21-Nov-2005

Dance classes 1

I have always wanted to learn dancing. Even as a child I used to put up programmes during family vacations, which involved a bunch of cousins dancing to the latest hit song. This allowed me to indulge in two of my favourite activities – dancing and bossing over everyone. Unfortunately this enthusiasm never translated into actually going for a class as a kid. The blame for this of course lies entirely with my parents (as also the blame for my lack of cooking skills, swimming skills, inability to do origami, play the piano and any other life saving skill which they should have equipped me with).
So when I finally graduated, got a job and settled in the heart of a south Indian locality in the midst of Mumbai, it was time to give the sleeping dancer in me a chance to bloom and blossom. Being a good south Indian my first and obvious choice was to enroll in a Bharatnatyam classes. Without much ado I made enquiries and found out that the South Indian Education Society (SIES) conduced classes every Saturday and Sunday.
Bharatnatyam is a dance where you start of by learning the basic steps, and then you learn Alaripu, and finally move on to more complicated sequences involving intricate footwork and vivid expressions. After about 6 – 8 years or so of dancing, you are more or less ready to perform in public. I knew all of this at some level. But I forgot to account for the fact that people my age would have obviously passed through the 8 years of training and would be pros. So if I had to start with the basics, I may have a much junior set of people to contend with.
The first hint of this occurred me to me when I called up the SIES office and I asked when the next session would start. The gentleman on the other side said it would be soon and then proceeded to inquire how old my daughter was. I muttered that actually it was I who was interested in learning. I don’t know if it was embarrassment or merriment which made him gulp a bit and forcefully regain his composure before proceeding to tell me stories of people who started late but became pros. Encouraged, I hung up and started looking forward to the first class on Saturday afternoon.
The room was filled with little six year olds running to and fro and chasing each other. A couple of them stopped and looked a bit frightened when I passed by them and made my way to the teacher. I humbly did a Namaskaran and then as the teacher called the class to attention, took my place at the very last row (‘tallest girls please stand at the back’) of the bunch of six year olds. My classmates looked at me through the corner of their eyes, less frightened and the class began.
The first few classes were difficult. My thighs were hurting like mad but I could not confide in to my co-classmates because they seemed to spend all their breaks playing some running game. Obviously their thighs did not ache as much. All my breaks went in catching my breath. So I really did not miss the conversation. But gradually I started enjoying the idea of being let loose among kids on Saturdays and Sundays. After a week of ‘real’ world at the office, suddenly I could look forward to singing happy birthday if it was some kid’s birthday and waiting with anticipation as she distributed chocolates. My classmates treated me as a likeable but possibly slightly demented adult (why else would anyone this huge be learning dance with them) who could be admitted into their world. I got glimpses of first fallen tooth, new bangles and extra chocolates on birthdays.
The highlight of my dancing life really was the annual dance at Vijayadasami. This was a performance, which everyone in class had to participate in. Each batch of students had a dance to do and since within six months I had gained enough expertise, I was included in the batch of ten year olds. All the younger kids would have to wear the standard white salwar kameez uniform and the older ones would have to wear splendid silk sarees, jewellery and good make up. I was not sure if I could handle getting into such elaborate dancer costume all by myself and managed to get one of my dancer friends, Leo, to help.
The day of the performance dawned bright and sunny. Leo enthusiastically applied the make up pro style (which meant lots of it), wrapped the saree beautifully, arranged the jewellery and even managed to remove imaginary lint from somewhere. Then satisfied with the results settled to watch me perform. I had already warned her that elaborate costume aside, I was still a bit junior in the scheme of things. How much junior, she had not guessed. She watched open-eyed as I joined the row of 4ft something kids. I think this was the moment when she decided to play ‘mom’. With gusto Leo began to click various snaps of me along with my classmates. She beat every aggressive go-getter mom over there to hover right in front of the audience with the camera. When the performance got over I could hear her cheer me loudly. Much as I was proud of my accomplishment (and the loud moral support), suddenly I was wishing I had come alone.
The classes went on for a year after that. I was not really regular. After all I could blame work if I slept instead of going to the classes. And then just when I had finished Alaripu and had started on a slightly more complicated piece, I moved back to Chennai. I considered taking up classes again in Chennai but realized the kids here were way too ambitious, the teachers much more strict and the whole thing too serious. Dancing with ten year olds was OK on my ego. But dancing with snooty ten year olds would have been too difficult.
I still have the 12 photos Leo took of me in the 8-minute dance. A bunch of 10 year olds in white salwar kameezes, with me rising like a shining beacon in a bright saree somewhere at the back. I am not sure if I remember too many of the steps. But finally I have stopped blaming my parents for not enrolling me in dance classes.

3 comments:

Archana said...

Funny :-)! But seriously you must have some enthu to go and learn with kids. I feel embarassed enough learning sth new with people of my own age group!

Entropy said...

Anita, you pig. I have also come for a Bharatnatyam performance and helped you get dressed, and cheered and taken photographs. Why have you not mentioned me ? Don't discriminate against me just because I am an adipose enhanced member of a minority community.

Entropy said...

Anita, you pig. I have also come for a Bharatnatyam performance and helped you get dressed, and cheered and taken photographs. Why have you not mentioned me ? Don't discriminate against me just because I am an adipose enhanced member of a minority community.