G. Bhagyalakshmi, a class XI student, had a 150-marks Chemistry test on Wednesday. Tuesday was a holiday and ahead of her was a tough choice — should she spend the day preparing or travel over 20 kilometres for her Bharatanatyam class?

The number of students interested in classical dance is soaring and such choices have become a staple for those serious about the art. After 10 years of learning dance, Bhagyalakshmi is used to resolving such quandaries. So, on Tuesday morning, she set out on the two-hour journey from her house in Ambattur to her dance class in Adyar.

“I mostly come on Sundays and dance for close to three hours. On holidays, I call up anna and come,” she said. That adds up to three hours of dance, and five hours of travelling for Bhagyalakshmi, who recently joined a distance education class to get into a medical college. This is in addition to an hour of practice at home between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. every day. She has rarely missed a beat. “I took only a three-month break from dance before my class X exams,” she recalled.

Narendra Kumar, Bhagyalakshmi’s guru and director, Anusham School of dance, said that a lot of parents enrol their young children in Bharatanatyam classes, but only those who are serious about it stay on. “I have over 50 serious dancers, and that is a good number. Any classical art form needs discipline and practice,” he noted.

Danseuse Chitra Visweswaran observed that learning Bharatanatyam need not always lead to a career in dance. “Those who learn the art form for the love of it will become rasikas later. Artistes need a good audience too,” she said. Ms. Chitra said that most often, students take a sabbatical when they come to classes X and XII. They also have to deal with parental and peer pressure, which stems from the fact that dance is not very economically rewarding, she said. “Despite all this, a few committed students still emerge. It is a question of time management and focus,” she said.

Class IX student Vennila Arulmoli, a resident of Pallikaranai, began learning Bharatnatyam seven years ago when her mother felt that she had an inclination towards the art form. “It takes me over an hour to get to class from my house in Pallikaranai. Sometimes, my knee hurts and I often feel tired. But, after a short break I get back to studying,” she said.

However, like many others, the two students are still dicey about the prospect of being a professional dancer. “I will continue to dance, but my dream is to become a doctor,” said Bhagyalakshmi.

Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week

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