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by Churchill Pandian, Chennai

(Translated from the Tamil article that appeared in the Tamil weekly magazine Dinamani Kadir dated Dec 23, 2001
Feb 2002

Rukmini Devi started the Kalakshetra School for performing arts in 1936. After her demise in 1988, the Central Government took over the reins of management and sanctioned 80% grant for the continued development of Kalakshetra as an international institute of repute for the arts.

Despite being a premier institution run on the lines of a university, only 4 year and 2 year diploma courses are offered, not degree courses. All efforts were proved futile, despite the fact that one of the earlier heads of state was none other than the President himself.

Pondicherry, Kozhikode, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Nalanda, Pune, Mumbai, Baroda, Benares, Chandigarh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Shanti Niketan and Rabindra Bharati University offer degree course in dance. But in Chennai, considered "the capital city of culture", there is government accreditation for fine arts and music, but not for dance. A little strange, considering the fact that 3 of our earlier Chief Ministers (of Tamilnadu) were from the field of performing arts.

Two prominent dancers share their views

C V Chandrasekhar:

I am one of the few who were fortunate to learn dance directly from Rukmini Devi. In those days, what people looked for was talent, experience and whose students we were. Certificates were not important. That seems to be the main criteria nowadays. A Diploma is not considered equal to a degree, which has taken on the value of a 'paper qualification'. In any corner of the world, the power of holding a degree certificate is evident.

I speak from my experience of having worked for 20 years in the Benares University and another 20 years in the Baroda University. I used to feel so pained when many prominent dancers from here used to write to me asking if they could get an MA or MPhil in dance from Baroda University through correspondence course. Madras has so much of dance activity going on, yet graduate and postgraduate courses are offered only for music. Why not for dance?

Kalakshetra does have its distinctive quality. The fear that it may lose its distinctiveness if it is clubbed with general education could be a reason for this. Is it not possible to expand the syllabi with a global vision, and offer full-fledged degree courses in dance, by conforming to the rules and regulations of a university? Like the Kalai Kaviri in Trichi, why can't some prominent dance institutions be united into a deemed university?

This would open up opportunities for many to dance and teach dance, give lecture demonstrations besides promoting other arts, to invite artists from other states and to study 'world dance' in the country of their choice. Cross the Adyar Bridge (in Chennai) and you will find about 400 dance schools!!!

Most Bharatanatyam dancers are abysmally ignorant about other dance forms. An atmosphere can be created to understand what is ballet, what is Japanese dance, what is modern dance and what is contemporary dance. Dancers should unite in a 'give and take' policy instead of discriminating that 'this bani is superior, therefore the other one is inferior' kind of attitude or that the purity of a dance form would be diluted.

During N T Rama Rao's tenure in Andhra Pradesh, dance got no recognition. Now, under Chandrababu Naidu's regime, there are postgraduate courses in dance offered in Hyderabad Central University. One should have learnt dance for 7 years and should be proficient in presenting dance recitals. All it needs is a degree and getting through a written test in theory, to study MA in Dance for 2 years. There's no barrier for students to continue to learn from their teachers, if they felt there was more emphasis on theory than on practical. Learning from the University is an added qualification.

On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh University allows one to learn dance privately and appear only for the university exams. England has gone a step ahead and Kathak and Bharatanatyam are part of the school curriculum. It's high time, the government took Bharatanatyam more seriously.

Chitra Visweswaran:

It's a matter of shame that while there is a Department of Music in Madras University, there is no Department of Dance. Nothing concrete has taken shape in spite of talks and even fighting for it. Art and Culture is like a foster child to the Tamilnadu Government. Every time a new government comes to power, emphasis is given to agriculture, electricity, science and other fields while this matter is relegated to the background.

Chennai is THE happening place for the arts. It demands due respect and recognition. When we are proud of our cultural and artistic heritage, what a pity that governmental recognition is wanting. Let us think positively and hope that at least in the coming year, the government will grant due recognition to dance.

Churchill Pandian is a Chennai based journalist who writes on music and dance. He's also a media coordinator and secretary of Utsav Academy of Fine Arts.

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