It was a news item in the morning newspaper — about a 60-year-old giving a classical dance performance that set Sunita Goel thinking. “If she can do it, so can I,” smiles the 54-year-old college lecturer who despite her apprehensions, walked into Delhi’s Triveni Kala Sangam to check if classical dance classes were available for people of an older age group. They were.
And that set Goel on to a new journey — one that was part of her childhood dream. “But, other than the regular dance classes in school, I did not have much to do with this activity,” she says. And coming from the generation of Baby Boomers whose focus was mainly on academics, dance was not to be looked at as anything other than a casual hobby. More than 30 years later, Goel decided to give it another dekko. And take it up as a serious hobby.
And when she met her dance guru, Jayalakshmi Eshwar, she knew her task would be made easier. The veteran Bharatanatyam dancer was more than willing to welcome ‘non-dancing’ adults into her class. “It is my duty to bring my dance form closer to as many people as possible — whatever be their age,” she says. The idea of these classes is to “meet them where they are at and start teaching them the basics of Bharatnatyam that are suited to their age and body”, she says.
“These students are professionals in their own fields — be it top executives, academicians, medicos — and yet come to me like students to learn a form that is totally new to them.”
It’s interesting to note that most of the classical dance forms that once were restricted to just the haloed environs of a gurukul, have over the years, moved out to not just schools but even to neighborhood apartments. And in the last few years, yet another discernible change has been observed — from the time when gurus gave lessons only to those who started at a very young age, now people — some even in their fifties — with no background in dance, are becoming keen shishyas.
Goel, who started with her Bharatnatyam training about a year ago, says, “Going by the fact that classical dance must be learnt from a ‘tender age’ only, many like me were a wee-bit apprehensive. But once you start, the realisation that — despite the late start — you’re part of this age-long tradition is pretty overwhelming. It makes you not just happy but so much more responsible to continue with it seriously.”
Dr Sangita Borse agrees. The 51-year-old practicing dentist’s grandparents were keen that she learn classical dance but her interest in academics put paid to all that. “And all activities connected with culture took a backseat in my life,” she says. It was only three years back — when she had finished off most of her major familial responsibilities that Bharatnatyam started occupying her mind. “And I began wondering if, given my age, I could start learning it,” says Borse.
And once she started with her training in Bharatnatyam, things weren’t that easy, she confesses. Like it happens with most of the older students, aches and pains become part of the course, especially in the first few months. “My knees and arms really hurt because these were not used to movements of the form. But as I persisted, my body got used to all that,” smiles Borse who, despite her busy schedule strives to be “irregularly regular” in her practice. She counts herself lucky to have a profession that lets her create time for it. “In the flat that houses my clinic, I have a separate room complete with a big mirror dedicated to my dance practice,” she adds.
Dedication is what takes an artiste forward, whatever the age, says Radha Reddy of the legendary Kuchipudi dance duo Raja Radha Reddy. The Reddys have many dance students from an older age group “who come armed only with keenness and desire to learn Kuchipudi. They are clear that they want to become rasiks or connoisseurs, not professional performers,” says the soft-spoken dancer. So, after a screening and a serious tete a tete in which most of them reveal how they couldn’t learn dance in their childhood because their families frowned upon such activities or because there weren’t good dance schools close to where they lived as kids, “the passionate ones are brought on board”. Reddy smiles saying that nothing gives her more pleasure than seeing mothers (“who are fulfilling their childhood dream”) and daughters walking into her institutes both here and in Hyderabad (that is run by her dancer-daughter Yamini Reddy) to learn Kuchipudi as fellow students.
When Rohini Rajagopal, 34, enrolled herself for kathak, it was for a variety of reasons — “not just because it was a beautiful dance form but also because it would pull me out of my comfort zone,” says the marketing professional, who had been too preoccupied, first with studies, then with her work and travel to pursue it earlier. It was when she took a break to look after her two little children that she decided to keep a window open for a bit of ‘me-time’.
“And I’ve had no regrets because dance is not just a beautiful and artistic activity, it’s also a form of meditation that just revvs and freshens up your brain,” adds the Mumbai-based Rajagopal, who takes the “tough part of practicing and working on the taals and her hand and feet movements in her stride. And when you walk out after each class, there’s a great sense of achievement,” she adds.
Calling dance the perfect antidote for professionals “in these tough times”, Pratibha Jena Singh, Odissi guru, says, “It’s a good break for housewives — given their hectic schedules that revolve around their husbands and children.” “For them, classical dance is the answer. Many of them keep telling me how my dance classes are helping them fight depression and changing their perspective about life — making it look more cheerful and positive.”
What’s more, she laughs, “Other than being a great exercise that helps them save up on their gym membership, these classes also prove to be very therapeutic. Often, post the dance-sessions, I see many of them sitting back to discuss matters close to their heart, because they have formed a close bond through dance.”
And this is something that kathak guru Aparna Mishra agrees with. “This is something my students often tell me — how dance has helped them forge a close bond with fellow students.”
The Mumbai-based teacher says that her classes for older students focus more on movements and expressions “because bhav comes more easily to them — given their experience of life”. And she has nothing but appreciation for the dedication and perseverance that they put into learning kathak.
“Despite the fact that they have gruelling work schedules through the week, my sessions with over 40 of them have very few absentees,” she smiles adding that her classes attract not just women, but a sizeable number of men too.
“Their passion for kathak is often revealed to me by their wives — I sometimes get messages from them telling me not just how diligently they practice at home but also how sleeping-in late or going for family functions have become a no-no for Sundays. That’s because this day is reserved for kathak.”
And while Mishra herself is close to many of these students in age, they look up to her as a guru and accept her strict disciplinarian stance without demur. “When I’ve turned some of them out of class for coming late — they come to me later not just to apologise but also say how they enjoyed being treated like errant schoolchildren once again.”
Most Read In 24 Hours
Don't MissView All
Congress edge in Chhattisgarh, Telangana; BJP ahead in Rajasthan; close call in MP, Mizoram: Exit polls
Polling draws to a close | Counting of votes on Dec 3
The data showed Punjab had only four days in 2023 where fire...
Modi will attend the World Climate Action Summit on Friday d...