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What have I given to the dance?
- C Gautami, Hyderabad

August 10, 2009

I am a Kuchipudi dancer and have been learning dance for the past 10 years. I hail from a family of technocrats with no background of traditional art forms. However, in my journey in this art form for a decade, I came to a self-realization and hence, a confession to make.
As a child, I was very naughty and hyperactive. Since dance involved lot of physical movements and classical dance in particular had an attractive costume and make-up, I started liking it like any other child. On one night, when we returned home after watching the movie 'Srutilayalu,' I tried dancing on toe (like the boy in the film) and broke my arm. Though everyone else considered this as “just another naughty act” of mine, my dad could sense the interest I was developing in dance. He noticed that, though in nature, I was mischievous, when it came to dance, for example watching a classical dance related movie or a show, I was very well behaved and disciplined. Thus, at the age of 7, I was first exposed to Kuchipudi but I learnt it for a very short span of 6 months. Since our family was full of doctors and engineers, my attention was naturally drawn towards academics.

In 2000, after my 12th class, when I joined my Engineering, I again wanted to learn dance, but this time it was for a hobby. I met my Guru Maddali Usha Gayatri and then my life changed for better. It was she who guided me in realizing where my true happiness lies.

I started learning and performing and like any other dance student, gave my Rangapravesam (Arangetram) in 2003.

As time passed, I gradually started realizing that dance was acting like a "Sanjeevani" to me. Whenever I was feeling depressed or sad, it was dance that brought composure in my behavior. All my mood-swings vanished and my mood brightened the very next moment I entered my dance class. On one such occasion, I was extremely depressed over a personal issue and was unable to get over it for many days. At the same time, we had an important dance program and I had to perform. I concentrated on the performance, and it was after that night's performance, for the first time after several days, I felt relieved from the mental agony I was undergoing. Dance was indeed a panacea to me. At that moment, I decided never to quit dancing.

I completed my engineering, joined an IT firm in India, met my life partner there and got married to him in 2006. I am lucky to have lovely in-laws who are very supportive. With their encouragement, I continued learning and performing. In 2007, I left for the US for a year on a work assignment. It was the first time after learning dance that I left my Guru, my dance and that environment. I felt extremely handicapped and the only access I had were to the videos on 'you tube,' where I watched other dancers performing. It hit me hard and I was extremely unhappy. Yes, I started earning in dollars, but then there was no increment in the happiness of my soul. Again it was a realization for me and it was dance that aided me in realizing where my real happiness lies.

When I returned from US, I started going back to my classes and started performing again, this time with more dedication and commitment, but still expecting something from it.

In the past few months, on various occasions, I interacted with renowned gurus of previous generations and it changed my horizon towards dance. I slowly realized that all the time I learnt art only in terms of expecting something from it. If sometimes, it was to see my dad happy, some other time it was to pursue it as a hobby, and worst of all sometimes even because it gave me an identity in my social circles. It was always me first and then dance. It was a terrible realization that I was in fact exploiting the art form, thereby polluting it. A sense of guilt engulfed me and then I felt sorry for the art form because, day in and day out, thousands and thousands of us are exploiting it. No artiste can ever grow bigger than the art itself.

Today, after a decade long journey, after self-introspection, I am affirmative in my thinking and I do not look for "What is dance giving me," rather try to find "What am I giving to dance?"

This article was written as part of the dance writing workshop conducted by from July 18 - 24, 2009 in Chennai.

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