Dancing in the Family

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He is tall, slim, and strikingly long limbed. Dressed in jewel-colored silk tunics and antique ornaments that are family heirlooms, he looks more like a handsome young maharaja than a traditional South Indian dancer. Newsweek

Yes, I know, vomit, it sounds like more exoticizing pablum from a mainstream media source. But getting past the opening drivel, this article (posted in the news tab, thanks Brij01!) turned out to be about a rather fascinating family:

Aniruddha Knight is the ninth generation heir of a 200-year-old family of professional dancers and musicians from Chennai, India. He is also half American. His father, Douglas Knight, married into this artistically rich family when he studied classical drumming on a South Indian mridangam at Wesleyan University, where Aniruddha’s late grandmother–T. Balasaraswati, India’s prima danseuse–and her two musician brothers had taught since 1962.

Aniruddha followed his mother and grandmother, continuing the family’s bharatanatyam tradition:

Knight is fluent in Tamil, his mother’s language, and spends half a year in India, performing and learning from aunts and cousins who had worked with his mother. He has established a school and an archive of family history in Chennai. (The Smithsonian boasts an archive of Bala’s performances, too.) It houses all the records of his grandmother’s performances.

About his mixed parentage:

“It’s isolating to identify with two cultures, it creates a split personality. I can never be just one or the other, it’s a heartwrenching lonely process. But then, what I have, many don’t have.”

Those against mixed marriages often cite fear of waning traditions, culture, language, etc., as a reason to date within one’s own ethnic community. So it’s heartwarming to see this family’s artistic legacy continuing on, and even thriving, under the stewardship of its youngest, half-desi member. But do other half-desis feel the same sense of loneliness and isolation? Most that I’ve known feel as though they have a deeper connection to both, not an alienation from either, but it’s clearly a personal path. I’m curious to hear any stories readers might have to share on this topic.

Also, I watched a bit of his performance here, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m a rank ignoramus about bharatanatyam, so perhaps I’m just used to the more typical form:

However, the version that Knight dances is stylistically unique. It originated as a temple offering performed by young women who were dedicated to serving God by retelling ancient Hindu myths through music and dance in the temple courtyard.

He sings while dancing as well, which threw me off a bit. But, again, this could be entirely due to my own lack of knowledge. His hand movements are beautiful though…I encourage anyone with a bharatanatyan background to please take a look and share your thoughts.

152 thoughts on “Dancing in the Family

  1. 92 · HMF said

    . That’s a stage I’d dare not try and usurp.

    HMF, restraint becomes you :) Discretion is the better part of valor, no?

  2. HMF, restraint becomes you :) Discretion is the better part of valor, no?

    I have no idea what this means.

  3. Is Nayagan is the same person as MuraliMannered? As someone who finds every dance form bloody boring, I see the merits in the arguments of both Floridian and Nayagan.
    If Nayagan is an example of a traditional BN teacher, then it is clear that the disdain of the paying consumer is widespread.

  4. HMF:

    For that matter, even ballet as it is supposed to be.
    I love the underlying sentiment behind this statement… “even the white people dance is hard”

    “White people dance” is now “ballet”? Poor old chicken dance. Just because George W. Bush danced it at his daughter’s wedding, its popularity has suffered, and it has now been unceremoniously dumped.

  5. 59 · SemiDesiMasala said

    But do other half-desis feel the same sense of loneliness and isolation?
    Yes. I do.

    If I may ask, are you saying that the loneliness and isolation is because of the direct consequence of trying to embrace both parts of one’s parents cultures without privileging one over the other or is it because there is no one of the same kind of mix to relate to outside the family or is it because kids can be mean to someone who looks different?

  6. 96 · payal said

    Sorry for the rant but drawing an equivalent between after school activities and our classical dance form shows acertain cluelessness.

    Thinking that each kid is interested in (or capable of) becoming Shaswati Sen is misguided. I can’t paint well, but I’m sure as hell glad that I was exposed to art and sculpture as a little girl. A child (and her parents) are certainly allowed to cultivate their interests in a particular art form (or any discipline for that matter) as they see fit. What they are not allowed to do is dictate terms to a teacher who is not willing to teach mere amateurs. Speaking of cluelessness, without a generation of contemporaries who don’t enjoy dancing (albeit as amateurs) who is going to patronize these serious artists you speak of? An artist with a following, with an engaged and appreciative artist is more likely to be fulfilled — personally, professionally, and financially. If people like Floridian did not appreciate dance (which is demonstrated by his involvement in his child’s dance school and his desire for his daughter to learn the dance at whatever level she can, considering her goals, personality, and skills), who will fund these dancers’ performances at IIC/IHC/Siri Fort? Condemn the bourgeoisie interest in dance all you can, but these people’s love of dance, their wistfulness, and appreciation of a dancer’s skills and devotion to her craft, is what (partially) sustains the art form. I’m not merely making a claim from economics here, I’m just talking about interest and willingness to be an appreciative audience member. If there weren’t amateurs or patrons who didn’t derive pure delight from the precise and clean movements of a dancer — where would art be? Many artists can remain solitary and find satisfaction from just dancing. But many can’t. And most do need to eat.

  7. 99 · portmanteau said

    is that just you, or are kids being taught to be condescending toward other dance forms in bharatnatyam class?

    no, i’d venture that it’s not even mentioned ;) Mom did a production with a midwestern ballet company a while back (large BN group from India working with large midwestern all ballet company), i visited before one of the performances and the ballet dancers were clearly in MUCH better shape. I mean you could see extreme muscle separation THROUGH the tights on both men and women (yes, some of the fellows were rocking the fishnet stocking-and-unitard getup–imagine Michael Chang scrambling from baseline to baseline at the French Open in fishnets.)

    that being said, there are certain elements of BN (mudras, responsive musicians) that are not available to a classical ballet choreographer–meaning a different set of tools is brought to bear and there are vastly different expectations with a ballet critic as opposed to a bharatanatyam critic (try comparing the Village Voice’s dance criticism columns to anything in Sruti Magazine)

  8. nayagan, i’m in agreement with you that different dance forms provide entirely different trajectories of physical proficiency and competence. but they really need to address the mass prevalence of eating and body image disorders endemic to serious ballet schools.

  9. I’m not merely making a claim from economics here, I’m just talking about interest and willingness to be an appreciative audience member. If there weren’t amateurs or patrons who didn’t derive pure delight from the precise and clean movements of a dancer — where would art be?

    PM this is a very insightful point. And it’s completely true.

  10. 109 · HMF said

    PM this is a very insightful point. And it’s completely true.

    do we really need a National Association for the Advancement of Art Patrons ;) ?

  11. Portmanteau said :

    different dance forms provide entirely different trajectories of physical proficiency and competence

    Very true. When I was in sales, at the end of a long and trying day, the local sales guy would propose an evening of “ballet”.

    I very quickly learned, that this meant a jaunt to the local “Gentlemen’s Club” where we would be treated to improbable displays of litheness and contortion. Before you ladies decide to “pavitra-fy” me with “ganga jal”, let me assure you that I merely went along as a member of the team, and hated every minute of it.

  12. #106 Portmanteau:

    If people like Floridian did not appreciate dance (which is demonstrated by his involvement in his child’s dance school and his desire for his daughter to learn the dance at whatever level she can, considering her goals, personality, and skills), who will fund these dancers’ performances at IIC/IHC/Siri Fort? Condemn the bourgeoisie interest in dance all you can, but these people’s love of dance, their wistfulness, and appreciation of a dancer’s skills and devotion to her craft, is what (partially) sustains the art form.

    Now, why didn’t I think of that? Portu, I am no “bourgeoisie” myself if you mean that it in a classical sense, but I do profess to be their ultimate defender.

    And Nayagam, if you hadn’t suffered the early childhood traumas of an aluminum-tube existence, yelling and physical discipline (beating?) (comment #93) – not that you have the right to use that as an excuse for “seeing red” and lashing out at someone who never attacked you personally – I would have had a few choice words for you, too. Please don’t enumerate your poverty-ridden life to a first generation desi. We have pumped gas in 100-degree weather, cleaned crap, bummed rides to work and taken more verbal abuse and discrimination than you would ever know.

    I discovered later, much to my horror, that you were not just a stray commenter with anger management issues but a Sepia Mutiny contributor. Doesn’t that instill a little sense of proprietorship and decorum in you? And how did you figure that your mother was being attacked here? I was drawing from my GENERAL experience with BN teachers and BN parents, which I will match toe-to-toe with yours. What is your experience anyway – one fine teacher (your mom), and a bunch of parents you seem to hate. I am sure your mom is an exception, and let me tell you, if I was fortunate enough to be one of your mom’s clients, she would have found me to be a source of inspiration instead of ulcers.

  13. 112 · Floridian said

    I would have had a few choice words for you, too. Please don’t enumerate your poverty-ridden life to a first generation desi. We have pumped gas in 100-degree weather, cleaned crap, bummed rides to work and taken more verbal abuse and discrimination than you would ever know.

    Really. Look I know the previous generation has many trump-calling experiences–my mother fled Sinhalese-led pogroms in the summer of ’83 so that I could live elsewhere so don’t start the contest with me. Did you perhaps attempt to support children during your hard times? On a dance teacher’s income? Right.

    What is your experience anyway – one fine teacher (your mom), and a bunch of parents you seem to hate.

    My experience is with teachers in Virginia, as well as the students of teachers who have attended my mother’s camp for the past 19 years. An average of 50-70 girls a year representing all the major metro areas of all three coasts. I’ve been to India to see my mothers gurus and have had the honor of working with them when they’ve come to the States every year to help my mother with her camp. In that time i’ve seen absolutely nothing to substantiate any of things that you’ve said regarding acculturation and what BN teachers emphasize. (this would seem to be new information, unless you happened to catch this)_ But as pointing this out has become ‘rude’ I’ll have to let it rest with the indirect reference.

    Some would have the grace to admit when their argument collapses or even if it simply at odds with another because they depend on different sources (your anecdotes vs. my experience)

    You know, i decided to give you a second chance. I allowed my mother to read the falsehoods and unsupportable generalizations you make about BN teachers in general–she couldn’t help point out the same things that caught my attention.

    i know what i’m talking about and i see no point in continuing to justify my credibility to people who obviously don’t know enough to distinguish a garden variety performance from an arangetram.

    I’m sure that pales in comparison to your anecdotes.

    I discovered later, much to my horror, that you were not just a stray commenter with anger management issues but a Sepia Mutiny contributor.

    Yeah, I respect the rules–inasmuch they encourage the honest pursuit of truth. I strongly feel that your anecdotal experience is irrevocably influenced by your consumer advocacy and the subsequent misapplication of the same to what is, unapologetically, an performing art–this compounded with what I can only describe as discussing this issue in bad faith is something to which I will always object. Once BN starts to be an on-demand service to alleviate kultur kampf for time-starved parents is really the day it ceases to be art and becomes a box of animal crackers. I am not a dealer in animal crackers and I’d never subject my mother to that fate either.

    Please don’t enumerate your poverty-ridden life to a first generation desi.

    Please to be belittling your struggles as well. I’ll take the hordes of the SM readership that is trailer-raised with me on my way to the time-out corner.

  14. Nayagan, is your mother going to tour the US with her gurus later this year? Am curious and couldn’t help asking. :)

  15. 105 · iso said

    59 · SemiDesiMasala said
    But do other half-desis feel the same sense of loneliness and isolation?
    Yes. I do.
    If I may ask, are you saying that the loneliness and isolation is because of the direct consequence of trying to embrace both parts of one’s parents cultures without privileging one over the other or is it because there is no one of the same kind of mix to relate to outside the family or is it because kids can be mean to someone who looks different?

    Well, I think that trying to embrace both without marginalizing either is part of what creates the loneliness. It’s not so much about “looking different” because I have found that when someone wants to see me as “looking different” they do and when they want to perceive me as just like them, they do. I have had people tell me that I look very “white” and I’ve had people tell me that I definitley look Indian. I think, for me, it loneliest in the community where I seem to be able to blend in. I look ethnically ambiguous and it is pretty easy for me to blend into the standard caucasian-american culture. But, it’s lonely because alot of american’s with european roots either exotify/fetishize indian culture, or view it with pity and disdain (that is when they aren’t ignoring it entirely). So, I feel very protective of my desi roots in those situations. But, I have found that when desis (either ABD or DBD) find out that I am half-Indian, they are very welcoming and either interested in how I feel about being mixed or are want to know how much Indian culture I work to embrace on my own. But that experience is a bit lonely because I don’t know what it feels like to have two Indian parents and to have a consistent culture at home as well as a different but consistent culture outside of the home. My home culture was mixed. The other thing is that in the states, american culture is kind of the default, so I make a concerted effort to include Indian culture in my life. It’s not just about celebrating my roots(although I am very proud of them), it also makes me more comfortable to have the mixture. I guess that’s the lonely part, because so many people have one or the other and there are fewer of us with the mixed culture as a distinct experience of its own.

  16. 112, Floridian: “Please don’t enumerate your poverty-ridden life to a first generation desi”

    –this is slightly off topic, but what are you trying to say? Back when I was in school in Madras, I have had classmates join me in 1983-84 from Srilanka and have heard their horror stories – and these were relatively rich/comfortable families. One girl’s father was working for the Srilankan Consulate in Madras and his eldest daughter had been abducted by the LTTE – for years, they did not know her whereabouts (and if she was alive or not). Can you imagine the anguish of the parents? In 2003, when I visited Toronto, I came across several Srilankans (Tamils) and because I love their way of speaking (it is not influenced by Sanskrit or English), I chatted with several. I heard about instances when mom+children travelled out of Srilanka (their first flight), not exactly sure about where they were going and what they were going to to (to support the family). For a long time (months/years), they did not know when their father would join them (phone calls were very limited – they did not know when dad would call and if he was still alive). Somehow, many families prodded along and managed. It is all very traumatic. This is the story of several people I met. I can only imagine the pain and anguish they must have gone through. Not to belittle whatever difficulties you have faced, but think about what these people have gone through.

  17. There is no condescension in distinguishing between ballet which is based on court and folk dancing and indiian classical dance which is rootd in indiain spiritual tradition. I don’t think any one who is being pushed to get up on a stage in a fancy outfit has any greater appreciation for indian dance than someone who didn’t take ‘baby bharatnatyam’. No, not everyone will grow up to be Saswati Sen but anyone who studies indian classical arts with true dedication will find real joy and balance in life. Indian parents who bundle their kids upon a stage are short changing their kids and depriving them of something very special.

  18. Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George has to go through his list of sufferings to get the apartment.

    But I’m with the Florida man. At the end of it, if you’re working, you’re accountable to some degree to the customer. You might hate’em but those are the people you eventually depend on.

  19. 117 · payal said

    Indian parents who bundle their kids upon a stage are short changing their kids and depriving them of something very special.

    or giving them a special experience from their POV. maybe those families have different priorities and conceptualize their engagement with dance in an entirely different manner. true, they cannot partake of the spiritual side of dance as devotion and commitment, but i think they know that they are making that trade-off. so they recognize that they cannot ( for economic reasons, lack of skills or commitment or talent at that rarefied level) make dance their lifelong devotion but at least they can participate in the experience differently. from the sidelines. for what it’s worth, i do think having learned (very little) dance made me realize how difficult it is and gave me a much better appreciation of the technical virtuosity and sustained practice that dance requires.

  20. i do think having learned (very little) dance made me realize how difficult it is and gave me a much better appreciation of the technical virtuosity and sustained practice that dance requires.

    And when you make a gabillion dollars, you’ll put some of it towards dance.

  21. By all means, appreciate the dance, I don’t think any of us has a problem with that.

    Perhaps another way to look at it is, for those of us who have put several years of our lives into dancing, when we see parents, and even children for that matter, treating it as just another extracurricular activity, even though we understand where they’re coming from, it still hurts a bit. It almost feels like they’re cheapening the art form. For some of us, we live and breathe dance. When we perform, it’s almost a spiritual experience. There were times while I was performing my Arangetram that I did feel like I was losing myself in the sheer beauty of the dance (and isn’t that what Hindu philosophy is about? about losing yourself in Brahman or some greater entity?).

    I, personally, have nothing against parents who want to expose their children to Bharatanatyam on a more superficial level, to wait and see if the child becomes more interested. That makes perfect sense. It’s the parents who expect the same level of instant gratification or regular performances who rub me the wrong way. Dancing for that long made me appreciate dance so much more. Of course, I did appreciate it after I’d been dancing for 2-3 years, but somehow, after your Arangetram it does feel entirely different. You feel like a dancer.

    And yes, Arangetrams are definitely hard work. Ridiculously hard work. Mine was towards the end of the summer, and I remember I was practicing for 6-8 hours a day during the summer. The week before my arangetram, I injured my knee. I kept going. Halfway through the Arangetram, the knee injury, shall we say, re-asserted itself. I kept going. It doesn’t sound like much, but let me tell you, staying in aramandi with an injured knee is beyond painful. Why did I do it? I love Bharatanatyam. I love doing it. Now, when I find myself complaining about finals and things like that, I can put them in perspective. With experiences like the Arangetram, you find out what you’re truly capable of.

    If parents want their children to feel more connected to Indian culture, I don’t think that a superficial sort of dabbling in arts is going to do it. If you treat it the same way you treat karate or debate, you make it just another extracurricular activity. When they’ve been dancing for years, or singing for years, or painting for years, etc., it gives them an entirely different sort of connection. After my Arangetram, I definitely felt a much stronger connection with all the thousands (if not millions) of dancers who have performed before me. I rarely felt that before the performance.

    Sure, you can appreciate Bharatanatyam if you haven’t studied it in-depth, but after you’ve danced for a long time, you appreciate it on an entirely different level. When you see an excellent dancer perform, you know what went into that performance… the hours of practice, frantic costume and jewelry changes, dancing even though random bits of jewelry or bells fall off. You get a much deeper connection with other dancers, since you both understand.

  22. There were times while I was performing my Arangetram that I did feel like I was losing myself in the sheer beauty of the dance

    There were times when I was watching an arangetram that I was able to keep my eyes open and awake. And I don’t say this to belittle the dedication towards it, just saying that it’s a very refined artform that, if you did mess up maybe 2% of the audience would catch it, unless you slid across the entire stage or swung from the curtain.

  23. 122 · HMF said

    There were times when I was watching an arangetram that I was able to keep my eyes open and awake. And I don’t say this to belittle the dedication towards it, just saying that it’s a very refined artform that, if you did mess up maybe 2% of the audience would catch it, unless you slid across the entire stage or swung from the curtain.

    for an unseasoned audience in America, yes (and there are a few seasoned crowds every now and then), but for an audience in Chennai, no. It actually just takes an eye for detail to spot flaws in costuming and makeup (along with great seats)–everything else is a different story.

  24. But I’m with the Florida man. At the end of it, if you’re working, you’re accountable to some degree to the customer. You might hate’em but those are the people you eventually depend on.

    looking at it from a customer/client perspective is inaccurate. people don’t send their kids to university with the understanding that they are paying a certain amount and in return expect, e.g. a minimum grade. as in that situation, in the arts, you get what you put in – the teacher provides you with the minimum background to get yourself up to a certain level, but nothing is guaranteed, and in the end, it really depends upon what the student does with said teachings. the difference, though, is that while an exam is mandatory – regardless of the possibility of the student’s poor performance – in the BN arena, the teacher is, to some extent, preventing that poor performance.

    And, tkd tournaments are nothing like arangetrams.

    but exams are, aren’t they? e.g. going through every form you’ve learned (including, in my school, musical ones). plus, we had to come up with our own combinations, so there was also a creative element to it. finally, sparring and board breaking. in a way, it really did remind me of my arangetram.

  25. looking at it from a customer/client perspective is inaccurate. people don’t send their kids to university with the understanding that they are paying a certain amount and in return expect, e.g. a minimum grade.

    Maybe not in India, but in America lots of people view university as customer/client. maybe not for a minimum grade, but many look at a lack of grade as a lapse in “service” rather than their own lack of effort/commitment. etc.. I was a TA for 2 years, so I’ve been on the ‘provider’ side, students pretty much demand you do the work for them. Now I don’t agree this should be the case, which is why I said, ‘to some degree’

    but exams are, aren’t they? e.g. going through every form you’ve learned

    You mean belt tests, yes, in a sense. but in my tkd school, no one ever failed. if anyone felt you wanted to test before you were ready, an upper rank would basically say you can’t test – but not the teacher. I guess that’s one of the 48 rules of power, get someone else to do your dirty work and be the bad guy.

  26. People don’t send their kids to university with the understanding that they are paying a certain amount and in return expect, e.g. a minimum grade.

    Actually, this has been posited as a reason for the phenomenon of grade, and consequently, GPA inflation over the years, even in the best undergrad schools.

  27. but in my tkd school, no one ever failed. if anyone felt you wanted to test before you were ready, an upper rank would basically say you can’t test

    which is essentially the same thing with an arangetram – they won’t put you in that situation unless you’re ready. nobody has ever failed an arangetram, either – the pass/fail decision comes way before.

    Maybe not in India, but in America lots of people view university as customer/client. maybe not for a minimum grade, but many look at a lack of grade as a lapse in “service” rather than their own lack of effort/commitment. etc.. I was a TA for 2 years, so I’ve been on the ‘provider’ side, students pretty much demand you do the work for them. Now I don’t agree this should be the case, which is why I said, ‘to some degree’

    seriously? i wasn’t referring to indian universities, but to american ones. obviously, as a TA, you have a more varied experience, but with me (and with most of my classmates at all levels of education) nobody ever expected a good grade unless they worked hard for it, themselves…

  28. Not that I think Floridian’s position falls in the same category as expecting universities to give students a good grade (I also think that some of the comments are unjustifiedly interpreting Floridian’s position in an extreme take-a-bat-to-my-son’s-coach’s-head-because-he-called-him-out way, when I think he is asking for something much more reasonable.

    As he and others explained earlier, there is a difference in the perception of the activity of Bharatanatyam by different people. Much like many push their children to after-school ballet or classical music or softball or soccer, many parents are looking for some acquisition of skill, as well as positive reinforcement and encouragement to children by participatory activities. There are ways to encourage this participation without leading to an absolute breakdown in standards, by using pieces of graded difficulty based on skill level etc. I personally think that class and dedication will always out, the fact that every kid gets to play his or her violin piece at the end of the year does not demean those who end up playing at Carnegie Hall, be they child prodigies or experienced musicians. And I think the same holds for Bharatanatyam. Of course, this does not mean that there shouldn’t be teachers who focus on rigor, just that the mismatch of expectations is bound to lead to conflict unless there is clear communication.

    But the battle between the purists and, for lack of a better word, mass-marketers, will probably rage on as it does in so many other areas of our life.

  29. which is essentially the same thing with an arangetram – they won’t put you in that situation unless you’re ready. nobody has ever failed an arangetram, either – the pass/fail decision comes way before

    Yeah, but the teacher doesn’t tell you no in our case. but I think it’s quite similar.

    nobody ever expected a good grade unless they worked hard for it, themselves…

    it’s all interpretation. they believed they worked hard for it, therefore any deficiency in performance must be in the ‘service’ they’ve received.

  30. it’s all interpretation. they believed they worked hard for it, therefore any deficiency in performance must be in the ‘service’ they’ve received.

    maybe for some, yes. but personally speaking, i always write my bad grades down to my skill (and my good grades, sometimes, to luck)…

  31. 121 · BlackCat said

    Perhaps another way to look at it is, for those of us who have put several years of our lives into dancing, when we see parents, and even children for that matter, treating it as just another extracurricular activity, even though we understand where they’re coming from, it still hurts a bit. It almost feels like they’re cheapening the art form.

    why is to so bad (or disrespectful) do to do something at an amateur level? i have no clue about esoteric computer science, but if i spend two months looking at a cryptography book as a hobbyist do i demean the computer scientist who spends day and night at his lab trying to do complex math so i can safely use my credit card over the internet? or i don’t know music theory, but if i sit and listen to a thumri, maybe take a few lessons to better understand it, how have i demeaned the devoted classical vocalist? o swim lessons at the Y cheapen olympians whose life is oriented around perfecting their technique?

    i took some stats classes so i could do econ better (only an instrumental reason to pursue a discipline), i don’t think it as disrespectful to statisticians, many of whom love their discipline and put as much into as a dancers. do those kids who go kumon (sp.?) for math practice cheapen the sadhna of abstract mathematicians? can’t i take 5 math classes rather than get a ph.d in advanced math to get a little taste of what that discipline looks on a high level? sure, i won’t be getting church’s thesis in a fundamental way, but at least i have an idea of what goes on in ivory towers.

    do little jack’s painting classes take away from pollock? (well, imagine poor modern artists who always get the standard, “my kid could do that.” now, that is demeaning and ungracious.)

    i know being harangued by pushy parents is annoying, but to see extra-curricular pursuit of an art-form as an affront is also being over-sensitive. if it harms the integrity of dance, then it is a problem, yes. but what i’m trying to say is that most people distinguish the caliber of kid bharatnatyam performers versus the bn that disciplined artists like you perform. take this hankering after bharatnatyam as evidence of the power, thrill, and beauty of your art form. imitation (albeit substandard) is the best form of flattery :) yes, those kids will not know dance in the same intuitive, physical, and intense way as you do, but then you aren’t an astrophysicist either. the fact that we can’t understand the poetry of physics equations (as per enraptured scientists) shouldn’t be a reason to exclude us banishing us from advanced calc.

  32. why is to so bad (or disrespectful) do to do something at an amateur level?

    i don’t think it is. i think trying out – and even failing – teaches you a lot and it also exposes you to a lot. i actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking BN as an extra-curric – just as long as people understand that there are some out there who wouldn’t want to put the less devoted kids on stage (and even then, if you can find a teacher who comports with your philosophy, ). to some extent, it’s a bit boring to think that everybody in your audience knows your skill just as well as you do – i think there’s a far greater excitement in exposing your skill – be it music, dance, sport, or science – to people who might not have come into contact with it otherwise. besides BN and violin, none of my extra-currics rose above merely just being an activity – but they all added something, took me to new places, and made me appreciate the people who are at the top of their field in these areas. yes, there are purists, but port, you are correct in noting that there can be something else that one takes away from an activity at all levels below the most expert.

    and speaking of exposure to new art forms – i hope this enlightens everyone as to just how creative one can be when martial arts and dance join forces (in the 1970s) ;)

  33. and speaking of exposure to new art forms – i hope this enlightens everyone as to just how creative one can be when martial arts and dance join forces (in the 1970s)

    Ak, is that a capoeira link? I’m unable to view it.

  34. Ak, is that a capoeira link? I’m unable to view it.

    nothing so highly skilled. it’s amitabh bacchan dancing on the dance floor, ‘kung fu’ style – the song itself is called ‘dance the kung fu’ (and btw it doesn’t sound desi – so i’m wondering if it was an american song). amazingly entertaining.

  35. 131 · portmanteau said

    i know being harangued by pushy parents is annoying, but to see extra-curricular pursuit of an art-form as an affront is also being over-sensitive

    It’s an affront to the teacher when the parent takes an extra-curricular approach but still wants the rewards of deeper and more intensive practice–if all you want is to see your kid playing Bhima/Draupadi/Jesus/Narayana/whatever on stage, then that should be communicated to the teacher.

  36. 136 · Nayagan said

    It’s an affront to the teacher when the parent takes an extra-curricular approach but still wants the rewards of deeper and more intensive practice-

    nayagan, i have admitted as such on my first comment on this topic, when i said that parents and teachers ought to make their goals clear to each other. no disagreement on this point. if a child is engaged in a limited fashion, her parents cannot expect a disciplined practitioners’ competence or performance ability.

  37. 137 · portmanteau said

    nayagan, i have admitted as such on my first comment on this topic

    don’t be all rude now. i can’t be told that i didn’t read something–even if I actually didn’t; )

  38. 138 · Nayagan said

    don’t be all rude now. i can’t be told that i didn’t read something–even if I actually didn’t; )

    salting my wounds? “i am going to call you out on a position you don’t hold. but here’s the kicker — the reason i’m not aware of your stance is because i don’t think your posts are worth reading.”

    i would sob in a corner, nayagan. but there is so much else i live for, fortunately.

  39. 139 · portmanteau said

    i would sob in a corner, nayagan. but there is so much else i live for, fortunately.

    who’s defensive now? this is ridiculous. I guess floridian operates under different standards.

  40. 1 · Asha’s Dad said

    from my conversations with her Telugu friends it seems like it’s a rite of passage for South Indian girls.

    Acually Bharathnatyam is not like that, but in the United States Indian girls (North and South) have taken up Bharathnatyam as a core extracirricular activity. It is a good way to connect one’s modern self with ancient tradition that otherwise may have lost. Bharathnatyam not only allows a girl to express herself artistically, perform on stage, and get a good work out, but Bharatnatyam class is also where we go and bring out the Indian in us (more than at home). We learn ancient hindu hymns and mythology and some sanskrit words here and there. And in those teenage years, when a girl does her arangetram, it is almost like a rite of passage because arangetram is a big thing and we grow a lot mentally through this experience.

    Bharathnatyam used to be something that only certain boys and girls (certain castes) in India could learn. And it was not an extracirricular activity that gave them a lifetime experience outside of school, it WAS THEIR LIFE. After mastering the art they dedicated their life to serving their guru, becoming one, or performing and temples and king’s courts.

    TODAY in India, i dont know anyone who learns bharatnatyam, only some people of upper-class or upper middle class (generally) send their girls to bharatnatyam. It is and expensive art also having a core extracirricular activity while having a different career plan doesnt happen with most people their.

  41. 114 · Manvantara said

    Nayagan, is your mother going to tour the US with her gurus later this year? Am curious and couldn’t help asking. :)

    I think you know the answer to this one. I will be seeing her perform in London.

    peace, i’m gone.

  42. 140 · Nayagan said

    who’s defensive now? this is ridiculous. I guess floridian operates under different standards.

    i was being facetious, nayagan. but yeah, i assumed you read what i wrote when you typed #89 :)

  43. My biggest problem isn’t so much Bharatanatyam as an extracurricular activity, it’s the parental expectation that their kid needs to be rushed up on stage as soon as possible, regardless of what the kid thinks and regardless of what the teacher thinks.

    If parents want to enroll their kids in Bharatanatyam as an extracurricular activity that exposes them more to Indian culture or that connects them more to Indian culture, then shouldn’t they make sure that the kid has that experience? We’ve all been discussing the parental side of the issue, but we haven’t really looked at it from the kid’s perspective. When you’re dancing, even in class, you know whether you would feel comfortable enough to perform. I’ve been pushed on stage to perform when I don’t feel comfortable doing it, and I absolutely hated it. I’m the type of person who wants to give the audience the best performance possible, and if I think the performance is going to be lackluster (for one reason or another… perhaps I don’t know the steps perfectly, etc.), I’ll make my feelings heard. On the other hand, when allowed to work at my own pace, and take the time to perfect steps and abhinaya, I got on stage and had a great deal of fun performing. Another effect of parents trying to push their kids into performing, to get their “money’s worth,” is that if the kid doesn’t feel that he or she is ready, it’s going to be a traumatizing experience, and may even put them off dance. If you want your kid to dance to feel more connected to Indian culture, then make sure that they’re connecting. That should be the most important thing, not performing. When the kid feels connected, the performances will be so much better. From my experience, that sort of connection only comes with long-term practice, which was why I was emphasizing that. That may not be the case in everyone’s experiences. Some children may connect straight away, which is great. Others, however, need time.

    And speaking of long-term practice, it doesn’t have to be something that takes up all of your time. I was in middle school and high school while I was dancing, and while it did get tough, with the commute to dance class and juggling homework and practice, it’s no worse than juggling another demanding activity. If you truly want to learn, and if you truly connect to the stories and the beliefs and the culture behind it, then you’ll find a way to do it. Parents shouldn’t be pushing their kids to do it, the kids should want to do it.

  44. So…is high quality bharatnatyam going to survive in the long-term or is it in trouble (like so many other Indian arts)?

    Also, has it always been called bharatnatyam or is that coinage relatively recent?

    Since we’re talking all this arangetram stuff I thought it would be cool to see some actual bharatnatyam (not sure if this dancer is good or not).

    My thoughts, looking at a few bharatnatyam clips on youtube… it’s a product of its culture. So, if you don’t belong to that culture I don’t think you can capture it (as a high-level practitioner, not as an audience member). Because you’ll just be going through the physical motions without understanding the emotions at a visceral level. And belonging to that culture doesn’t mean merely being South Indian or Tamil or what have you…it means imbibing the whole ethos of the society that created the dance, and being an organic part of that society. So a Tamil girl born and raised in Houston is not necessarily in any better position to ‘get it’ than a Gujarati girl from Queens or even a French girl in Paris. And as the society that created the dance itself changes, the dance runs the risk of running out of suitable candidates…and perhaps becoming fossilised.

    Just some musings…NO OFFENSE MEANT TO ANYONE.

  45. So…is high quality bharatnatyam going to survive in the long-term or is it in trouble (like so many other Indian arts)?

    high quality – certainly. However it will become more niche. In Madras for a few years it was an art form with widespread participation but these days it is a lot less. I think the diaspora will keep it alive – indian kids have other things to do like playing XBox.

  46. 145 · Amitabh said

    And as the society that created the dance itself changes, the dance runs the risk of running out of suitable candidates…and perhaps becoming fossilised.

    History would say no–innovation was the name of the game from Rukmini Devi and the revival of BN as popular art form, right on through the 70s. Innovations since have come apace as instruction became the job of not only desis but the many foreigners who traveled to desh in the 60s, 70s, 80s to learn BN and other classical dance forms. Subject matter, music and what it is appropriate to portray have all changed over the years–you can find a great deal of this innovation right here in the US as instructors stretch the means of expression available to them to portray the stories/mythologies/morals that resonate most strongly with their kids/kids’ parents.

    globalizing instruction has thrown the gates open…with the results mixed…there’s really no danger of ossification.

  47. 103 · melbourne desi said

    If Nayagan is an example of a traditional BN teacher, then it is clear that the disdain of the paying consumer is widespread.

    The knowledgeable and communicative consumer is always respected. The incurious and silent consumer is not. Both consumers’ money is technically of equal value but a good relationship is possible only with the former. See the difference? If a teacher knows that a relationship will potentially be long-term, and most definitely depend on frequent honest communication, why would they develop this relationship with an incurious consumer who doesn’t communicate needs/wants?

    there are individuals i know in my professional life who are complete wastes of space and don’t make my company any money–only headaches–and when it reaches a breaking point we sever the relationship in no uncertain terms. When the relationship is good–both of us make money and we wine-and-dine each other. Teacher-Parent relationships in the BN world are often either very good or very bad. Inevitably the very bad relationships end before any individual’s time is wasted.

  48. there are individuals i know in my professional life who are complete wastes of space and don’t make my company any money–only headaches–

    You mean a dance company? My cousin morty runs an aspirin company, he’s looking for some headache people.

  49. I think sometimes the expectation when you’re mixed is that you’ll identify with only one culture. So, this article is good because it shows people that just because you’re mixed you don’t have to leave one of your cultures behind. Also, as a half-desi person, I do agree with Annirudha’s comments about the feeling of not belonging anywhere because you carry two different traditions in you. As he notes, it’s difficult, but it has its compensations.