Five years ago, I was travelling to a technologically advanced South Asian country where I got an opportunity to attend a Bharatnatyam dance rehearsal. The rehearsal was at one of the more reputed Fine Arts schools, well known for its contribution to Indian classical dance. The dancer was accompanied on music by different musicians.
The rehearsal was on; the choreography was intricate, bringing out the beauty of Bharat Natyam to the fullest; the dancer was bright, energetic and technically sound. I was completely engrossed in the rehearsal. As soon as the rehearsal was over the choreographer- teacher rushed to the musicians to get some corrections done, but the dancer almost collapsed on the ground holding her knees in utter pain. I was shocked to see the dancer in so much pain who was dancing with electrifying energy a minute ago!
Probably it was a usual scene for the rest of the team. I rushed to her and asked her the reason why she collapsed on the ground. She said she was going through severe knee pain while dancing since past many years. It was not only her but her friends were also going through similar knee pain, and that too for many years. Still they were so passionate about dancing that they kept dancing in spite of the pain. That was the point when I realized that not only in India but also in technologically advanced countries, dancers’ health and safety still remains in the backseat.
One of the prime reasons for knee pain and injury is dancing on hard, concrete floors. This creates direct impact on the feet, the knees, the back and the entire body. In this article, we will (1) discuss the historical context of Indian Dance, (2) Mention of dance floors in Indian Dance forms, (3) Provide Recommendations about appropriate dance floors and (4) Conclude with a Call to Action for Indian Dancers and Teachers
Indian dance history explains how Bharatnatyam evolved over the centuries as a form of worship in the temples. Dance was performed in the magnificent temples built in the South of India. The style grew and flourished while dancing in the prayer areas of the temple. It developed as a solo dance style performed as a chamber art form. Naturally – the form was quite different than what we see today.
Pre-and post-independence period (i.e. before and after 15th August 1947) introduced reforms in dance presentation. Dance migrated from the traditional rural and temple based habitats in remote villages to urban spaces. Dr. Sunil Kothari, a senior dance historian, scholar and critic in his book ‘New directions in Indian dance’1,2 mentions that within the traditional forms like Bharatnatyam, the kinetic language had changed. By building up the linkages with the martial arts like Kalaripayattu and Yoga, one could notice that the character of the movement of the dance had altered. He further mentions about challenges faced by Indian Dance today which includes dancing on proscenium stage with ever increasing audiences; with globalization and advanced technology. An inference can be drawn that Indian classical dance had turned into physically more demanding form than what it was earlier.
Interestingly, the important text on Indian dramaturgy- ‘Natyashastra’ (By Bharat Muni, 2nd century B.C. to 2nd century A.C.) 3 mentions about how the stage should be constructed carefully. It states clearly that it must not be (convex) like the back of a tortoise or that of a fish. It further adds that for a stage the ground which was as ‘level’ as the surface of a ‘mirror’, was commendable.
In ‘Classical Dance’ Ashish Mohan Khokar 4 explains different performance spaces for dance like natya mandir or dance hall at temple of Jagannath at Puri, Odisha, Lai Haroba performances from Manipur held in village greens or in the squares and Kuchipudi presentations in the open.
In the Context of Sports
Kalaripayattu, the martial art from Kerala is traditionally taught and learnt at the ‘Kalaris’ i.e. the traditional gymnasiums, on the sand, like wrestling akhada floors made from sand or mud, providing necessary safety to the practitioners. Similarly, Chau, the martial art from Odisha still follows the ritual of preparing the ground in traditional manner before the performance begins. This underlines that the thought of preparing floor for dance was existing in ancient dance practices.
Is it then appropriate to conclude that the thought might have disappeared during the transition of the dance forms from rural to the urban spaces?
What is lacking in Current Indian dance regarding floors?
The urban life in the cities, with less spaces or rather no spaces dedicated solely for dance, compels dancers to dance in compromised manner. Dancers dance/rehearse on hard floors, since the spaces that they use are multipurpose spaces. Such floors may not provide appropriate support to the dancer by absorbing the impact while dancing.
Recommendations for Dance Floors
Indian dance is performed bare feet 5,6 unlike Western classical dance forms like Ballet, or recent dance forms like tap dance. Hence, it is important to ensure that the dancer is not injured while dancing due to uneven or rough surfaces.
Dancers and dance teachers should emphasize safety by using appropriate dance floors, sprung floors which can absorb shocks and minimize the impact while dancing (e.g. Harlequin Floors).7
Conclusions and A Call to Action
In Indian dance, the dancer experiences a bond with the ground, the earth, on which s/he dances. Indian dance forms with percussive sounds on the floor, establish a relation of the dancer with the dance floor. 8
It is time NOW for all dancers, dance teachers, and choreographers to be mindful and cautious about what floor to be used for dance so that the dancer can have a long and successful dance career, minimizing the risk of injury and avoiding permanent or long term damage.
1. Kothari, Sunil (Ed.), 2001 Bharatnatyam – (Ed). Marga Publication ISBN: 81-85026-36-X
2. Kothari, Sunil (Ed.), 2006 New directions in Indian dance, Marg Publications ISBN: 81-85026-62-9
3. Bharat Muni – Edited and Translated by Ghosh, Manmohan Natyashashtra – edited and Translated by, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Series Accessed on July 21, 2017 at https://archive.org/…/NatyaShastraOfBharataMuniVolume1_djvu…
4. Khokar, Ashish Mohan (Classical Dance) 4th Ed., Rupa & Co. ISBN: 81-716-7859-9
5. Basavarajaiah, V. Not just AnyBODY: Preventing Knee Injury Accessed on July 21 2017 at http://www.narthaki.com/info/healthtip/ht15.html
6. Raman K., The Dancers Doctor, Accessed on July 21 2017http://www.kutcheribuzz.com/…/kb-in…/324-the-dancer-s-doctor
7. British Harlequin PLC. Specifying Dance Floors Accessed on Accessed on July 21 2017 http://www.cdet.org.uk/…/Harlequin_Specifying_Dance_Floors_…
8. Balakrishnan S. (2004) Kathakali (Dances of India), Wisdom Tree, ISBN – 81-86685-13-8