Author Pico Iyer says, “So if you graduate from college, spend a decent couple of years seeing the other things you might be doing or not doing anything at all, just doing menial jobs while you’re collecting yourself and gathering your spirits. And then if you do go to graduate school, you’ll be much more motivated.”
My older daughter who graduated from college last year decided to take Pico Iyer’s words to heart: she is spending some time in India, seeing the other things she might be doing, in other words: trying to be a Bharatanatyam dancer, although for how long, I cannot say. She started learning Bharatanatyam at the age of four and after many fits and starts over the next six years, she took to it as a serious hobby at age 10. She has been dancing regularly for 12 years now and is currently in Chennai undergoing advanced training with a senior Guru in her quest to discover herself. She is a natural dancer and has an innate grasp for the grammar of dance. In the initial years though dance came easily to her, she did not want to pursue it seriously. She would attend her bi-weekly classes regularly and take part in programs, but never practiced beyond the classroom. While she danced sporadically over the years, it was only after her graduation that she started dancing seriously again. Her love for the art form came back to her and she decided to devote more time to it.
As a parent, I recognise her talent and would like to encourage her, but I also know how difficult it is to succeed as an artist. David Acker, a musical performer says, “Artists are some of the most driven and courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day to day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Every day, artists face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get ‘real’ jobs, and their own fear that they’ll never work again. Every day they have to ignore the possibility that the vision to which they have dedicated their lives is a pipe dream. With every passing year, many of them watch as other people their age; achieve the predictable milestones of normal life – the car, the family, the house, the nest egg.”
As a parent, one needs to be completely involved in a child’s artistic education. When they are young, one needs to constantly ferry them to classes and rehearsals, keep them motivated, ensure that they practice regularly, get the additional nutrition required for such endeavours; one needs to help out with shows, in ways small and big, as time and resources permit; and one needs to be an enthusiastic audience as well, because art cannot survive without an audience. Finally, as a parent, one has to ensure that the mix of schoolwork and artistic pursuit does not overwhelm the child and put her off the pursuit of arts completely. The onus of all this usually falls on the mother and it may be particularly harrowing for a working mother to find time to do these things.
The very nature of the art form such as dance calls for the presence of another human being who can coordinate, cajole, motivate, organize and take charge of the variables involved in putting together a performance so that the performer can take care of the performance alone.
My daughter decided to perform at the Chennai music and dance season this December-January. The Chennai music and dance season is one of the most ambitiously mounted festivals in the world that takes place over a month across several venues in the city, with more than 5000 artists, young and established, performing music and dance across myriad styles and disciplines. My daughter had four performances scheduled over the month including a collaborative show with another dancer. Besides being a very junior artist, my daughter was also from outside India and needed me to do all the running around while she diligently practiced for her shows. The performances went off well, for the most part and my daughter’s confidence improved from show to show. I particularly liked the duo show she did in Besant Nagar, in a beautiful venue by the beach, in rustic, yet very conducive-to-art surroundings. It was a show in which everything was exemplary- the performance, the music, the crowd, the ambience and the breakfast that followed. Such performances are gratifying and make one feel that taking to the art form is worth the trouble.
My daughter and I had a discussion on whether she should pursue dance professionally but the jury is still out on that one. While pursuit of any art form is good for the soul and gives you immense satisfaction, the idea of dance as a profession is daunting- one has to struggle for a very long time to establish oneself and the returns are paltry. All I would say as a parent is that you should consider it as a profession if you are incredibly passionate about it and willing to go through the vicissitudes while trying to establish yourself. And if family support, both financially and emotionally is available to you. Meanwhile, my daughter will enjoy her dance while it lasts and take her time collecting herself and gathering her spirits- we as her parents are willing to support her, whatever path she chooses.