In India, dance is everywhere – from Bollywood movies to wedding ‘baraat’ processions, and poses immortalised in sculptures in the Sun Temple at Konark to MF Hussain’s paintings in art galleries. It is an art form that has not just moved humans; legends have it that Vishnu became Mohini to entice the Asuras with Mohiniyattam, and Lord Siva is known for his dancing skills as Nataraja. With such hoary associations, it is not surprising that dance tops the list of pursuits that parents want for their children – especially if the child is so inclined.
The influence of dance on a child
If there is one thing that practitioners and children agree on, it is that being involved in dance results in immense confidence. Across exponents of various forms, this seems to hold true – it may have to do with being the cynosure of many eyes from a young age. All dancers we interacted with radiated self-assuredness and a feeling of selfcontainment that was impressive.
At a physical level, dance is an excellent way to achieve and maintain fitness; very few exercise routines can boast of the same benefits with respect to coordination, strength and endurance. Poise and grace are, of course, the icing on the cake!
Emotionally, dancing helps by making children aware of their own feelings and motivations, and those of others, while also offering a structured channel of self expression. The various stories that form the narratives of dances expose the child to life experiences and perspectives that may not come his/her way otherwise.
The process of becoming a Dancer
When to begin
Children as young as three or four years old can start by moving their bodies in rhythm to the music. They can participate in dance without being a part of the formal classroom structure. Contemporary dance classes admit children as young as two and a half years – do read contemporary dancer Manikandan Thirumoorthy’s (of Temple Dance Company) interview to understand his experiences with such young children. Formal training in classical dance forms usually begins by the age of six, as children attain the recommended level of physical growth by that time. Comprehension skills are also somewhat more developed, attention span is better, and they are able to focus for the duration of the dance class.
Which form to choose – classical versus modern, Indian versus Western?
Most Indian parents place a premium on classical styles, be it Western ballet or Indian Odissi. Our experts concur. “I believe that pursuing a classical dance form gives you physical and mental discipline. If you learn ballet, for example, you will have to avoid junk food. Classical forms also give the child the ability to adapt – once you are comfortable with classical, you can perform freestyle, contemporary and other forms with ease,” says Manikandan. Ramya Mallya, an accomplished classical ballet dancer, has been part of a commercial dancecompany that does hip hop, contemporary and Bollywood styles. Flexibility and good postures are the outcomes of her ballet training which have helped in every dance form that she has pursued, she opines. What about the penchant for
traditional Indian dances – be it Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak or Mohiniyattam? Purists swear by Indian classical, in which a child learns to coordinate body movements, hand gestures, and facial expressions, in an almost unconscious fashion. Again, most exponents of classical forms we spoke to also valued the concepts of humility and respect for the teacher that are still upheld in these forms. This ethos resonates well with Indian parents, who are also more familiar with Indian music, to which Indian classical dance forms are performed. All these factors may enhance the comfort levels with Indian classical forms. That said, it is really about the child’s inclinations – parents could do well to learn a thing or two about Western Classical dance and music too! ith increased globalisation, learning a Western art form may be useful for today’s youngsters. Sandhya Manoj, an Odissi expert, feels that contemporary dance demands flexibility of the whole body and that youngsters can benefit from training in both classical and contemporary dance forms.