Today’s young dancers have a stone to roll up the hill like Sysiphus. When will our budding talent find its place in the spotlight in this city, the centre of the dance universe, asks dance-actor Anita Ratnam

There is a moment in every performer’s life. All the days of rehearsals, the sweat, grime and self doubt that hover around like annoying mosquitoes are swatted away. The day of the performance dawns and the hours fly by to the appointed time. At that magic hour, the curtain rises and the dancer holds herself for a moment in the wings before she steps onto the stage.

During the annual season of Margazhi, this city is the centre of the dance universe. At least that is what I was told years ago when I made my debut during the season as a nervous teenager. Today I look at the hungry and empty eyes of so many dancers who have talent, skill and looks in their arsenal but not the vitamin that is most needed to leave the stage wings behind. Vitamin M for Money. With that vitamin, talent is secondary and the mighty heft of the 'daalar dancer' fills the season calendar.

Today’s young dancers have a stone to roll up the hill like Sysiphus. They research, rehearse, plan, pray then proceed to beg, plead and prostrate before all the gatekeepers for a performance opportunity. Our mobile phones are drowned with sms messages that begin with “respected Akka” with long descriptions of their latest dance venture. They dance to a meagre public and almost no media coverage. They return to their homes and dance studios to begin the entire process of pushing the stone uphill once again the following year.

Media too has to bear its share in the landscape of declining standards. Part-time writers assigned to dance coverage want to earn their stripes by praising only the senior gurus and the dancing divas due to a combination of diffidence and misplaced reverence. How can young dancers get watched and reviewed in this incestuous atmosphere? Why are the sabhas, who feel they are doing their best, unable to segregate the programming in the December season by marking out the ‘Main Stage Performances’ from the ‘Emerging Stars’ and a separate section for NRI artistes? Why cobble them all together to make for an incoherent festival where standards are so uneven and some shoddy performance opportunities are so obviously ‘bought’. And what about the hapless male dancer who is far more focused and serious than his more glamorous female colleague?

On the national scene, the selection process for international festivals is so flawed that the young dancer is rarely picked for special events. When four lovely young artistes were selected to perform for Michelle and Barack Obama at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the names were guarded like a state secret and the day after Delhi’s senior dancers were up in arms about their omission. When will our young talent find their place in the spotlight? Only through experience of repeated performance and the constant touchstone of rehearsals, showing and sharing that an artiste develops her inner core.

On the outside, it would seem that all is well and that dance is flourishing. Yes it is. As a business. But not as a serious art form. The truth is that dance is in a state of crisis. Today we need the coming together of senior dancers, teachers,, scholars, choreographers, mentors, media, educators along with corporate backing and state support to assist in making a second wave for professional Indian dance. The time to act is now before many wonderful young dancers resign themselves to full time teaching and conducting meaningless 'workshops' overseas to untalented but wealthy patrons in order to survive. Already many classical dancers can be found dancing in five star hotels to a film song just to pay their rent. The senior dancers are ageing, the audience is graying and the young are not interested in dance as a profession. In this state of crisis, we may have genuinely good dancers waiting and withering in the wings.

Dr. Anita R. Ratnam is a contemporary dance-actor. She is a regular contributor to several publications on performance, culture and serves on the board of many arts organisations in India and overseas. She is the founder and managing editor of the award winning dance portal www.narthaki.com

E mail: anitaa.ratnam@gmail.com