My good friend Nora Lamadrid, a Seraikela Chhau dancer, learning under Guru Shashadhar Acharya, asked a very renown Indian dance critic at a conference held in Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, what our scope as foreigners in the field of classical dance was, and if she could give her any suggestions of how to approach our future here other than just waiting for our reencarnation as Indians. The answer that she got was something like: “Well, you know, we appreciate your efforts, but please come back in your next life.”
Is this really true? Does only a nationality give true authenticity to the performance of an art? Does the gift of an indian performer lie only in the right size and shape of the eyes? In the straight long, black hair? Can only slim boys from the Mayurbhanj district jump with a certain lightness because of the natural shape of their bodies? Will we always appear foreign, no matter how much surrender, effort, dedication and love we invest in the art?
Apparently even if we are victims of circumstance, context, language and several few other limitations, our hearts keep waking up to the beat of the dhol, and we are still the first ones to come to class and the last ones to leave. We are the ones to ask “annoying” questions, such as “is this hand one inch more to the left, or to the right?” or like “why does Nataraj kill the demon by opening up its guts in the dance, instead of jumping on it, as says the story?” We are the only ones who don’t really feel happy whenever there is chutti (holiday) and we don’t have to come to class. Drawn by the outer beauty, the jumps, the flare and other attractive props like the mask, or the sword and shield, we came into the dance and before we knew it, it was as if our eyes had been open to a whole new reality, in fact, a whole new responsibility. We became the listeners, the note takers, the recorders, the writers, in the hope of becoming the memory banks of our Gurus. Every disciple needs a Guru, but better yet, every guru needs a disciple. Like a mirror, we reflect whatever they have taught us and encourage them to polish and groom the final image. Without the intention of being critical, we question them with our questions, just because we feel the need to understand with words and concepts, or because we can’t help wanting to be perfectionists and for this we need to clarify every single detail, or because someday we wish to be able to have the answers, in case someone else asks. Otherwise, who would be Guruji’s wake up call everyday?
Against the odds, some of us took up this opportunity, adventured into this male oriented dance form and accepted the challenge to play this role: to be the witnesses and the stenographers of the process of our Gurus in the art. So I guess regarding the question of whether we will someday be accepted or recognized in the field of Indian dance, I think that if can achieve to take a place in our Gurus heart, then we have done something worthwhile and surely with his blessing the art will continue to speak for itself, hopefully through us.