First, the obvious question: why not start from Day 1? Ask anybody who’s started learning a classical dance form at some “dance-wise a little too ripened” age and you will get the answer. Because at Day 1, all that will remain is a humbled tamed reduced self of what used to be you as you lie on the bed groaning and moaning longing for days when your legs didn’t have a mind of their own and never fooled around when you least expected them to. At least those were legs which listened to what your better-equipped-to-make-de
I guess it all started when I realized that its high time I admitted to myself that even though I love dancing, I have never been a good dancer. With things the way they were, maybe I never would be. Having spent crucial and precious five years of my childhood mastering my “Sa-re-ga”s, I let dancing pass me by, and as a consequence always ended up envying people who could make twisting their body into a million shapes look graceful and easy and oh-so-beautiful. And while the elder sister went all gaga over her forthcoming salsa classes, all I could find to be excited about was Odissi. The superfluous weight added over the summer just strengthened my resolve to go ahead with the lessons (and the prospect does look promising, if I may add). And choosing to overlook the fact that it takes seven long years for somebody to fully learn Odissi while I didn’t even have two, that the later you start the tougher it becomes and that I had just celebrated my twenty-third birthday, I went for the first lesson, with my best friend as company (I coaxed her to come along with me….and the supportive groans I got from her seconding mine after the first lesson was over proved it was a good decision).
And without going into the gory details of how both of us found ourselves defending criticism from seven year olds with missing front teeth who found pleasure hitherto unknown in pointing out our mistakes (just because they had been learning for a year while we had just joined!), I’ll skip to the second day of class. You see the class, until today, had comprised of five below-ten-year olds and a teenager who’d been dancing for three whole years now AND the two of us off-key latest additions. And so we decided to make things slightly fair and asked more people our age to join the group. With two more girls by our side huffing and puffing through the exercises I felt pretty empowered to take on the battalion of giggling self-appointed assistant teachers…and hence the urge to actually write about it!
I am the last person qualified to describe the dance form itself and to capture the pathos, grace and beauty of Odissi in mere words so I will leave it to experts who have already sung its praises over the years. Neither am I willing to go into its complicated technicalities. But yeah, the exercises preceding the dance (any dance form you learn has its own set of exercises) make every muscle of your body wake up and grumble until that turns into a scream you can’t pretend not to hear. And while doing mine today, all I could think of was that maybe bones and muscles grow up with you. No, I don’t mean grow. I mean, they grow up. When you’re a kid you tend to listen to what elders say and you’re less of a rebel, and so are your soft kiddy bones. You want your hands to go touch the floor while you’re standing (without bending your knee) and your backbone obliges. That’s only when you’re, like, ten. Get the drift? But then when you’re grown up and you’re, like, twenty, ask the same backbone to help you do the exact same thing and the first thing it says is no. Then you bargain…okay, not maybe your entire hand, maybe just the teeny-weeny tip of your finger? And yet it won’t budge from its stand. You try even so much as bending without its consent and it starts protesting. And just so you learn your lesson and don’t try go all bossy on it again, it makes sure you can’t walk proper for the rest of the day. Do what you have to, you can’t make your bones listen to you!
And inspite of all this, I still manage to find it fun. There is fun in pleading and wooing your rigid muscles and dried-up bones to help you finish what you started. There is fun in knowing that you don’t have to do this, but you’re still of an age where you get to do things you want to do. And the best part is knowing that you don’t have to go too far to find new and exciting challenges for yourself. I don’t know if ever I’ll be able to dance like those awesome dancers who’ve been my inspiration and driving force. I know for sure I will never perform, (like “perform” perform) Odissi on any stage for the sake of entertaining people I don’t know and who don’t know me. But I do know that some evening in the distant future, when I will be tired of work, tired of boredom and tired of life in itself, I will dance for myself by myself and it wouldn’t matter how well I do it…all that would matter would be the fact that I would be laughing, if only at myself, at my inability, or (and this is absolute wishful thinking, mind you) my being able to finally manage a conquest.