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"We are approaching a major turning point in world history... It is a juncture at which concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words lose their meaning."
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian author

Anita R Ratnam

And here we are again!

It's the beginning of the month and I am sharing my thoughts and ideas of what has intrigued me or tugged at my mind screen these past 30 days.

The acclaimed words of the Russian author return to our minds as we see the end of a tumultuous Indian election, the looming uncertainty of the US elections, the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Russia, Israel, and Palestine - a divided population and a socio-political landscape where lies speak louder than truths. How do these macro events filter into the lives of dancers and musicians for better or worse? We cannot ignore the growing power of social media about which I shall comment on later in this edition.

With Italian Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni making the Namaste an internationally accepted gesture which became viral at the G7 meeting, I will open this ANITA SAYS iteration with a Namaste to all of you. What I am sharing are not declarations, but ideas that I hope can stimulate more discussion, conversation, and hopefully, feedback.

Dance festivals galore, non-stop touring and the Arangetram season in North America in full swing means that every single India based dance accompanist is now outside the country. A Kathak festival has just concluded in New York City and soon there will be a Kuchipudi festival at the Mark Morris Dance Centre. Ask any India based dancer who has performances in the country during July and August about what the biggest challenge is. The unanimous answer will be, "not a single accompanist is available." Aah well! We already knew that. Check North America and the Bay area for the temporary influx.

In these uncertain times, I want to return to the idea of CORE VALUES - concepts that do not bend or shift with changing political times, but retain their integrity.

The concepts of RESILIENCE and EXCELLENCE.

Circle back to the moment when we first started to dance. Do you remember what your parents told you as you prepared to join a dance class? Do you remember the words? The tone of their voice? Do you remember how YOU felt? The excitement, anticipation and butterflies in your stomach? I am pretty sure that your parents' words would have gone like this, "Be alert. Listen to your teacher. Work hard. Do your best. Remember, we love and support you!"

The words would have been in some combination of these maxims.

In Dance and Life, we are taught that these two core values - resilience and excellence - are central as we make the journey of life. It is with Resilience and Excellence that we experience, dream, create, and perform.

Sonal Mansingh
Sonal Mansingh
Lata Pada
Lata Pada


For me, the face of RESILIENCE is dance icon SONAL MANSINGH, who was told she could never dance again after an almost crippling road accident in Europe decades ago. Look at her now! Performing, sharing her wisdom and spreading her knowledge so actively. In her words, "I pulled myself up by the force of my ghunghuroos."

Also for me, the face of RESILIENCE is dancer Lata Pada. Having lost her entire family in the June 1985 Kanishka Air India crash, Lata rebuilt her life and career, despite this devastating heartbreak.

RESILIENCE is what all of us are told to have despite numerous setbacks of poor reviews, disappointing performances, low turnout, and little resources.


CV Chandrasekhar
CV Chandrasekhar


The goal we all aim for in Life and Art. Take away that horizon that is elusive but worth pursuing, and what are we left with? Bland mediocrity? A sense dulling sameness?

What better face of EXCELLENCE can there be other than Bharatanatyam guru CV Chandrasekhar? His recent passing has sparked an outpouring of adulation, admiration, and gratitude from thousands of dancers and rasikas across the globe. A wonderful musician, composer, choreographer and guide, Guru CVC was a stickler for tradition and perfection. Hearing praise from him would demand a great deal from the dance student.

I first met Guru CVC during the 1995 production and US tour of PURUSH - Expressions of Man. This all male dance event was an ambitious co-production with Jonathan Hollander of Battery Dance Company, New York City, and had its world premiere at the Music Academy, Chennai, in August 1995. Prior to this event, I had met Guru CVC in Baroda where he was living and teaching at the MS University. He was moving to Chennai and was filled with doubts and uncertainties about returning to his home state. I saw, first hand, his remarkable creativity during the entire rehearsal process of PURUSH. The finale TILLANA, with all the dance styles participating, was a thrilling moment for the houseful audience.

Guru CV Chandrasekhar strove for EXCELLENCE all his life and urged every dancer to work towards that quality.

If the words RESILIENCE and EXCELLENCE are valorised, the argument in some California universities is that it will leverage victimhood, and would make many feel excluded. So using these words are being discouraged. In other states like Texas, critical race theory is excluded from the syllabus. However, the pushback against extreme WOKEISM has begun. Numerous articles and opinion columns are emerging as counter arguments to this growing trend of extreme left liberal academic policies.

Today, social media can keep almost any issue alive and the flames of dissent burning. Opinions and theories can be formed purely through online debates. Conferences and academic webinars on identity, caste and social justice will continue as speakers call for the tearing down of every known and recognised cultural institution. Targeting India's national cultural centres like Kathak Kendra, Kalakshetra and this portal will continue. Papers and books will be published in the current arts dispensation of funding "radical theories". The larger question is, "Who will occupy the empty pedestals?" As I have said before, and I repeat it here - Nature abhors a vacuum.

We live in very different times where pronouns and labels are needed even before we say a single word. Hiring on campus and now in some corporate sectors has become closely linked with DEI - diversity, equity, inclusion. Interestingly, the same platforms and voices that are clamouring for media freedom, democratic values, identity acknowledgments, human rights and anti-corruption in the cultural sphere are making very selective choices according to their own agenda. Conflating Zionism, Hinduism/Brahminism as oppressive has become a chant for some. The emerging voices in dance and cultural academia are from outside India and from individuals and organisations that have no stakes on the ground and with not much connection with the arts fields in India. These are the very same individuals who do not elaborate on their own privileged positionality, try to assuage their upper class guilt, and are careful to safeguard their tenured posts and the generous funding that flows their way from white dominated institutions.

These arguments are tired, repetitive and unhelpful. Meanwhile, dancers look, watch, listen and continue to do what they really want to do - Dance!

The needle may have shifted too far, but the CORE VALUES will always remain at the heart of every individual and organisation.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer speaking at Dartmouth College (Pic credit:

"Dancers are athletes of the spirit"- Martha Graham

Tennis icon Roger Federer shared life lessons during his brilliant speech at Dartmouth College 2024 commencement event. The 20 time Grand Slam champion outlined his philosophy on and off the court as well as busting several myths about his now storied career. Often compared to a ballet dancer on the tennis court for his grace and fluidity, Federer's speech sounded like sound advice for dancers and not just to the graduating class of 2024.

Let me summarise with Federer's words.

1. Effortless is a myth. It takes countless hours of practice, practice, practice.
2. Grit is a gift. One has to cultivate a quality of stubbornness and self-belief to be able to extend your life on the court (and on stage).
3. Belief in yourself has to be earned. Just repeating it mentally or verbally is not enough. You have to work at it every single day.
4. Discipline is a talent. It has to be cultivated, safeguarded and nurtured.
5. Trusting yourself and loving the process of training (rehearsal) all the way to the final match (performance) is also an important quality.
6. You can still do your best and still lose (All those hours of rehearsals and something can go wrong on stage).
7. If you lose an important point, remember, it's just a point. Focus on the next one. (Here I want to say that an unflattering review or a forgotten sequence can happen to anyone. Take it in your stride and focus on the next day, the next rehearsal, the next performance).
8. I did not go to college, but I graduated from the world of Tennis. (There are many professional dancers and musicians who do not have college degrees, but who have earned their trophies and awards for their artistry on stage).
9. Perfection is impossible.
10. Be relentless. Adapt and grow.
11. It starts with footwork but the follow through is equally important.
12. Life is bigger than the court (and the stage).

An amazing master class for graduating students. I have always admired Federer and my favourite tennis player Rafael Nadal. Their rivalry on court and heartwarming friendship off court is a prime example of CORE VALUES that the luxury brand Louis Vuitton harnessed in their beautiful ad campaigns.

Roger Federer is a living example of both qualities - RESILIENCE and EXCELLENCE.


It's time for us to acknowledge the enormous impact of social media in general and Instagram in particular for influencing and shifting the contours of Indian classical dance. In May 2020, when the pandemic shut the world down, many of us took to Facebook and Instagram just to stay connected and keep our spirits afloat. The now acclaimed series BOXED, produced by NARTHAKI, stirred the global dance audiences during that time of great uncertainty. More than 40 artistes around the globe found a new way to share their art in a mere two minutes. Since then, Instagram has added so many features to its brand, hooking users and creating fortunes for so many creators. Today, the Instagram REEL is an indispensable tool to share, highlight and declare one's thoughts, style, and aesthetic. The short form format is ideal for the young and nimble artiste, whose camera skills, editing abilities and fluid movement can be harnessed in eye-catching and compelling ways. Today, Instagram has spawned a new legion of INSTA dancers - artistes who are not well known in the festival or touring circuit, but who have impressive followings online. The Instagram visibility and follower count then helps the artiste to get high paying international corporate gigs in privately funded events. It is a lucrative and mutually beneficial cycle.

I have spoken about this before, but now I want to stress the fact that young students of Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi are being influenced by their Instagram heroes and heroines. We will see parallel streams of classical Indian dance emerge - that which suits and fits the Instagram format as well as the familiar, old world offline long form 60 to 90 minute programming. Perhaps there will be an Instagram REEL DANCE FESTIVAL in the near future.

REEL WORLD AND REAL WORLD. One cannot dismiss the influence of Instagram, whether the dance teacher/Guru approves or not. Students will watch, imitate and follow the dancers they admire. The impact is being seen in the way off-line choreography is being ideated. Group dancing is looking more and more like Calendar art - movements that suit the camera lens and not necessarily the human eye. Abhinaya continues to recede and take a back seat to physical agility.

And on INSTAGRAM, everybody is praised as excellent! No filters needed!

This META megalith is here to stay. It is a dancer's calling card. Brands are being built. Fortunes are being made. Audience expectations are shifting. The classical performer is being slowly but surely pulled towards a whole new aesthetic.

Masoom Parmar
Masoom Parmar
Shreya Nagarajan Singh
Shreya Nagarajan Singh

And on that note, I'll leave you all with a big HI FIVE to young colleagues who are marking anniversaries and landmarks in their artistic journeys. Congratulations to Shreya Nagarajan Singh, and SNS Arts Consultancy for completing 7 years. A shout out to ALIF ARTS CONSULTANCY and Masoom Parmar for completing 8 years and to the "AKKA" of them all - AALAAP / Akhila Krishnamurthy who marks 12 years! A time of important learning, tough lessons, scraping off the bruises, nicks and cuts and persisting with a hopeful vision and stubborn resilience.

Priya Murle
Priya Murle
Akhila Krishnamurthy
Akhila Krishnamurthy

A huge cheer as Priya Murle assumes her responsibilities as president of ABHAI - Association of Bharatanatyam Artists of India for the next three years. I have known Priya as one of the best students of Sudharani Raghupathy and have watched her quiet evolution over the past three decades. She brings to ABHAI a composite vision that braids the old with the modern. Team NARTHAKI wishes her a successful tenure.

Stay safe, stay happy and curious. Don't forget to listen to the podcast ANITA SAYS on Spotify. Thank you to all those who have taken the time to read my writings and listen to my monthly capsules. Tell your friends about it. Do let us know what you think because we value your feedback.

Until next time,

Anita R Ratnam
Chennai and hitting the road...

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On the topic of #WOKE-ISM AND THE PUSHBACK...
Dissent and disruption are signs of a healthy ecosystem. There will always be those trying to direct narratives towards their own personal value systems and beliefs. As long as there is nourishing conversations inclusive of agreements and disagreements, the construct of evolution will move on, hopefully without more violence. Single narratives and stories seem to be the order of the day. Social Media can awaken us to multiple narratives. The onus lies on the viewer or reader to observe their own personal objectivity.
On the topic of Institutions -
Hallowed institutions and their relevance need to be re-looked in today's context, just as much as the artistic content. A call out for this re-look is not to be viewed as a threat, but rather as a call out for change and shift of archaic structures.
- Satyajit (July 6, 2024)

Anita ji, thanks for your comment about "Reel versus Real".
You are so right about the Instagram influence on our young dancers. One of my students said that he wants to become a virtual dancer ,,,,, what to say!!!! Taking this into account I am going to start a new series for young [under 40] Kathak dancers to dance one and a half hours at least [unlike 2 or 5 minutes reel or maximum 15 minutes performance on screen] and say about the design of their performance and then face the senior gurus.
We have lost the honest criticism as well as the appreciation. Young dancers are not ready to face it, every performance is becoming a self appraisal [fantastic, great, got the standing ovation, so well received etc,etc.] . I think they should experience the great tradition of the detailed performances and the magic of holding the audience or "Rasikas" throughout the presentation.
Just want to do my share in a small way. The first of this series would be on 20th July 2024 in Jaipur. Thanks.
- Prerana Shrimali (July 5, 2024)

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