Dimple Kaur talks about what drew her to learn Vilasini Natyam.
Swapnasundari was a successful Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer when she discovered an art and a tradition that spoke to her at a much deeper level than that which she had been practising till then. Her interest led her to sit down with scholars and descendants of traditional temple dancers of the Andhra Pradesh region and painstakingly revive the dance form eventually renamed Vilasini Natyam. Her disciple Dimple Kaur’s journey, while only perhaps a small sliver of that pattern, has also moved from comfort zone to discovery.
Dimple was practising Bharatanatyam when she first saw Swapnasundari giving a performance introducing temple rituals. “I was struck by her amazing power of abhinaya,” says Dimple. When Dimple went to meet Swapnasundari soon afterwards, the veteran told her about her revitalisation of Vilasini Natyam, and, says Dimple, “I felt she was really doing deep work.” She began learning Vilasini Natyam in 2008.
“My principle guru (in Bharatanatyam) is Sonal Mansingh,” she explains. Having begun her Bharatanatyam lessons in 1990 under Mahesh George in Delhi, Dimple came under Sonal Mansingh’s tutelage in 1996, continuing till 2007.
From admiration to learning a new form was a big jump. “Yes, it was a tedious and difficult journeybut my passion kept me going,” admits Dimple, whose debut solo in the art (tholiviniki) took place on June 10
There was one hurdle, though, that had already been crossed when she advanced in Bharatanatyam. Relatively few people from the Sikh community are known nationally or internationally as exponents of the dance forms of South India — though youngsters raised in states of the region do take them up. So the typical question, says Dimple wryly, would be about her transition “from Bhangra to Bharatanatyam”.
Over the last 10 years she feels there has been a change in acceptance, both among outsiders and in her own social stratum. Earlier, performing on stage might not have been largely acceptable, though learning dance in itself was not objected to. Also, she says, having ‘Kaur’ in her name meant people sometimes assumed she could not be very good at an art that had its roots in South India.
Dimple states, “Initially it felt like a shortcoming, but I converted it into a strength.” Could one of these strengths be a tendency to ask more questions than those who inherited the tradition might? “Not asking more questions,” muses Dimple, “but exploring more in depth. I want to know more. As an artiste I don’t think I should ever reach a full stop. It’s always a comma.”
As for re-training the body, she notes that the stance and basic arm positions of Vilasini Natyam — being different from yet similar to Bharatanatyam — it took her a year “to put them into two compartments.” She feels acquiring this control was “a very beautiful training in itself.”
Dimple found many more hastas in use in Vilasini than in Bharatanatyam. The greater number of hastas “definitely adds to the communicative power,” she feels, and helps a dancer cross the language barrier with audiences more easily.
She also likes Vilasini Natyam’s approach in exploring all aspects of a woman’s experience. This requires, notes Dimple, an acceptance at the outset that a woman has many facets. She says this is an area where she found more scope for exploration than in Bharatanatyam.
Dimple, also a practising psychotherapist, says, “My academics and experience with Mind, through psychotherapy, Body, through dance, Culture, through our tradition and art forms, have helped me understand, develop and implement multiple healing processes resulting in dramatic and relevant positive change.”
She uses the arts to “make people connect with inner self, rhythm and positive energy.” Dance is not merely a physical activity, she points out, but a “holistic exposure to music, movements, stories and abhinaya (emotions and feelings) which helps connect an individual to a mental state that is both rejuvenating, relieving and positive.”
Having used dance therapy with children of differing backgrounds, she states, “When dance is applied as movement therapy coupled with psychotherapeutic intervention, it works as a projective technique and accelerates the process of mind-body healing and connecting with inner self.”
Working with children with multiple disabilities at the National Association for the Blind, she says, “Using dance both at soma-psycho-soma level and also at psycho-soma-psycho level to the teachers and the care givers, I have been able to provide individual and group interventions with significant success.”
Dimple is also associated with Udayan Care, which works with orphaned and abandoned children. She says here too, dance therapy brought about positive results in children’s behaviour.
As for herself, dance has “an uplifting effect on my body, mind and soul” and is her “prayer as well as strength.” Understandable then that she says of her tholiviniki that it was “exciting, flawless, appreciated and above all a very satisfying beginning to my journey in Vilasini Natyam.