My journey as a dancer started many many years ago. Even before I could articulate my thoughts fluently, I began dancing. What followed was my formal training in classical dance constantly for many years. I didn’t take breaks during the “crucial study year(s)”, I didn’t miss classes for a family event or travel, I even missed school when I needed to for rehearsals and performances. In short, I was a wholly commited to dance. No slacking off was allowed. And I enjoyed every bit of it. Or I think I did. I don’t quite remember thinking about the enjoying or not-enjoying part. I’m not sure I was asked to think about it either.
Dance was something I did regularly. Like how one goes to school.
Most classical dancers will agree with me when I say “Dance like nobody’s watching” is not a phrase that bears much relevance with us. Our years of ardous training prepares us to perform. It is in the performative that the art lies. Or so we were taught.
Dance classes consisted of being taught to hold posture, to strike the feet on the ground to produce a loud ‘thud’, balance stances, hold gazes and use our “best features” to bring out the best on stage.
Now, I cannot stress enough on the many merits and million more demerits of the pedagogy, but I’m going to set that aside for now.
I continue to question the pedagogy. For starters, is the pedagogy really foolproof? I, for one, think it makes practitioners less vulnerable and more rigid to accepting and acknowledging feedback and criticism.
Just like we critisize (for the lack of a better term) mainstream subjects taught at school, I happen to think that dance pedagogy also cannot follow a “one size fits all” notion. For instance, I recently came across an online “self paced online Bharatanatyam course all ages”, which was unfortunately curated by someone I’m acquainted with and could safely call a contemporary. Yes, it made me cringe because it makes the entire process so impersonal and forces one into isolating their practice. Sure, it’s convenient and makes art more “accessible” in some way. However, I cannot help but wonder where this allows for organic, feedback based learning. Where is space for creation of communities of practice and growth? I am yet to hear a convincing argument about this. Maybe there’s a side to this that demands more credit than I’m offering it at the moment.
As I grew up around this process of only looking at the performative aspect of the art form as the only final destination, I have had my own set of unlearning to do. The more I read, the more I engage with what artists choose to “perform”, the more I grow curious about how they got there.
Recently, I came across a classical dance performance series where there were several “follow up” series curated especially for the artist to talk and receive feedback on their process. And once the layers of congratulatory wishes and praises for the performance itself were peeled, the process of discussing how an idea became a perfomance began. It made the perfomance itself feel like a journey that has reached a milestone of sorts and will has potential to change course, turnback, re-route even.
Spaces that invite artists to bring their ideas and works that are in progress and share it with a community – for feedback, perspective, criticism (mostly constructive) have a special place in my heart.
The destination for an artist is a thing of beauty, I’m sure, but the journey is so much more. It’s ugly and beautiful, painful and liberating, boring and fun, all at once.
It is interesting to be a an active spectator to the “process”. I feel that it makes one more human, the vulnerability facilitates the creation of safe spaces and artists become more, well, accessible.
I am all for spaces that intend on creating an actual bond between the art, artist, the process of creation and the audience.
One could argue that this would make the audience pool smaller, opening up discussions to only a small pocket of, well, “elitist” crowds that know how the process works and have the bandwidth and resources to attend such spaces.
Like I said, I was taught to dance like everyone’s watching and I vulnerably look for equitable and equal spaces. And I think that the process can be opened up and kept bare to anyone who will listen.