More than art, Indian dance is a transformative personal discipline that elevates our society



THE DECLINE OF interest in classical Indian dance is a truly sad trend. The whole Bharatanatyam movement needs to go through a renaissance. We must educate everyone, especially the youth, to appreciate and understand the real value of Bharatanatyam. The whole process of learning of Bharatanatyam has opened new layers of my personality. I do things with more focus and concentration.

Different mudras change the energies in your body. You experience this when you learn, train, practice, rehearse and perform. I get this every day when I enter the studio and work on myself. Finally when the piece is ready, it is chiseled and perfected then I can share it as a gift with the audience. What is most important is what happens inside me when I am trying to go into the characters which I have to perform. You imagine what happened in Mahabharata, the complexity of the characters and the story. It changes something inside you and how you deal with other people.

Bharatanatyam has so many layers, psychological, physical and emotional, which make it different from other dance forms. If you perform Siva, you go through so many attributes and qualities. If it is Krishna or the gopis, you may be a woman, a mother, sister, daughter and a friend. Bharatanatyam has that endless richness in which you keep discovering a new potential about yourself, about others. If we explain how Bharatanatyam has these values, I am sure people will come back to it.

Dance is a powerful personal discipline. The body tends to be lazy. It rebels, it does not listen—not in the mood, not so inspired. We fight every day to transcend our own instinctive nature. There are days you do not want to get up and are feeling tired. So the whole process is against your nature and you have to be in charge. It is a big challenge. You come to the class flat, lazy and tired, and then you overcome it all. You take command of your limbs, your arms and everything. This gives immense empowerment—feeling that you are in charge of your destiny, your life and handling the whole situation around you.

When you are dancing, you cannot think about cooking or other things. You are just there. Your whole focus is on your hand movements and abhinaya (acting). You feel every movement. So you get very sharp clarity of the mind. It is like yoga. Once you do sadhana and pranayama and you know the affect it has on your body, you will feel relaxed and focused. Instead of being addicted to, say, chocolate, when you dance and do yoga you get happiness from your own body. It is a positive addiction. Your body creates hormones of happiness, the flow of adrenalin, the alertness of the mind. Every day through sadhana you can get the same feeling. I would not say it is hard. I would say it is hard not to do it, because once you have tasted it you know what you are losing every day by not doing it. You know what exhilaration you have experienced before.

Classical Indian dance is the identity of the culture of the nation, and preserving it is the first duty of the people of India. It also gives so many values to society. It creates elevated and alert human beings. If you are performing arati, chanting the name of Krishna, and dancing for hours during the day, in the evening you are not likely to take drugs, kill people or do or say bad things. Dance creates human beings who are more conscious and more aware, who are more compassionate and less aggressive.

NIKOLINA NIKOLESKI, 37, is a professional dancer and choreographer from Croatia, who teaches Bharatanatyam, yoga, classical ballet and contemporary dance at Nikolina Nikoleski Dance Academy in New Delhi.