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- Rama Vaidyanathan, New Delhi

October 17, 2009

It's unbelievable, how dance alone can keep us fit. It has all the benefits of yoga, aerobics and cardio exercises. It helps in gaining control of body and mind, brings steadiness and firmness to our motor skills. It gives us the right posture, brings grace to our walk and generally keeps the machine in good running condition. In my opinion, an active dancer does not need to engage in any form of physical exercise other than dancing itself. A daily practice routine improves blood circulation and maintains a steady body weight.

Having said this, let me also state that dance is notorious for making one gain weight. This happens when practitioners of Indian classical dance do not adhere to the core principles of their dance forms. Dance must be practiced the way it is meant to be. Only then can we expect to benefit from dance as a form of fitness. Dance will treat us the way we treat dance. Casual dancing will not do. We have to sweat it out.

What happens when dancers stop active dancing - we all have to at some point of time. I would like to be called a dancer till the day I die. Once a dancer, always a dancer. When a dancer weans herself from active dancing, she involves herself in other dance related activities which may be more meaningful to her at that stage of her dance journey. When this happens, she does not cease to be called a dancer, because her mind and soul are still actively dancing. Unfortunately her body, which was conditioned to dance exercise, does not get that level of physical activity any more. It is at this point of time that a dancer needs to hit that gym, enroll in yoga classes, invest in a treadmill or buy walking shoes. Whatever the form of exercise, it is essential that a dancer maintain her body weight even after having reduced active dancing.

Coming back to active dancers. Many maintain that a regular routine in a gym will help to tone muscles and reduce excess fat. Yes, a regular gym routine will tone up those sagging arms or reduce those thunder thighs to look presentable in that tell all dance costume. In fact, I would recommend all overweight dancers to do specific exercises for weight loss under professional supervision. Do not expect your dancing to do this job for you. Dance will only maintain your body weight and prevent any unwanted weight gain. If you need to loose weight specifically, then it's good to chalk out a regular weight loss program over and above your regular dancing. Dancers getting back to shape after childbirth or long illnesses need to engage in special exercises meant for weight loss. Once you have achieved your desired body weight, then its best to gradually reduce the gym and concentrate actively on dancing.

Many dancers are gym regulars to increase their stamina. I have a different point of view. For developing stamina in dance, one has to dance and dance and only dance. The energies required for normal exercises are different from energies required for classical dance. One can go through a gym routine mechanically but cannot dance in the same way. What about mental strength and the mind to body coordination that we need to develop? One can go through a 45-minute gym routine effortlessly but will struggle through that 45-minute varnam if we have not developed our stamina through the right channels. To gain stamina we can only rely on intensive and extensive dance practice sessions.

Yoga - India's gift to the world - is a fantastic pathway for building emotional and physical strength. It helps us dancers to keep our joints in perfect condition, improves our concentration and protects our bodies from injuries. I feel dance has all the benefits of yoga. Our warm up exercises, movement dynamics, controlled expression of sahitya, holding of postures are all yogic - so to speak. I would rather spend every possible waking moment dancing and keep yoga for a later stage of my life. It's time we look at our dance as a more holistic approach for fitness and give it its due. Practicing yoga is good, but practicing dance is even better! 

Rama Vaidyanathan is one of India's leading Bharatanatyam dancers. She has been fortunate to have trained intensively under the legendry dancer Yamini Krishnamurty and Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan. Everyone who has seen Rama perform has been moved by her unique thought process and fresh approach to dance. While deeply routed in tradition she has evolved her own individual style without forsaking the core principles of Bharatanatyam. She belongs to the outstanding category of artistes at the ICCR, is a top graded dancer with the Doordarshan and has received the coveted Sanskriti Award instituted by the Sanskriti Pratishthan in Delhi. Rama has been performing for more than thirty years and is one of the most sought after dancers of her generation.

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