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Dear Dance - A humble note
- Payel Chatterjee

June 16, 2020

My journey in dance dates back to a time when I was introduced to it as a kid by my neighbour in Kolkata. Looking back, I often reminisce about little snapshots of memories of the times that were. I often recall an incident from my first dance recital, where I ran away from stage because I was intimidated by the stage lights. When I began to receive training in Bharatnatyam under the guidance of acharya Rumela Chatterjee, there was something that I started liking about dance, deeply and madly. But, at that time I did not realize what it meant. Slowly, the pressure of academia started kicking in and I knew, somewhere, I had to take a call. After my under-graduation, I decided to pursue PhD in Biological Sciences and moved to Bangalore.

I knew it would be difficult to continue dance alongside a PhD and therefore, did not even think about it. One day, however, a video of my Kolkata teacher's performance triggered something inside me and I knew I had to embark on my journey of dance again. Yes, it would be difficult, but not impossible to pursue dance and PhD simultaneously. I started learning under the tutelage of Dr. Seshadri Iyengar and slowly, dance and science started complementing each other inside me, striking a harmonious melody. I was fortunate to be surrounded by friends in academia, who were deeply passionate about dance and it paved a way for me to stay inspired and motivated in the path of dance.

Drawing inspiration from my teacher Dr. Seshadri, I finally took a call of doing my Arangetram, albeit a little late in life. As I was rehearsing for my Arangetram and attending dance workshops, one day I fell down from a running auto and toppled on my knee to learn later that I had nearly torn my posterior cruciate ligament in the injured knee. I read up articles to learn that there are four cruciate ligaments in the knee holding tibia (shin bone) and femur (thigh bone) together [1].  An Anterior Cruciate Ligament or ACL tear is more common amongst athletes and dancers and is considered to be a dreaded injury [2]. A PCL tear, on the other hand, is a rare injury [3]. Although scared, I did not particularly realize what all these meant and went back home to Kolkata with an immobilized leg. During this period, I thought it was just a break from dance. It was only during my recovery that I realized the extent of my injury, when I could not even do Tattadavu, the first adavu that we learn in Bharatanatyam. I was disheartened and scared by the uncertainties whirling around my future in dance.

Perhaps, it is true that testing times offer invaluable insights. These times made me realize a lot of things. They convinced me that dance goes beyond individual greed and desire. It is as broad as the ocean wherein we immerse ourselves. I also came across many articles which immensely helped me to stay rooted in confidence. Rama Vaidyanathan's article on her journey back to dance from an ACL injury was very encouraging [4]. I was fortunate to watch her dance live during my recovery, which elevated my faith further. My doctors and physical therapists have been of immense help. Regular and disciplined physiotherapy, I learnt, is key in strengthening the muscles post immobilization/surgery. Strong muscles compensate for a weak ligament. Although I don't know when I will be able to dance Bharatanatyam again, I have started executing basic movements with the encouragement and push from my near ones. I realized that the constraint of limited movement vocabulary unlocks new challenges and dimensions in front of us.

One day, as I was adding steps to the soulful rendition, beautifully sung by Swanand Kirkire, "O ri chiraiya, nanhi si chidiya, angnaa mein phir aaja re," I felt this song is of so much relevance in the context, it echoes my current feelings about dance. Our relationship with dance is delicate, yet sincere...A love that transcends physical limits.


Payel is a PhD student, pursuing her study in insect flight at National Centre for Biological Sciences. She is an active dance enthusiast and trained in Bharatanatyam.

Very inspiring words! Your passion towards dance has often encouraged me to keep up with my passion for singing during PhD!
- Chinmayee (June 17, 2020)

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