Assembly line artistes

Short-term workshops are unleashing more clones than real dancers

June 01, 2017 02:51 pm | Updated 02:51 pm IST



Instant food to Instagram. Now add instant dance learning. Workshops. More shops than work?

This approach to dance learning started almost three-plus decades ago, as a one-off value addition but today it is becoming the norm.

In the 1980s, when many wished to learn quickly from popular gurus — who couldn’t give all learners individual time — this mode of learning helped enhance a dancer’s data base or content. So, when a Kelu babu set up a month-long camp in Bombay or Calcutta those days, many well-known Odissi artistes such as Protima Bedi and Daksha Mashruwala gained from them. After initial exposure, they could go to the guru’s abode and learn for a longer duration.

Facial abhinaya

In case of Kalanidhi Narayanan, whose forte was facial abhinaya, the idea of adding her name to a wannabe’s bio-data proved alluring enough. It became fashionable to add, especially in scant bios: Learnt from K & K. (Even if it was just a weekend class).

Such condensed learning was a boon to NRIs too. Soon they started inviting these gurus abroad to teach at some length.

Fortunately, these senior dancer-gurus had enough material to pass on.

That’s why their students benefited. Padma Subrahmanyam for Natyashastra and Karanas became a whole university course, and now the Sastra University, Thanjavur, comes to her; she doesn’t go there to teach. Ditto Birju Maharaj, the king of Kathak, who has become a final stamp, no matter which gharana.

The original idea was good. To learn under compressed time-frame and add to one’s knowledge bank or repertoire. That was then. Today, many students think learning items at various workshops is the only learning required because if they know ten items, their lives in dance is made.

Readymade music

Further more, these shops where some work happens, often give readymade music to go with it (of course for a hefty price — Rs. 25,000-Rs. 50,000 per item). And thus, a student is all set to perform here, there, everywhere. “Today’s young dancers are like ‘item’ girls! They can perform here, there, ten to twenty minutes, not a full two-hour margam,” says senior Mohiniyattom dancer Gopika Varma.

So what’s the end-result? Substandard, incomplete dancers. They don’t have basic foundation, stamina or maintain correct postures. Many may also not know the core meaning of a song, poet, context or content. One recent two-day focus festival in Bangalore wrongly stated Geeta Govinda not Geet (song)(of) Govinda. Many don’t know what’s a Pallavi or a Padam they are cloning.

Worse still, such a weekend-workshopped, often half-baked and half-ready dancer — goes abroad and teaches the same to unsuspecting foreigners or NRIs, who then become new dancers on the block. And so the evil circle of nothingness continues.

Students must stop learning at weekend workshops if they are serious about a serious career in dance. Period. Did Alarmel Valli learn at workshops? Or Malavika Sarukkai. No. They learnt only from a Guru. And what that Guru gave them, was enough for next 30 years of their career to teach, reach out and take their art forward.

In the absence of real gurus one can attach to, how to learn more is a genuine question and concern. The answer is: attach to any one teacher, if a real guru can’t find you. Don’t fly or flit from class to class, teacher to teacher, workshop to workshop. A month’s workshop is minimum like Chetana Jyotishi does in Kathak; a week or weekend model like ‘learn abhinaya in two days’ is most suspect.

It amounts to teaching how to fly on a simulator. More clones are being prepared. Can abhinaya be taught in workshops? A life in art teaches that. Maybe the methodology of how to approach a subject but not mimicry, which is what it is at such base workshops. Young students are searching and falling prey to substandard teaching. Dance malls. Pick ‘n choose.The pitfall lies ahead, if one wishes to be a professional. Best to invest in a quality product.

National academies or even state ones ought to have certification standards, akin to say, the ISTD in the U.K.

But our akademies are notional. National or notional? That’s up for another debate.

The author is a culture policy expert, historian-critic, who edits attenDance

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.