Hello Readers! Apologies for the delay – I was enjoying a small bit of downtime before leaving again tomorrow for Murcia (in Spain) for the last leg of my tour. The last several weeks have been a blur – minus the few days here and there, it has been a whirlwind of activity but in that very wonderful way of opening many new ideas and possibilities. It is hard to believe that by this time next week I will be back in India and back to my life there.
One thing students frequently ask me when I teach overseas is how to improve and develop one’s abilities being so far away from India and/or without regular instruction. Having spent a significant part of my Odissi career as a ‘long-distance’ learner, I don’t think it is impossible at all – however it does require tremendous discipline and a lot of self-motivation. And while there is no particular formula per se, I can definitely share from my own experience. In my case, I knew when I was in my twenties that I wanted to be a solo performer, so my approach to dance was really like having a parallel career, so I tailored my life and habits around that.
I think the first and most important thing I integrated into my life was regular and diligent practice – which is critical for any aspiring professional. It is also important to practice hard and practice smart – integrating proper form and technique. Practicing an item without sitting in chauka or without the proper care and attention to detail offers little benefit. So even if time is limited, it is critical that time be used well. My practice time has always been a non-negotiable in my life.
It was also important for me to expand my learning beyond the classroom. While I attended what workshops I could, I also made it a point to watch a lot of dance and music performances (I wish I would have watched more theater!). Live performances are a wonderful way to sensitize us to stage presentation and aesthetics. I watched a LOT of video – You Tube and Vimeo were wonderful (not to mention very convenient and affordable) means of accessing video footage from dancers of all styles and generations. Watching and observing was really a critical part of the learning process for me, because it also gave me an understanding of quality in form and presentation.
Reading was also another important channel I used to develop my sensibilities as an artist. When I was living in New York, I made it a point to devote some time to read, even though it was just on my commute to work. My reading was not limited to just theoretical books on Odissi or Indian Classical dance; I have always been fascinated by artists and their creative processes, and so I read a lot of interviews with other artists of different disciplines, which even now I find quite fascinating. Poetry and fiction, which I have always loved, were also very useful to understand character and emotion in a different framework.
Music was also another fascination of mine – While I had studied music only briefly, I listened to a lot of music, and I listened all the time. For dancers, music is such a critical part of our learning, but even something as basic as listening, and listening to a wide range of music can really teach us a lot – it sensitizes us to rhythm, we develop an emotional response to the music which is important for dancers.
There are of course so many ways one can explore to develop his/her abilities as a dancer. And these days technology has made it so much easier to access information and increase our channels of communication – it is quite exciting when we consider the possibilities!
Zaragoza, Spain. May 11, 2017.