One of the things we love to do is to tell a story. Dance is an exquisite type of story-telling that has ramified into so many forms globally, classical and contemporary.
Classical dance forms like Russia’s ballet, Ireland’s Céilí or India’s Bharatanatyam are all mesmerising, often connected to culture and folklore. But in this millennium, so many contemporary dance styles like hip-hop, Zumba and B-boying have emerged. So, how do classical and modern dance forms compare? I got a chance to speak with Teerna Banerjee, Auditor of UCD Indian Society, for an interesting insight.
Teerna has been learning an ancient dance form called Bharatanatyam, that originated around 5000BC in the southern part of India, since the age of 5. In the past 15 years, she has performed at national festivals around India. She has also expanded her repertoire by picking up contemporary styles like hip-hop, fusion and Bollywood. To her, dance is a graceful medium of expression and an ultimate stress-reliever.
I asked her about her thoughts on classical dance. “If one is truly passionate about dancing, classical dance is needed in order to build a good foundation and to push your body beyond its limits,” she said.
As for modern dance, she shared that it was fascinating how so many forms have emerged in the past decades. She honestly added that fusion dance styles that combine classical and modern styles could potentially be detrimental to the preservation of the original classical form. She feels that sometimes it might be better to keep certain niche dance styles separate, like acrobatics – while many modern dance routines incorporate acrobatics, the glory of acrobatics could be celebrated as an entity by itself.
Teerna shared that today, modern dance forms are more popular than classical dance forms. “Classical dance takes years to learn; usually people start at a very young age. Dance forms like ballet need to be picked up when children are so young that their bones are still soft. These restrictions might not be ideal given today’s hectic lifestyle,” she added. “Generally, classical dance is also much more expensive.”
Overall, she suggests that people should do what makes them happy. Her personal inclination is towards classical dance as she believes that classical dance is more than mere dancing – one also gets to learn about traditional music, culture and history associated with that dance form. “One also learns about the difficulties classical dancers had to undergo in the past to make the dance what it is today,” she shared.
At that point, I remembered once reading about how male Bharatanatyam dancers face discrimination in several ways though they have an integral role in the dance form.
Finally, I asked her about how she continues dancing Bharatanatyam in Ireland. “Ireland has a better scope for modern dance forms compared to traditional Indian dance forms, so I have performed mainly Bollywood numbers at Indian festivals in Dublin,” she said. But she added that she goes back to Bharatanatyam when she returns to Bangalore during term breaks.
Though an Indian myself who comes from the same place Bharatanatyam originated, I never learned the dance because I have two left feet. When I see the passion glinting in the eyes of dancers, I can’t help but imagine their exhilaration and sometimes wished I had tried.
Would you consider trying a classical or modern dance form?
Mallika Venkatramani – Arts & Lifestyle Editor