Value Systems: A Quiet Rant

Hello Lovely Readers: Odissi Nomad (yours truly) went on a rather extended sabbatical, hence the long gap. The last few weeks/months have been intense both professionally and personally. As life would have it, circumstances have forced me to take a step back for once, out of a momentum that had been going fairly strong since the beginning of the year. Of late, recent events have made me think quite long and hard about the dance world and the dance field in general.

Since my teens, I have nurtured this dream of being a dancer. From the very beginning of my journey I believed (perhaps a bit naively) that on this path, the student must exhibit particular characteristics: integrity, humility, honesty, hard work, dedication, and faith to one’s Guru. These are the values that have guided me throughout my life in pursuit of my dream and these are the values I have continued to abide by as a student, performer, and teacher. I had always believed these values were embedded in the Indian classical tradition as a way of building character, humility and integrity in order to raise ourselves to the highest standards of excellence required of this art form and in turn be that conduit for the art form to spiritually uplift audiences. We hail from a rich tradition that has produced the highest standards of artistic excellence, and am sure this was due at least in part because of the value system so deeply embedded in these practices.

Over the last few years however, I have had to learn the hard way that these values are becoming more and more irrelevant. In our current context, where fame is the ultimate goal, shortcuts are encouraged, and mediocrity is celebrated, I dread we are heading down a very dark and uncertain path for Odissi. These days, value systems are either a thing of the past, or only for those who possess an unrealistic idealistic streak. But to think our art has not suffered because of it is a grave oversight.

It is no secret the level of politics that exist in the dance field –  to the point where so very many are out to seek his/her own short-term gain, and that too at any cost. These are very uncertain times to be a dancer – hard work and determination, honesty and integrity don’t necessarily guarantee anything, particularly when one is dependent on the ecosystem (parents, teachers, peers, organizers, critics, scholars, etc. etc.) for their artistic growth and professional success. When the ecosystem itself is in survival mode, where so many continue negotiate their values for their own personal gain, it is inevitable that the quality of the art will go down – because the opportunities to learn and perform (or research, etc.) are not necessarily given to the most deserving of individuals. With the current system in place, we are only breeding mediocrity – thus there is little scope for a budding dancer (or teacher, composer, researcher, etc.) to grow.  What is badly needed for the (global) Odissi dance community is to take a step back and re-evaluate the current situation to understand just exactly where we are lagging. We need to (re-) focus our energies so that the individuals who have the talent, ability, intellect, and drive are getting the right support and platform to succeed. We need to develop universal understanding and commitment to quality and excellence, combined with a system of transparency.  Let us think about it: If we were to get back on track, conducted ourselves and our work with honesty and integrity, and expected the same of our peers, students, teachers, organizers, critics, scholars, jury members, judges, writers, etc. then it we could weed out the mediocrity and create a culture of excellence and artistic integrity, opening infinite possibilities for Odissi. I don’t think this is entirely out of our grasp – if we were to collectively adapt stronger value system, the outcome could be far better (and more equitable) for those involved.

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But I do hope that those reading will at least think it over.

Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Sept. 6, 2017.

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