Bharatanatyam workshop by Deepa Ganesh  
- Aparna Patil, Virginia 
Photos: Ram S Ramchandra 

September 6, 2008 
Deepa Ganesh, the founder of Upasana Dance Group in UK, conducted a Bharatanatyam workshop for the Apsaras Arts students of Richmond, VA, on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008. Eight students from the beginners/intermediate classes participated in this three hour dance workshop that was held at Hindu Center. I consider myself fortunate to be part of this group and to learn from a versatile dancer like Deepa Ganesh. She taught us 'Ganesha Vandana' with the help of her talented daughters Vaishnavi and Nivedita. I enjoyed the entire process and want to share my experiences. 

In this workshop, Deepa akka taught us the adavus as well as the process involved in doing those adavus. For instance, in the beginning she elaborated on the language of dance. "A dancer speaks to her audience through her body movements," she said and added that the mudras are like punctuation marks in a dance. "How would you understand a book without punctuation marks?" she asked us. It would be confusing to read a text without commas, full stops, hyphens etc. Similarly a dance should have well formed mudras and they should begin and end fully just as a sentence would begin with a capital alphabet and end with a full stop. In addition, the sentence should be grammatically correct and well formed to convey a meaning. The dance similarly becomes meaningful with expressions, eye movements etc.  
Deepa akka taught us the various adavus one after another, part by part. For a short span of three hours, 'Ganesha Vandana' was an ambitious undertaking and she made efforts to make it simple for us. She explained the 'how-to' of the adavus. One can only master an adavu in its first speed, she said. And so she taught the choreography in the first speed. If you get it right at first speed, you will get it right at the third speed. Speed is in the mind, so always practice your adavus at first speed, she emphasized, again and again.  

It dawned on me that I struggle to reach the third speed for some of the adavus because I have not learned them fully well. In simple language, I have not practiced them enough....there you go. In the workshop, we understood that learning is always interesting, but it is only the tip of the iceberg and the real challenge lies in mastering the item through continuous practice. So for now, she advised us to just understand the steps and make sure we practice them later. I remember hearing similar advice about practice from guru V P Dhananjayan while attending the final day presentation of their dance workshop in Yogaville in July. He had made that remark in reference to his beginner students who according to him would probably need to practice about hundred times before they get any closer to perfection. In a nutshell, there are no shortcuts and you cannot fake it in the performance, you practice until it comes.  
Deepa akka also talked about the variations one could make in the adavus and do it differently. She touched on the subject of what I call the mind-factor, which is remaining mindful while dancing. For instance, there was a portion of choreography with just the neck and eye movement. It appeared promisingly do-able. You sit in aramandi and move your neck and eyes, that's it, so simple. I realized how difficult it was when I attempted it. It is difficult to suddenly stabilize your moving body in an aramandi and even more difficult to keep the eyes in the steadfast front gaze for those few seconds before you gracefully shoot them to the right and left. Please pardon my language, but that is what I thought when I saw her eyes. Well, none of us got that part right. That's when she literally commanded us to close our eyes and stand still, take a deep breath and focus within ourselves.  

Focus where your weight is. Pay attention where the weight of the body is concentrated. It should be towards the front portion of the feet, not in the heels, not on the sides, but in the front part. Manage your balance and focus on the beats. That small introspection was vital to the success of the adavu. I think it was a mindful approach on her part because she taught us to employ the mind to analyze our balance and shift the weight in the comfort zone. That way, we could stand still or at least realize that we are losing our balance because of incorrect position. I was not aware that such awareness of balance, breath, focus on music etc. could be maintained right when you are in the middle of dancing. I was so busy dancing, I never realized my breath or balance. Not at a beginners level. But at least now I know that introspection is a possible option. I also learned that the seemingly simple neck and eye movement requires enormous inner stability "stability of dance begins in the mind." So in other words, if the mind-heart is not grounded into the dance and into the present moment, the beauty will not come forth.  
So all in all, I obtained a different perspective on dancing. I am learning dance physically not metaphysically and Deepa Ganesh pointed out that it all begins inside first. I got a sense of the depth, dancing should have. It was a beautiful experience. 

Aparna Patil is an architect and a beginner student of Bharatanatyam.