Life of a Dance Artist – An Excerpt

Modern Dance

I had the opportunity of writing my first educational book about Modern Dance in 2016. It is called Modern Dance for Indian Bodies, and was supported by Sumeet Nagdev Dance Arts (SNDA), where I have primarily studied dance. Back then, the book was intended exclusively for internal circulation, and only a few students could read it because of the limited number of copies. The book includes valuable inputs, opinions and viewpoints of several notable dance artists and teachers (under whom I had the opportunity to train) including former artist at Martha Graham Dance Company Steve Rooks, artistic director of Il Giglio Dance Company in Italy Ghislaine Carrara (my ballet teacher) and new-age movement therapist, dance educator and contemporary dance choreographer Tripura Kashyap. I am extremely grateful for their contribution to the objective of this book and making it a learning experience for me and the readers. 

Now that I have this platform, I believe, every dancer who want to study dance can benefit from it in some way. So here it is. Below is an excerpt from a rather philosophical chapter (although the most needed one in this day and age of dancing) from the book. Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed posting it up!

Modern Dance for Indian Bodies

….Chapter Seven: Life of a Dance Artist: Values, Virtues and Challenges….

In your career as a dance artist, many a times, you’ll feel that you have failed—failed to improve, to persevere, to take risks, to believe and to practice. This feeling will arise despite the best of efforts you make and the right mind-set you have. But, an artist no longer remains one when he starts comparing everything to success and failure. The thought of succeeding without having experienced failure is impossible. So, accept that there will be times when you will be fully prepared, but, on stage, you will see things falling apart. Your performance will not turn out to be something that you had imagined. You’ll feel let down and even depressed. That’s the time to accept failure and think of it as a catalyst to a great learning experience. Every failure that you take in your stride will help you grow. It’s immaterial whether you fail once, twice or a hundred times. Never let pain of failure overtake the pleasure you derive from dancing. 

Patience: Patience, more than a value, is a virtue. It is an act that will help you bind other values you aspire to keep and enhance your life with. It is especially important in a dancer’s life during developmental stages because the growth of a dancer is not a straight line on a graph but an S-shaped curve. It has a lag phase, a log phase and also a stationary phase before it enters the dreaded death phase. However, the time period for which every phase will last could vary from person to person. For some artists, the lag phase is longer, while, for others, the log phase is a bit lengthier. But each of these phases will certainly make a striking appearance in your life. While you will need patience throughout your dancing career, the lag phase is the one where you should retain maximum patience in your life. A simple understanding that every artist’s graph will differ from everyone else’s, will help you retain harmony in your life. Patience will keep you away from unnecessary comparisons and extend your career by pushing you away from the death phase. Patience will help you understand that great artists do not emerge overnight. It takes years of commitment, hard work and perseverance. A dancer fails hundred times before he actually sees the first step of success. That’s when he enters the log phase, the ineffable phase of exponential growth.

‘Entering the dance world is like walking through a garden of roses. While you enjoy the beautiful sight and fragrance of roses, you just can’t escape those thousands of prickly thorns laying in your way’, says Tripura Kashyap. ‘Challenges and hurdles in an artist’s life are inevitable but how you deal with them and make your journey fruitful is what actually matters. So, if you wish to pursue dance professionally in your future, you need to keep a few key things in mind to make your journey fruitful’, she says…..

…..To conclude this chapter, I would like to share something with you all that will change your perception about dance. Here’s what renowned artist Uttara Asha Coorlawala would like to share with all you aspiring dancers.

‘If you have to ask about whether to pursue a career in performing modern dance—I would say don’t do it. This was originally said by Martha Graham and I repeat it because I completely agree with it. Dance for as long as you are willing to and are able to invest all of yourself and your personal assets to it. Don’t do it for fame or name. Don’t do it to look good on stage. Do it to offer the joy of moving. Be willing to take risks. Remember, if you want people to devote their time and energy to watch you perform, you need to shape your body and keep it amazingly fit so that it does not intrude the observers experience of dance itself. This means that dancing becomes a way of eating, resting and structuring your relationships with family, friends, audiences – everything. So you need to work very physically, and be fully aware of all that is going on around you—other dancers, music or light changes, nuances of meanings, shades of the dynamics of what you are doing. If you are teaching dance, then you also need to know deeply what it means to dance. You need to be able to kinesthetically observe and analyse the habits that each repetition engenders, and understand the karma, the consequence of those for the body of the student. 

Whether you teach or perform, if dance is to be a career, it means you have to be ready to do everything yourself, from cleaning floors, designing costumes to sending applications, networking with people as well as archiving past records. And from this, you will learn humility and what you cannot do.

Dance is earned and dance is given. It cannot be taken. Dancing brings intensified awareness to what it means to be alive. Could there be a greater gift than that?’ she concluded.

Interesting fact: The featured image on this post is actually a sketch made by my old studednt Aayushi Shah. She had drawn quite a few sketches for this book, which added to its beauty.