Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned once said: “People tend to believe that to be modern you have to disengage from your heritage, but it’s not true.” Sadly, that is the state of classical dance forms in India today. In an effort to incorporate and enjoy different cultures and art forms, we are letting go of the indigenous dances, art and crafts of India.
On the occasion of the International Dance Day, we introduce to you a classical dancer and a choreographer Maitreyee Pahari, who has learned and performed three Indian classical dance forms: Kathak, Manipuri and Chau. Currently a teacher and a choreographer, she has successfully organized multi-cultural collaborative dance performances that have been loved and admired throughout the country.
In an interview with Shubhangini Arora for SheThePeople.TV, the talented dancer and choreographer talks about her experiences and the state of classical dance forms in India.
Today is International Dance Day. In a culturally rich country like India, full of traditional dance forms both classical and folk, what are the struggles of a young dancer?
There is a lot of struggle and you can’t see a clear future. Young dancers today are all students, with busy schedules, and despite that they are taking out time to learn and practice. It’s not that they aren’t interested; it’s just that they don’t see it as a viable career choice. If you pursue a subject you know it will take you somewhere- you’ll be a doctor or a lawyer, your future as a dancer is uncertain.
But things are getting better now with CBSE intervention. Even for higher education, colleges these days have quotas for people involved in the arts and sports- but that’s where it ends. You will rarely see people learning classical dance beyond this point. You have to understand, in India, being a classical dancer is not a paying job; you pursue it because you are passionate about it.
You are a Kathak, Manipuri and a Chau dancer. What motivated you to learn all of these dance forms?
I always knew that I wanted to be a choreographer so it was important for me to learn as much as I could. I started with Kathak, and then I did my graduation in Manipuri. Later when I came to Delhi, I realized that many dance groups were borrowing the Chau style of dancing without crediting the art form. That’s when I decided to learn the dance form and bring it to forefront.
India does have a loyal audience for classical dance but sadly, it’s losing its popularity. What do you think needs to change to create and preserve the audience for such dance forms?
Today, people can hardly differentiate between two classical dance forms and that’s mainly because they aren’t exposed to it at all. We are fed Bollywood dance day and night through television and that’s all most of us know about. Classical dance has no space; how often do you read about dance and dance reviews in the newspaper? Only The Hindu gives some space to the arts and culture once a week. If this continues then the forms like these will just vanish in the coming years.
What we need is to do is expose people to classical dance and show it on television regularly. One can only develop a taste for something if they are exposed to it. Of course we have internet and You Tube today, but even that is not enough.
What have been your most gratifying experiences as a classical dance choreographer?
I happy with everything I’m doing today. I feel content with my work. I have been lucky for getting all the opportunities that came my way and I am lucky to have met the right people, who have helped and supported me.
I believe in mass-dance. Every performance I have choreographed has always been with big groups. Even today, 500 of my students performed together- this makes me really happy.
Another thing: many of my dancers come from the interior parts of the country and we don’t even speak the speak language but I love how dance connects us. I teach them, and they understand- there is no language we need, only the language of rhythm. This experience is very gratifying for me.
What current projects are you working on?
I am currently working on an Indo-Korean ballet production, where we are incorporating dance forms both the countries. This is a story even I wasn’t aware of- a princess from Ayodhya was married off to a Korean prince and they both spent a happy life with each other. This is a very popular story in Korea and that’s what we are working on right now.
As a professional classical dancer, why do you think it’s important for us to keep our indigenous art forms alive?
It is extremely important to work towards keeping our traditions and dance culture alive. Learning classical dance can prepare you and your body for many other dance forma and physical activity. And I really hope people understand the importance of this in our lives. This is our culture and we should do everything in our power to preserve it.
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