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  • Writer's pictureMouli Pal

Training conflicts with community performances

Each year during festival season I find many of my students on stage performing for community productions. These shows are meant to be entertaining but I find myself sweating in distress!

As their teacher I know the true potential and capability of these dancers and find it unacceptable to see them moving in ways which is in discord with our training process.

Indian Classical dance is an extremely intricate art from that requires a strong mind and we don’t perform to entertain. As learners we are working on the meditative practice of mind-body control. We focus on the process of “Angashuddhi” (purifying the body movements) and learn to control and stabilize the body. Having achieved that after few years of focused training, we then learn to flow freely within the controlled framework.

Upasana dancers at "Essence of India" festival in Acton MA

Obviously, the community programs are not created keeping in mind any specific methodology and is in serious conflict to the movement discipline and high standards I am trying to instill in my students.

My other concern is the present format of virtual social media videos leading to instant gratification. It takes rigorous practice and patience to become a dancer. Dance to us is a way of life and requires much deeper commitment beyond the “Like” aspect of social media. After exposures on such platforms students are no longer motivated to do the hard work of training and prefer the short term approach.

Upasana students at Dartmouth College Concert in New Hampshire

As a professional artist I have been fortunate to be presented at the prestigious American institutes and toured around the country while also performing at festivals in India and Europe. This has been possible only because of the high caliber training imparted by my Guruji, Guru Padma Vibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and eminent danseuse Smt. Nandini Ghosal. My vision for my students is also extremely high and I urge you to trust my guidance and allow me time to train your child without distractions.

Please imagine me as a sculpture working on molding a student into a fine dancer while another sculpture comes and periodically also works on my art work. It is obviously disturbing to me and confusing to the student.

I also work with students who learn and perform multiple dance styles. That has not been a conflict as they are learning under trained teachers with several years of established teaching methodology.

If your child is below 10 he/she may perform at community level once or twice a year for stage/audience experience. Also, I will always encourage my students to perform an Odissi piece at such events and if time permits choreograph a piece for the event based on their capabilities.

Young dancers posing before performing at a local community event

I appreciate the hard work of the community members who put together such productions however I am reluctant to hold at stake the hours of training we put in through the year. I am sure there are many other creative ways to culturally engage with the community.

Once you dedicate time to training you will certainly see the results as demonstrated by many of my senior students. As an example, I am pleased to share below a short video of an informal presentation by two sisters Raka and Riya who have been training for over 9 years. Please note the coordination, collaborative effort and application of Odissi techniques and ultimately the natural charm of the dancers. The dancers themselves choreographed the piece along with a Bharatnatyam dancer and I had no involvement in it. The dancers training, comfort and simply dancing for the joy is evident and they make me immensely proud.

My intentions to restrict community performances is not because I am possessive of my students. My goal is to set them free but only after preparing them adequately as my reputation and my legendary Guru’s esteemed lineage is tied to my students.

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