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Fitness for Kathak dancers
- Veena Basavarajaiah, Bangalore

December 7, 2010

Dear Veena Basavarajaiah

I am a Mumbai based Kathak nritya student. I am interested in knowing more related to body work and to improve postures, fitness and health. Also kindly suggest how I should work on the body through Kathak dance instead of getting stressed.

As you have mentioned, besides dance there are many other stress and strain factors in city life.
Although there are expensive spas available, I would like to know Mumbai based massage sources that you can suggest.

Alpana Dhole

Every physical activity chisels the body in a different form. Like a singer has strong vocal chords, a drummer has strong fingers, a sprinter has well developed legs and a trekker has strong calf muscles and shoulders, every form of dance focuses on a different set of muscles and shapes the body differently.

A Kathak dancer with good technique has very well developed feet and strong limbs. Unlike many Indian classical dance forms, the focus is not on plies or bent knees so there are seldom knee injuries. A Kathak artist however may face severe back problems and also suffer from foot injuries including painful heels and calf muscles.

Causes for injuries include -
Lack of warm up
Ignoring cool downs
Standing upright for long hours
Not engaging core abdominal muscles

A set of 5 to 10 surya namaskars is a perfect warm-up for any dancer. It allows the breath to lead the body through different levels and positions and also prepares the muscles required for a Kathak training session. Kathak Kendra incorporates the practice of yoga as warm-up for its students.

Cool down
After practice and performance, it is mandatory to cool down. It is very important to relax every muscle to prevent injuries and keep the muscles supple and strong. A Kathak dancer needs to work on stretches or postures that increase the blood circulation to the feet. Many asanas and inversions are recommended to relax the over worked feet before a shavasana.

Standing upright for long hours
A Kathak dancer would be able to perform a recital for an hour but might be completely exhausted within ten minutes of running. This is where cross training comes into the picture. A parallel physical activity or sport helps in engaging all the muscles of the body and take the pressure away from over worked muscles. It also helps immensely to build stamina and flexibility. Swimming is considered to be one of the best ways of toning the muscles and deep relaxation. Regular massages are also essential but one should be cautious in finding an authentic and certified person for a massage and one has to have enough awareness about oneís own body to realize it.

Engaging the core muscles
It is very important for any artist to be aware of oneís centre or core muscles. The stress falls immensely on the lower back and knees causing severe pain if the abdominal muscles are not engaged. A set of Pilates or balance postures in yoga would help the dancer in achieving efficiency in movement.

There is no universal solution for all problems. Every dancerís body is different and one has to try what form, training and life style works for him or her. To be able to learn a few basic asanas from a good teacher and to incorporate it as a routine can do miracles. A balanced diet and fresh air can do wonders for city dwellers. Dance is a huge stress buster and rejuvenator and when your dance is your profession, fitness, health and mental well being becomes a natural way of life.

Veena Basavarajaiah is a Bangalore based solo dancer and choreographer who is trained in Bharatanatyam, Kalaripayattu, Ballet and Contemporary dance. She has worked with Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, Angika Dance Company, Attakkalari, Kalari Academy, Gati Forum, Nritarutya, Natyantharanga & Yana Lewis Dance Co. She has performed on various platforms across India, UK and Europe. She is the recipient of Special Mention Young Achievers Award in 2007 and also a paneled artist of the Indian council for Cultural relations.