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OLYMPIA SHILPA GERALD
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BHARATANATYAM OLYMPIA SHILPA GERALD returns to the class after years and rediscovers the dance’s multiple benefits

CLASSIC Option to stay fit Photo: R.M. Rajarathinam
CLASSIC Option to stay fit Photo: R.M. Rajarathinam

T here is music in the air. And dance too – all around this season. Watching slender danseuses sway like sylphs with an enviable grace and glow that Bharathanatyam bestows on the practitioner, set my mind working.

Bharatanatyam may be deemed as a classical art but that does not discount the fact that it is perhaps one of the best workouts too.

Having learnt the basics of bharatanatyam light years ago, I decided to revisit the art of the gods. Guiding me was ace dancer, Vrinda Ramanan, Director, Bala Kala Vidhanam.

An authority in expounding the elements of dance that double up as exercise, she reintroduced me to the basics. Her dutiful pupils demonstrated how the art has been fashioned to tone moulding every part of the human physique.

“Attire is very important. You cannot wear an aerobics costume for bharahanatyam,” says my determined tutor with a gentle but firm glance that makes me obligingly change into suitable apparel. Indicating that salwar kameez or a mini sari with blouse and pyjamas are preferable, she explains the cotton garments not only let you breathe easily but help to align bodylines.

“We have a set of warm –up exercises that prepare students for the rigorous routine that follows and endows them with stamina to perform tirelessly for hours at a stretch,” says Vrinda. As I attempt the eye exercises, trying to gracefully move my eyes from left to right without batting an eyelid, I discover these simple exercises besides keeping my eyes fresh, can keep wrinkles and crowsfeet at bay. Next, follow a series of exercises wherein we rotate the neck, flex our shoulders, try out forward and lateral bends and flick our wrists. And then, the all-important hand-eye co-ordination exercise that lends this dance a special charm. “Your eye must follow where your hand goes,” Vrinda insists as I diligently keep track of the two organs.

Apart from the warm-up exercises, I realise that the art form intelligently packs in ample workout opportunities in the form of ‘adavus’ and ‘alarippu’. The adavus , starting with the ‘thata adavu’ form the basic component of Bharatanatyam and with hands on my hips, I try out the foot-tapping exercise , pausing every few seconds for a break while my seven year old companion has been at it for a steady five minutes.

“For senior students, the ‘alarippu’ is the best workout. It prepares the body for the complicated steps that follow” says Vrinda as I observe her students. This well orchestrated piece targets every part of the body, encompassing the ankle, wrist, neck, waist et al.

Bharatanatyam helps in perfecting posture and balance through various stances, I discover, as Vrinda helps me get into the ‘aramandi’ position, vital for most dance routines. Sitting at ‘aramandi’ is painful initially but it turns out to be a strengthening exercise for the knees.

Dance routines also enhance blood circulation and impart a sense of self-discipline. Even the mudras (hand gestures) have a purpose - they activate all the pressure points in the body, thereby relieving stress. After every dance routine, the brain reaches a heightened level of concentration. As Vrinda adds, when complemented with yoga Bharatanatyam removes all restlessness, filling you with an elevated sense of well-being.

Bottom line: Comprehensive workout with multiple benefits. There is nothing uplifting like moulding your body to the cadences of divine music.

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