From taking up courses in academic disciplines related to music and dance, to preparing impressive portfolios or cutting ‘demo CDs', aspiring artists are seen equipping themselves in several ways to make their passion, their profession. However, taking a call on pursuing the performing arts as a full-time career is not easy today. At a time of the year when artists take centrestage in Chennai, musicians and dancers speak on what it really means to pursue a performing art as a career…

Veteran Bharatanatyam exponent Chitra Visweswaran says: “When I was at my peak, exclusive dance festivals sponsored by individual corporate houses and corporate events featuring classical Indian dance were fairly frequent. No compromise was called for. But today, corporate events are quite another cup of tea.”

The passionate dancer, Ms. Visweswaran says, even then as now “multi-tasking” was important — one has to teach, perform nattuvangam, develop choreographic skills, conduct workshops at national and international levels, besides perform, in order to survive.

“With high overheads, classical Indian dance has always been a more expensive art form to pursue than music. Yet, ironically, dancers have always received lower pay/fees,” she says.

So sometimes, she explains, it is “sheer passion and madness alone” that keep artists going. “It is time the government and corporate houses came forward with supportive schemes for classical Indian dance and even more importantly, ensure that the schemes are effectively implemented.”

The dilemma that many young artists face today, while having to make a choice on pursuing the arts as their career, stems from a basic sense of insecurity. The artists grapple with it in their initial years before they make up their mind.

Young vocalist Swara Rethas has a master's degree in mathematics. He works for Tenmiles Corporation, a start-up, and specialises in the area of quality assurance, even as he is making a mark in the music circuit.

“I would be lying if I said I am happy doing the balancing act. At some points, one [profession] does affect the other. But I am sure that eventually I will know which one to take up full time,” he says.

The absence of a systematic manner of remuneration only makes it even more challenging. “There are societal pressures... issues of drawing a regular salary and so on,” he adds.

Nisha Rajagopalan, a young vocalist, vividly remembers how she took the crucial decision when caught in traffic one evening. “I was returning from work and was waiting at a signal for a long time. ‘What am I doing?,' I asked myself suddenly and it struck me that it was time I began pursuing music full time,” says the engineer, adding “it was not easy making that choice.”

Deeming her experience of working in the HR team of a software company “invaluable”, Ms. Rajagopalan says: “The job made me more of an extrovert. I would have to interact with different kinds of people and I learnt a lot. However, being a musician is also extremely fascinating,” she says.

Recognition and value

While remuneration is one important aspect, recognition is the other. The professional scene for artists requires them to network with organisers, listeners, other artists and the media. It is not very structured or predictable. Recognition comes very gradually and one needs to keep working hard, artists observe.

Noted Bharatanatyam dancer Narthaki Nataraj concurs. She feels that some youngsters tend to be impatient and are at the risk of compromising on quality.

“An in-depth approach to learning is crucial. While many feel compelled to try their hands at novel ideas, they must also realise that artists have a responsibility to anchor innovation on tradition,” Ms. Nataraj says.

Globalisation and corporate presence in the arts field have opened up several opportunities in India and abroad. Media coverage of the arts has also grown.

“Younger artists who focus a lot on presentation and manage to achieve international standards should simultaneously look at strengthening content,” she says.