Chin up, tummy tucked in, back straight, smile… Keep dancing. Keep the discipline. Happy World Dance Day.

In January this year, a senior member of the Indian community shared his experience of watching the late Dr. Minati Mishra’s performance at an Indian gala evening many years back. “She was over 75 then, but when she was on stage, age never mattered. The grace and ease with which she danced! You could watch her for hours.”

He then asked me if I had watched the veteran dancer actor, Dr Vyjayanthimala’s Bharatanatyam video from her recent performance that was doing the rounds of social media. “It’s a joy to watch her dance. Even the simplest of hand movements look so graceful,” he said.

I remembered the impromptu performance by senior Bharatanatyam exponent Dasappa Keshava at the Thumri workshop hosted by Pali Chandraji’s Gurukul Switzerland, last November. A lively, energetic, and graceful performance at the age of 74! He could put any young Bharatanatyam dancer to shame.

Age is just a number

Yes – age really is just a number today. A few years ago, I read about Australian dancer and choreographer Eileen Kramer trying to crowdfund a dance production. Eileen was 103 years old when she choreographed and danced in the dance drama, ‘A Buddha’s Wife” in 2017.

So what keeps dancers going well beyond an age when most people find it difficult to stand or walk? Dancers are, indeed, pretty much like athletes and sportspersons when it comes to shelf life. After a certain age, the body does not cooperate. Dance (group production or solo performances) is physically demanding. Solo performances are extremely demanding, and require a very different level of fitness, which is tough to keep up.

For many dancers, injuries add up and take a toll on the body. Ballet companies, the Royal Opera House London, Australian Ballet, English National Ballet and a host of others, invest in sprung floors that help absorb impact and thereby reduce injuries, reduce pressure on the joints, and increase the shelf life of dancers. Most ballet dancers complete their onstage careers by their 30s. Few extend it to their early 40s and a handful go up to 50. The demands of stage life are such. So what is it that makes some dancers go well beyond the normally accepted dancing age limits?

The one thing that is consistent with any of the dancers who dance well into their 80s and beyond is the love and passion for their art and discipline. Doing what you love takes you places. What you do no longer feels like a burden. What takes it to the next level is discipline.
Discipline – be it keeping fit, disciplined lifestyle, respecting your body, devoting a certain number of hours to hone the craft, showing up on the dance floor even on your worst days, and not giving yourself excuses.

At the cost of sounding clichéd – we artists are facing an exceptionally tough time this year. Sitting locked up at home is not among the best things. Many among us have used technology and switched over to online classes to teach students. Dancers who had performances lined up have been worst hit with events being cancelled.

What does one do under these circumstances? Keep the discipline. Lucky enough to have a dance studio at home? Put in the hours there perfecting your art, working on those choreographies and concepts. No studio? Keep up the dancing at home. If you can’t dance at home, stick to a workout schedule – come what may. It will leave you happy, rejuvenated, and in much better shape mentally and physically when you finally get back on stage.

As dance teachers say – chin up, tummy muscles tucked in, back straight, and smile. Keep dancing.

Keep the discipline. This too shall pass. Happy World Dance Day, dear fellow dancers!

(International World Dance was celebrated on April 29th 2020)

Keshava images credit – Dasappa Keshava
Eileen Kramer group pic – credits ABC: Eloise Fuss
Vyjayanthimala Bali – Image credits The Hindu link here:

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