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108 Reasons to dance...or not!

May 10, 2015

108! What's so special about this number, an Algerian diplomat asked me at the recently concluded World Dance Day, which Alliance Francaise de Bangalore (AFB) presents every year and each year, the event has grown from 8 main dancers to 108 dancers, dancing through the day. Actually, organising it (I'm just the helper - a team of 5 - Tushar Bhatt, Praveen Kumar, Padmini Ravi, Madhulita-Imran and AFB are the panchabhutam supported financially and culturally by BSM, HCG, PRDA, OPERA PROMO and many well-wishers. Putting this mega event together, I realize there is so much talent that if we did one each month, there will be enough audience! The metro audiences are hungry and curious, and how!

108 is often quoted as a mystical number, adding to 9, and 9 as we know is divisible by self and adds and subtracts to same.

Did you know mystically, a soul takes 108 steps towards moksha, a popular concluding item in Orissi repertoire?

Did you know the distance between earth and moon is 108 times the diameter of the moon?

Did you know the distance between the earth and sun is 108 times the diameter of the sun!

Did you know the diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of earth??!!

Of course, as dancers and lovers of dance, you would know of 108 karanas.

Did you know there are 108 marmas? These are neuro points in body for ayurvedic treatment.

There are also 108 joints in body. More, Vedic astrology has that there are 27 nakshatras (moon signs), each with 4 padas, making 108 padas!

In Indian astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108!

108 bells in Kathak ankle bells worn by dancers traditionally as also 108 beads in a japamala (beads for reciting mool mantras).

Of course you know there are 108 Upanishads.

So when we counted number of certificates to be given by chance we had 108 dancers all through the day. Groups, duets, solos. Did Shiva Nataraja himself bless and come dance? He was there larger than life in all posters, hoardings and backdrops, design created by kathakaar Tushar Bhatt, in, yes 108 minutes he claims! So, there is method to our madness. A patron (Opera House Mr. Ramakrishnan) gifted us a huge hoarding 54 by 54 feet.

Photo: D Mahadeva

Photo: Hemant Shriyan

Madness in dance promotion (at least in Bangalore) is a new trend. New Dance Spaces (under Metro hub on M.G. Road) and many such public platforms are becoming available.

Dance is constructive and should be inclusive. How many institutions are there in India today whom Govt. grants prime lands for public good as cultural institutions? Then these institutions become private fiefdoms. They charge exorbitant rents for shows and giving out space. What does the local or immediate community gain? When can this be checked? By whom?

In Bombay, there is no place to rehearse, laments one dancer-student. I said try the Chowpatti beach! Jokes apart, where can a dancer practice? Madras now offers SPACES (Chandralekha-Sadanand Menon's Spaces) informs Gowri Ramnarayan, on the Tamil New Year Day, when she was being honoured with Nataka Choodamani Award / title by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Speaking on the occasion, a new trend emerges: Short and sweet speeches. Thank god, maybe it is approaching summer and all want to play cool but for long, long speeches have been the bane of Indian functions. We copy our politicians and drivel on and on. Seminars are worst off. Few stick to topic at hand and all talk about their own glory and titles.

L-R: Malapali, Ashish Khokar, Priyadarsini Govind, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, Gowri Ramnarayan, Indira Parthasarthy, Y Prabhu
Photo courtesy: Sri Krishna Gana Sabha

Young India has little patience with all this, although one sees, many busy on their cell phones while a dance recital is on. Sending selfies or writing their own reviews. While freedom of speech is enshrined in our constitution, where is the litmus test? Who decides good art from bad? Is there good or bad in art? Why do we assess gold, 22 carat or 18 or 24? That's how value is put. Who can be written about? Someone who takes dance as hobby or someone who has seen, learnt, practically done dance for 20/30/40 years? What is experience? Experience means one has to go through each class in school, then graduate, then do masters, then M.Phil, then PhD. One can't jump from tenth grade to PhD.

My point is: Don't discount tradition in search of the new. New also gets a day old. In age of nano seconds, views and reviews can reach millions. Value the choice of words. Be historical, not hysterical.

Dancers are discovering new spaces within and outside. If one is a globe trotter then another creates a global world in her own studio. If Gati conducts summer workshops, there are many shops of dance in most metros of India. Is the increased volume a sign of good times for dance and dancers or more competition?

SPIC MACAY conventions in summer connect many. But is it the best time as it is so hot in most cities? But it is also the best times for students to attend and organize. Trend is: organize. That itself is an art-form!

After organising many local and international festivals in the last 30 years of my work, I find small places showcasing excellence. Mysore or Melattur. The audience interest is genuine. Does that mean big cities are in SATURATION mode? Can any one dancer fill a hall of 500? Very few.

So is it a new trend in society to seek support from CSR module? Are corporates shy because they don't know much about our classical or folk forms or are they insensitive?

All this and more is becoming part of a study for Parliament soon. Watch this space for future trends in dance.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed dance historian, biographer, critic and author of many published articles and over 40 books on Indian arts and culture. He served govt. bodies in many capacities and also teaches Indian dance history and aesthetics for university faculties. He is the curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection and chairs the Dance History Society which hosts an annual convention and dance discourses that afford many talents a platform. He has mentored many and instituted five awards through attendance, the dance yearbook he edits and publishes.


Dear Sir,
I loved your Trending article for this month. You've raised so many pertinent questions that has left me with more questions. As a young dancer living in Mumbai away from the vibrant dance scene in Bangalore, I travel at least two hours one way to a studio to practice every day. Amidst the chaotic traffic snarls I often wonder why, for whom, for what am I practicing so hard? Is it to improve or compete? To compete in an unfair ground where merit isn't the only way to succeed.
Where moolah and maska gives a push/cushion!

In school we are always taught that there are no shortcuts to success other than hard work, we are instilled with values like honesty and sincerity. Even in the corporate sphere you know your appraisals will give you fair results and your increment/bonus is basis your performance but sadly in dance there are no set rules, no universal principles. Organizers are charging money from dancers (I've been asked to pay 5,000 to10,000 for a season slot!) many dancers are paying and dancing. Only a handful of people attend a classical performance (most are family or friends of the dancer) and we spend so much time, effort and money for these kind of performances.

When people question the relevance and significance of dance instead of being inclusive we further alienate them in the name of preserving our culture and locking it in ivory towers that most can't or don't care to access. I worry that the significance of my dance will be lost if I cannot engage minds and imagination. I worry, Sir, if this situation continues that I will not have an audience to dance in front of? I worry because I will not be able to pay a so called govt./pvt. auditorium space to dance in?

But when I read your article this thought stayed in my mind, ‘Be historical, not hysterical.' I don't know what is the future of classical dance or even mine as in how long I can sustain a career that doesn't pay anything! But I do know that if dance has touched me and made me a better person it surely needs to be spread and who knows how many lives you can touch or how many moments you can make memorable so I think even if you have a 108 reasons not to dance even a single one is enough to make you dance.

Thank you, Sir, for WDD and dance discourse series in Bangalore. You've brought so many more people closer to the arts! Wish Dance Discourse series grows from pillar to pillar and we can soon have DD's all over India!
- Keerthana Ravi ( (May 22, 2015)

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