember accompanying my mother to my grandparents’ home in Cochin the very day school closed for the two-month summer break. I would carefully pack my dance notebook and music book. The shruti box too would be wrapped in a soft cotton saree as would the ghungroos. My mother’s strict discipline ensured that every morning I regularly sang for an hour. Then the holiday homework would be completed for the day. Then fun until lunch. Then, in the early afternoon, after a short siesta, I would have to practice my dance steps. Every single day! Harassed cousins would have to wait until I finished my riyaaz to depart for the day’s outing.
And when I returned to Delhi just on the eve of school and dance class reopening, I was ready for both. I would bristle with pride as my dance teacher would admire my memory of everything she had taught me before the vacation. I would feel sneakily superior as all others in the class would get a tongue-lashing from Swarna Amma (Swarna Saraswati) for being so lax.
The pursuit of the arts is a function of discipline and regularity. This is not a two-minute noodle or dip tea that can be served in a jiffy. The marvellous concept of riyaaz that is integral to classical arts anywhere is its biggest pleasure. The befriending of posture-adavus and steps, encountering the familiarity of space as the body carves it in specified ways, all these lead to an inexplicable joy. Achievement is thus purely for oneself. The external eye is immaterial to the pursuit of the arts. Other eyes matter infinitely more—the eye of the teacher, (always) the mother’s eye and one’s own inner eye. It is these gazes that lead to perfection.
Today, many alternate processes for learning dance exist. The workshop process where in two weeks or so one is taught a series of movements with a performance aimed for at the end is one. Even the classical in many places has succumbed to the workshop technique. And many students today learn via Skype and soon other technologies will be upon us.
But for any artist dipped in the old school of guru-shishya learning methodology, there can be no other alternative. The dance will have to grapple with laborious regularity and be invested with life-long learning.
Meanwhile, let me return to the studio and verbally flay this year’s errant batch. For indeed they have—without exception—all returned without any practice or guilt!
The writer is founder-president of Natya Vriksha, Delhi. She is both a performer and teacher.