As the upbeat rhythms echo through my house, immediately, my body starts to match its steady rhythm. It seems to have a mind of its own, creating a fluid-like movement with each beat protruding through the stereo. Oddly, I feel at ease, impenetrable actually. Like nothing in the world could possibly get me down from the high I was feeling. It was love…it was the beginning of my affair.
My affair with dance began at the innocence of three years old, when I first performed on what I now consider, a home, the stage. At such a young age, to start an affair seems impossible, but that is love, unknowing, yet something which each individual seeks without our knowledge. It seems to surround us, to suffocate us, but at the same time, it is seemingly out of grasp. Love has shaped me and that one shape I seem to cherish is what dance feeds me. The love which I have presently learned to love has a multitude of forms. It comes through passion, through lust, through beauty. Love yields a variety of forms, and it may be where when a person falls in love, that they identify it with something or someone. For me, it has been realized in dance. Dance has become my love. It has become my rhythmic escape from what life seems to throw at me.
That is what an affair gives to you, to me. It is, “…a passionate attachment of limited duration.” I know, to the world, the word “affair” is not typically seen in the most positive light, but why? Is it typically because it is associated with loving something that is wrong or not susceptible to society and its views? Is it because it coined along with the extra martial love affair? If an affair is to be a ‘passionate attachment’, to me it means that we have found something we may become ourselves with. It does not have to be for a set duration either, an affair, your interest may go on as long as one may feel. For me, my affair with dance I hope will be endless, as it has helped me evolve and realize that I may love something along with myself. In fact, that is what the term ‘affair’ should mean, a passionate attachment that helps one discover and love thyself.
Dance is my safe haven. I am able to express whatever emotions I withheld at the time, I utilize the exotic blends of the beats of the tabla, and the cultivating voice of the singer to my advantage. I would portray a story on stage, my home; to paint a still from my life or whatever I may feel in a way of dance until it would become a language of its own. It speaks a scene of beauty and grace. With the music, it brings life a new meaning, transforming an individual to a new scene, including myself. The movements which I portray as a dancer will be interpreted into a million of symbols which is art. The expressions which I use to tell my story will be equipped with how I mimic a story of another life.
Geeta Chandran, a renowned Bharatanatyam dancer has said that, “classical art changes us from within and makes us finer human beings ” For a fellow dancer to hear this from another, to say that dance is an art and that it must come from within further proves that for a person to appreciate the skill, effort, dedication, that passionate attachment that goes into this form. The love is not only intricately expressed by the dancer, but it allows the dancer to become something more of themselves.
I never really took this too seriously, but as each year passes by, as each performance I portray, I realize the exponential growth from what I was, to what I am. This is what this affair has done to me. It causes grief and sorrow, pain and suffering, but it also granted me to discover my limits and strengths as a person. To be gracious and humble, to be thankful not only to my gurus such as Geetha Chandran and my master Sri. Shobha Raman, but to the floor which I am to dance upon. To treat my body and my platform with the utmost respect. This is what this affair with dance has done to me. I have grown from what was a girl trying to escape something, to a woman who wants to discover what more there is to dance.
I would say, a year or so ago when I was in India, I was permitted to grace the international stage of the World Malayalee Council- one of the most highly esteemed organizations in India. Everything from the sixteen-hour flight to India, to driving up from Kottayam to Ernakulum (about three hours of a drive), to the moment where I was shrouded in a cloud of darkness was fine. I was cool and confident- bursting with laughter just moments before, but now, standing alone amongst the murmurs of those dark figures around me seemed to get my nerves going. I looked up to get some assurance of warmth, but saw only the floating dust particles making their way down to the cold lament floors. Straight in front of me, I make out the heavy shield of the red velvet to be opened, and once it has, I will be exposed fully, with breathing souls expecting something out of me.
With only moments to spare, I hear the rustling of people getting to their assigned places. Everything has now become a blur, and before I knew it, the shield that was encompassing me on this cold platform, has been hoisted up at rapid speed. I was then graced with a warm light, and the thundering classical, Natya Indian music began.
I created slow, fluid movements with my limbs, painting a picture with each step I take, I told a story with the expressions I feed to those watching me. I was dancing, bringing out my inner self to those watching me. My affair with dance was now open to all those watching me. Rather than getting scintillating dirty looks to what a typical person would see an affair as, I was gifted with smiles, claps, and mesmerized gazes. With the dance I was portraying, I intermixed what is considered abstract movements which go in rhythm of the thundering, yet soothing sounds of the tabla, and to beautify what is the painting I am showcasing. The expressions I fed to those watching me were emotions- this being through my hand gestures, postures, and facial expressions. This is what I recall my guru educating me as to what each of the classical movements I were to portray and its purpose- to tell a story, convey a feeling, to make others feel what I feel. This art form, this story I was portraying before hundreds of people whom seem mesmerized, was all because of my affair for dance.
As I continue along this story, I feel my inner self slowly start to separate and my mind become free. I was in the character of my story- telling a tale of my sorrows and pain through each lift and elegant landing. I wanted to make the audience feel what I feel, I want them to understand what it means to go through this affair of dance. Of course, through any sorrow, there is a light at the ending, which leads to happiness. The trials and errors of choreographing my masterpieces, especially on stage, brings a sense of euphoria. I have the utmost joy through performing and once I feel the audience’s vibe also tuning in, I am overwhelmed.
As the great Sri. Shobhana Pillai has said time over again, “dance is a challenge. No one may ever fully master it as it is ever evolving, but that is the beauty of the dance and the dancer.” I know this as I try to fuse the classical Bharatanatyam elements with contemporary themes of today. Bharatanatyam, is seen as one of the most unique dance styles of today’s times being that it falls back to ancient times, so I often times worry whether it is risky to combine my passionate affair of dance with modernized aspects of today yet, as this affair with dance grows, I grow, and I have come to the realization that the virtues of a dancer and dance is a formulation of everything you hold dearest to you . A piece of me operates on contemporary individualistic aspects devoid of the ridiculousness of our inherited luggage, yet I realize that at some point, we have to believe that our past traditions is ingrained in us to shape us to be the individuals we are too. I am back and forth between the two cultural aspects, especially in dance, but I believe in my learning of my heritage and past experiences that my art form can and will be used to change circumstances on a broader platform.
The affair with dance then would come to a close with one swift and fluid move. I regain my sense of self and with the cheers from the audience, I feel a sense of achievement and humbleness. They were there to watch my depiction of my affair and enjoyed it. I was thrilled. I am forever grateful to the lament floor of the stage, the curtains, the crew, my guru, my family and supporters, and of course, my body, for gifting me with this beautiful art.
This affair with dance may not be what people make it out to be, it may not be what people expect out of me, but it is me. It has shaped my life and my personality to have values which I would never would have foreseen. My love only seems to grow fonder, and even more passionately for the depictions I am able to portray. This affair may not be what’s right for me according to others, but to me, it is my home. It is me. Each stage, each performance, each song, is my affair for dance. This affair, what people coin the term of affair to be, it’s only because they have found a different, unique kind of love. People do not mean for these things to happen, that is exactly why it blossoms to the beauty of what it is.