I have 'em.
The last couple of days started off a mini-furore about Bharatanatyam(henceforth BN) as an extra-curricular pursuit vs. BN as a lifelong pursuit on Sepia Mutiny. While the actual subject of the post was a profile of Aniruddha Knight, dancer and grandson of one of the greatest of BN exponents T. Balasaraswathi, one of the commenters in the discussion which followed let loose the following volley in response to the words of another poster:
· Floridian said-------------------------------------------------------------
Bharatanatyam has become the de rigueur ballet class of the Indian diaspora. All the little desi girls go through it while in elementary school, but very, very few continue on beyond that. The biggest roadblock are our bharatanatyam teachers, mostly first generation Indians who were trained by serious gurus back home in the traditional way, with an emphasis on learning and perfection rather than performing and sharing.Floridian,
all due respect, but i've seen very good samples of the US teacher-taught population (50-70 girls every year at an intensive dance camp for the past 19 years) and the bit about high standards preventing poor little girls from having fun on stage is simply not true. Most teachers are not anywhere near as strict and do not, in general, care to teach proper form (let alone posture!) as their gurus would have been in the Desh. My mother has taught here for over 24 years, and I have accompanied her to both coasts, during the course of which I did find that teachers were driven in large part by pressure from parents to put little Priyanka/Sarika/Radhika on stage within six months, with 18 costume changes so all their friends can come and watch an abomination born of little patience, overbearing parental desires to live vicariously through their child, and general keepin-up-with-the-Patels malarkey that produces the same kind of pick-it-up-and-drop-it mentality that accompanies so many forays into other extracurricular activities.
Ouch! So now I am evidently demeaning the great art of BN by enrolling M in casual weekly classes and not insisting on the completion of 7 years of training before her appearing on stage for a student's day performance!
As a parent of a rank beginner, I would rather wait the 7 years to see my kid have an arangetram, if she were to sustain interest and in-depth training for that long, rather than try to push a full-fledged performance. But I see no problem with occasional (and minimalist) stage exposure in small portions choreographed to match the skill level. This is before a restricted and appreciative audience of near and dear, in any case.Also, let's consider that the gurus here, living in the midst of casual ballet recitals and such, have merely adopted 'casual BN recitals' as a way to conform with American norms.
(Hint to self: OK, relax, take a deep breath.) Evidently, I am not quite (yet) in the same category of 'money's-worth' parents who would like to see their 'prodigies' on stage before it is appropriate. While Nayagan (commenter above) seems to think that BN should be reserved as a privilege for purely dedicated students, the reality is that very few are the parents of kids who live and breathe BN 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. An initial gauging of interest, followed by years of practice will weed out the dilettantes from the dedicated. But the BN tradition will not flourish without that pool of dabblers either. Where else will the audience and new crop of students come from?
While googling for some other BN information, I chanced upon this vitriolic blog whose raison d'etre appears to be bashing or beatifying various dancers on the Chennai dance scene. A sample of the vitriol below:
There were 2 typical errors that took away from the perfection of Divyatha ’s mukha abhinaya. One was the screwing of eyes, and the other error was the smile’s sudden fluctuations (jitters) when the corners of the mouth move unexpectedly down and then suddenly up again and then down and then up. As if the dancer was unsure of whether to smile or not to smile! Divyatha was not as bad here as Urmila Sathyanarayanan and her students. When Urmila is dancing, she demonstrates, “Hey, am I not funny: now I can smile, you see? Now I don’t. You see?” Very coquettish. It is as if the dancer shows that she is not serious at all. The rasikas get the impression, “Huh! This girl is not for real: she is just pretending!”I was hooked. It was like watching a soap opera of sorts- bad for the brain, but addictive nevertheless, with wonderfully vituperative posts, followed by point-by-point rebuttals by the offended dancing divas or their surrogates. Alas, no updates since the last couple of months, so I can't figure out whether the blog is still alive or merely dormant until the next music season.
It is clear that even a fine arts setting is not devoid of politicking, demagoguery and the like, notwithstanding that Art should be paramount in its own right. One person's ideal of excellence in dance is evidently most despicable to another critic. The dancer can expect kudos from the well-wishers and rotten tomatoes from the opposing schools. Very rarely is the performance seen through unjaundiced eyes.
Where do M's weekly classes figure in this mix, you may ask? Nowhere, if I'm guessing correctly. She will likely go through the years of weekly training. She may drop off at some point if she loses interest, but may continue because of the peer effect, maybe reaching the level of dedication for an arangetram. After which, she will hang up her anklets to continue life with her real career and other objectives, as do so many others whether in India or the U.S.
And the cycle will go on, for another generation, and another...