At a recent event, I did my first ever talk. I spoke a bit about myself, Kathak and the challenges of teaching Kathak in Edmonton. I also performed a short Kathak Tarana.
There was an old man, of Punjabi Heritage, probably about 70+ years old, he comes up to me afterwards. He says, I want to ask you something. I said ok.
He said, "At most gatherings, when people come, and get together, if they are watching a dance, the dance is primarily for entertainment. Can you tell me what I was I supposed to enjoy about your dance? All I saw maybe was a little bit of expression. Otherwise, I did not see anything I could enjoy..."
In my talk, I had discussed how many of the great original Kathak dancers are male, and how our Guru-ji, Pandit Chitresh Das, is a man. He is the creator of Kathak Yoga. This old man, went on to say something about boys dancing...
He says "Now, you talked about boys dancing. I don't know about boys dancing. When a girl dances there is something to enjoy, because you know...when a boy dances...er, hum." .. he gestured in way that I could only understand was him trying to say boys shouldn't be dancing...
He continued to ask me explicitly and in front of a few onlookers, "What is the audience supposed to enjoy about that?" (that being reference to the Kathak performance I did earlier).
Feeling a bit odd, and slightly insulted, I tried to say something to the effect of "Well Kathak has a lot of technical elements and the dancer must train hard to learn about the technicalities of complex footwork patterns---" He cuts me off and says in a condescending tone, "Do you think these people here have any technical training? NOOOO. So tell me, what are we supposed to enjoy?"
I explained, "I think you should look to see if the dancer is enjoying herself. If the dancer is enjoying herself, that should translate forward to the audience. I think that if you didn't enjoy the performance, and you are trying to ask me what you should enjoy, perhaps you should get educated about the dance form, and learn what is involved in Kathak; it takes years of practice, and can be very complex. Maybe once you understand the complexity of the dance form, you might be able to appreciate it."
He nodded, as if he understood, and walked away.
Has the South Asian community become so desensitised by hip shaking Bollywood item numbers, that they no longer see the value in the ancient art forms of India?
It astonishes me every time I see or hear an Indian cringe at the thought or sight of Classical dance. I understand Classical dancing is not everyone's cup of tea; but there is no reason to put it down! You might learn to turn the light bulb, and lift your legs to a Bhangra song in a couple dance lessons, but a Classical dancer can take more than a year to get just her basic footwork pattern ingrained in her. And I can say this because I have learned and taught both Bhangra and Bollywood. They are much easier to learn & to teach for several reasons; primarily in relation to the nature of the music itself, and the freestyle nature of patterns/choreography; there are no set rules.
It astonishes me for many reasons. One of the things that fires me up is that, Indians, in the past, have discriminated against me. I remember meeting a friend of a friend, he was of Punjabi descent; a Canadian born Indian though, thus it shocked me, when he asked me where I was born, and I told him Fiji, and he said very condescendingly, "OH, you're one of those." I was floored! In 2013, you'd think that a Canadian born young south Asian would be more accepting of diversity. I remember having been discriminated against and that because I was from Fiji, elder people assumed I didn't know Hindi. I could confidently say, your kid doesn't know Hindi man, but I can speak, read and write it. What does your kid know? I could say that, but I never did, cause my momma taught me to be polite and respectful. I know where I'm from, which part of India I descend from, what my background is and who I am. That's all that matters.
So yes, it astonishes me when Indians are not educated about or even respectful of the ancient and beautiful arts that come from their Country. That's your country! You don't have to like the dance style, but you don't have any reason nor are you educated enough about the art form, to insult it, especially not to the artist who just took her time out to demonstrate the dance for you.
Regardless, if you don't enjoy the Classical arts, you don't need to bring your likes and dislikes to other people as if you are right and they are wrong, or try to persuade them that they are not worthy. It is extremely disrespectful in my opinion.
And just for the record, I trained for almost 70 hours on the Tarana, and I am still perfecting it; I am after all, an emerging Kathaka.
I am on a mission to educate and inform people of the beauty of the variety of South Asian Performing Arts across Canada.
Don't hate on your own heritage and history peeps...there is much more to Indian dancing than just Bollywood... if only you could open your eyes, heart and mind to see it...