In the business of dancing…

Artistic director Mayuri Upadhya’s article about the business of dance was published in “The Asian Age” . Read the article here.


I’m a professional dancer. A few years ago the answer to “what do you do?” assured me of amused reactions. From raised eye-brows, stupid stares to utter fascination. From being asked “Ok…you dance, but what is it that you do for a living?” to “Dancer, huh! So you have a lot of free time on hands?” to even “Do you have a rich spouse?”

Now, with time, education, growing exposure to technology, media and travel, awareness levels have raised the status of dance from hobby to a profession. But what does this choice involve when taken up as a career?

In today’s time, there is so much more to dance than just being on stage. Once you have mustered the guts to walk on the dance path, follow it with nothing less than sheer madness, discipline and most importantly, patience to take a long view of time in building this profession. Do not let comparisons with other professions faze you. We dancers are a rare breed. Every year there is a mass produce of engineers, doctors, lawyers and maybe even actors. You will see your friends make a lot of money and be sure on reviewing that your internal systems will crash, but eventually reboot themselves. Like any profession, if you see dance only as a means to earn money then you will run out of meaning very soon.

Only with time will you find your internal rhythm,whether it is in performing, teaching, choreography, extending into a dance company or joining dance support organisations, to other developing possibilities with dance like research, writing,managing, lighting, costume design etc. Mind you, each of these are journeys in themselves.

As modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis once said, “I never in my life set my feet on a stage without thinking of its magic and my destiny.”  To be a performer you have to be able to enjoy the sweat, the attention (even the negative one), the applause, relearn the same things over and over again and find excitement in the simplest of movement. Needless to say your social life will be at its minimum as dance involves unending hours of kinesthetic training in the chosen form or multiple forms, inability to master technique within the form, acquire an understanding of performance skills and a lot of talent to make all these come together effortlessly on stage. Finally, none of these are things that you do so much as things you feel when you perform.

To be a good dancer, get yourself a good teacher. A teacher/guru helps an individual discover himself/herself. The teacher seeds a primary relationship with the grammar of dance and predominantly with the spirit of dance in itself. Just like it takes a guru with knowledge,experience and patience to mould an awkward beginner into a proud professional, only the right choreographer can make a good dancer shine. To be atop-notch performer one has to be able to read what is inside the mind of the creator and find that source of an idea that is brewing within the choreographer’s mind before starting to give a form to it.

I enjoy being a choreographer the most as it makes dance greater than oneself. The art is not about generating a movement, but designing it. To under-stand movement in context of a given space and be able to create a visual experience with it. From
Chandralekha’s quest to decode the classical grammar of the body, Surupa Sen’s magical interpretation of love ballads to Prabhu Deva’s comical timing in movie songs —they are all exceptional in their choreographic approach to creating a dance composition.

If this is the case for an individual, what about a company? A company always means a lot more work and a lot more fun than you had ever imagined. Some dance directors say starting a dance company is a little like having a child. It takes a lot of
energy, involves sleepless nights and is definitely a labour of love. From some of the oldest companies like Uday Shankar’s India Cultural Centre at Almora (1938),  Rukmini Devi Arundale’s Kalakshetra (1936), Madame Menaka’s Nrityalayam (1930) to current ones like Attakkalari, Nritarutya, Terence Lewis Foundation, STEM, Bhumika and Saadhya, all are distinct centres involved in developing dance in their own fashion and approach. In any organisation, there has to be an alignment between the individual and the organisation. Rukmini Devi, in a letter to students wanting to join Kalakshetra said, “Every artist is a messenger of the gods. I have no desire to produce superficial artists who can perform, but artists who have knowledge, devotion, creative imagination and idealism. Most important of all is to have good taste. If after considering this, you still desire to join Kalakshetra then you will have the warmest welcome and a friend in me.” It’s not enough to have the most-skilled people come onboard. They must respect and develop a sense of belonging and a sense of pride with the institute.

Sometimes the process of finding the right place for yourself might take a life-time, but as they say, it is in the journey that we seek answers. You may be out of dancing in the physical sense, but once you choose dance it will remain in your DNA and can never be forced out of you. So,chin up, stand tall, lengthen your spine and get ready for the world that is waiting to come watch you.



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