Since we enjoyed 'World Puppetry Day' so much, I find myself being instinctively drawn towards any similar sounding celebration related to the arts! Well today, ie 29th April is World Dance Day and there are number of exciting dance performances around the city of Bangalore to which we are not going. ' then what's the excitement about?' you'd say, throwing up your arms, well, what we have is our tri-weekly dance class (actually the kids are going for it but I am as excited as they are)and we have practiced a lot since the last class which was on Monday. In the western dance segment 5 steps have been taught and the Brat is also learning Bharatnatyam for which she has been taught 2 steps. I have always had a soft corner for dance, the first time I learnt dance was when I was about my mite's age in Calcutta. The class was not very far from the house and sometimes Baba took me for the class and he always treated me to a lollypop on the way back. In those days there used to be those 'chine badam wallas' (roasted groundnut sellers) at street corners who would be stirring vigorously at a mound of groundnuts on a layer of sand in a kadai placed on a makeshift stove...I can still smell the roasting groundnuts and taste them.....Anyhow, getting back to dance. Our teacher was Minoti miss. She was very tall and well built (atleast she appeared so to me) and she taught us Indian dance, not anything classical but a mixture of many styles. Minoti ma'am was organising a dance drama on the story of Ali baba and the forty thieves and she gave us (the youngest group in her school) a chance to perform at Rabindra Sadan by fitting us in as little fairies or hoors in her narrative. That was the only chance that I got to perform at the rabindra Sadan. A beautiful satin ghgra and choli was made for me for the performance it was red in colour (red is my favourite colour) and I spent many happy hours in the afternoon wearing the costume and practicing before the mirror. Thereafter we shifted to Delhi and in class II I joined Odissi classes under Sri Mayadhar Raut. The classes were held at Bharatiya Kala Kendra and was quite a distance from our Mandir Marg home. Amma (my grandmom ) used to go with me in the car and Sachindro dada our resident driver used to take us there. I learnt for a year and got good marks in the exam but I had to discontinue after I was seriously ill with typhiod. Our Guruji was a hard task master and he would always have a cane in his hand and would keep the taal by hitting it on the dias in front of him. Sometimes he would walk about among the dancers and an misplaced foot would get a rap with the cane! Odisi is a very difficult dance form because you have to always be in a half sitting position with your two feet facing in the opposite directions. It was fun, though, and I made friends in dance class. My next stint with dance was when I joined 'Dakhini' after Baba got transferred to Calcutta. I was in class V. At Dakshini which was run by Shubho Guhathakurta a stalwart in the cultural scene, girls were not allowed to attend class in a salwaar kameez because the gentleman considered it to be a dress of an alien (Muslim?) culture!! I remember the first time I went there I was in my favourite salwaar kameez, he points at me as says 'aei shob dress ekhane cholbena' although frocks, skirt blouse were allowed! Since when did skirt blouse and frock become Indian dresses? I wanted to ask grandpa Shubho....but one has to accept such things when one is small and insignificant. In Dakshini I learnt a lot of manipuri dance along with Bharatnatyam. The dance form adopted for dances on rabindrasngeet was an amalgamation of the two forms. Manipuri has two distinct styles one meant for the dancer depicting females and the tandav style for dancers who represent males. The narratives always have tales of Radha and Krishna in it. the costume of the females and males are equally elaborate and distinct.
At school we were taught dance by Mr Bose who was a kind and patient teacher. In class VI I had my first and only opportunity at a stage appearance at school when we were made deers in a performance of a dance drama on Buddha. Thereafter I could not participate too much at school whicjh entailed staying back at school after class.
At about this time the Ladies of the Calcutta Prt trust ( where my father worked on deputation) became very active culturally and I participated in a number of functions organised by them. Dipu auntie was our teacher and the first and most memorable performance we did was on the lawns of one of the bungalows in Prtland park on the day of holi. Most of the dancers were first timers but Dipu auntie did a great job with us. For the first time I had a solo performance. Dipu auntie made me perform twice more, one of which was a solo performance and then there was a big performance in Mahajati Sadan in Chetla. The thrill of being on stage was tremendous and I enjoyed myself most in the group dance performances because the thrill in coordinating the movements is something else altogether. When I got to class IX I did not have time for this hobby because of the pressure of studies. I have not learnt dance since then....During my BEd days I got another chance to learn a dance. In our Bed class we were encouraged to participate in every kind of extra curriculars. On the occassion of Republic day we performed folk dances of the different states and I was part of a dance from Kerala. It was an enjoyable experience and brought back all the fond memories of dance.
When I was working at Hindi High school Girl's Section after BEd I got a chance to choreograph the girls for their annual day function. This group of girls had chosen a slow anand Shanker music piece and were to perform with lighted diyas in their hands. They thought their dance was very bad and their music was terrible, the group which had got a fast beat Rajasthani number was their favourite. I had to convince them that dance does not mean merely leaping about at a fast pace you can have a slow dance which can hold the audience's attention. The girls did a fine job and held their own amidst the fast paced numbers. On the day before the final performance there was panic as one of the dancers had lost her grandfather and hence could not come. There were several dance formations in the routine which would go awry if a dancer was missing. I was called back from home after school hours and the girls and I addressed the crisis. " Ma'am, you take her place" said one, but tempting though the offer was, I declined. I adjusted the formations so that only one girl (the partner of the one that was missing) had to change her steps a bit. Our Pincipal said that she could not make out taht someone was missing at the final performance. I thanked the girls and was very proud of them and I thought of all my teachers of dance who had prepared me for that small crisis that day.
As I look back at all my encounters with dance, I have a smile on my face...the cheerful banter at practice sessions, the thrill of the stage, the happiness in performing, it has been a great experience. I hope my kids have a good relationship with dance too. They do not have to be oustanding performers or great exponents as long as they enjoy themselves and have some happy memories to cherish, I am content. For the moment we are happy and excited about the class this evening, so we have started off on the right foot, haven't we?